Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Let Them Sell Art: Why a Broader Deaccession Policy Today Could Save Museums Tomorrow

Jorja Cirigliana, USC Law School student and avid reader of this blog, just gave me a heads up on her recent law review article, "Let Them Sell Art: Why a Broader Deaccession Policy Today Could Save Museums Tomorrow." Haven't had time to read it yet, but from the looks of the abstract it seems Cirigliana takes a liberal approach to deaccessioning. Oh, and The Deaccessioning Blog is cited in the paper. Enjoy! Here's the abstract.
Deaccessioning has become a widely implemented process that museums use to (1) remove a qualified object from the museum’s collection record and (2) dispose of the object through sale, auction, gift, trade, or destruction. Despite wide implementation, there is currently a deaccessioning “crisis” that has instigated public outcry and even legislative reform. The crisis stems from the recent financial crisis, which has deeply affected museums. Museums are being forced to choose between making huge cut backs – even permanent closure – and deaccessioning portions of collections at the risk of lawsuits and condemnation.

Museums should not have to choose. Instead, museums should be able to implement broader deaccession policies that would allow them to deaccession objects based on financial necessity and allow them to apply deaccession proceeds to operating costs.


Friday, February 4, 2011

Google, The Death of the Deaccessioning Wars

Note the time and day. You read it here first my friends. History in the making.

I have pinpointed the death of the anti-deaccessionist ideology, and it's one we're all familiar with. What is it, you ask?


Yes, you heard right. There will come a day (hopefully quite soon), when the debate over deaccessioning will go the way of the eight-track and Milli Vanilli. Remember, the key to the deaccessioning debate is the "public" access (read: trust) to venerable artworks. What will little Johnny and little Suzie do if Hans Holbein's The Ambassadors is sold off by the National Gallery to pay the electric bill? Well, this won't matter if little Johnny and Suzie have access to it via digital format (and later on, holographic format). The key is access, experiencing, viewing, seeing, being exposed to, right?

Well, just this week, Google launched its interactive Art Project. Here's an overview of the Art Project via the Wall Street Journal,

A collaboration with 17 museums including three in New York—the Frick Collection, the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art—the portal offers virtual access to the institutions, allowing visitors to navigate galleries and pore over hundreds of their works of art in fine detail. ...Art Project also includes 17 works—one from each museum—that can be explored on a near-microscopic level, via "gigapixel" photo-capturing mechanisms whose images contain up to 14 billion pixels.

I know the counter-argument to my thesis quite well (unfortunately), and that's the one drenched with the good ol' magical aura (see Walter Benjamin). Here's a snippet from Benjamin's Illuminations,
By close-ups of the things around us, by focusing on hidden details of familiar objects, by exploring commonplace milieus under the ingenious guidance of the camera, the film, on the one hand, extends our comprehension of the necessities which rule our lives; on the other hand it manages to assure us of an immense field of action. ...Then came the film and burst this prison-world asunder by the dynamite of the tenth of a second, so that now, in the midst of its far-flung ruins and debris, we calmly and adventurously go traveling. With the close-up, space expands; with slow motion, movement is extended. The enlargement of a snapshot does not simply render more precise what in any case was visible though unclear: it reveals entirely new structural formations of the subject. (Walter Benjamin, Illuminations)
There are of course some challenges, copyright being one of them, but nothing that cannot be overcome with simple licensing. More thoughts on this soon.

What separates an everyday object from an art object?

The Boston Globe has an interesting story on an artist that "deaccessions" her personal (and emotion-filled) objects as part of an artwork. Call the anti-deaccessioning police!

Take an installation like “Deaccession Project,’’ the vast wall of more than 2,000 inkjet prints copied from photographs Welty keeps in scrapbooks. The photographs show items that Welty has discarded — one per day, systematically, since Oct. 5, 2005 — with a brief note at the bottom of each explaining the decision, and the item’s intended destination (“Trash,’’ for instance; or “Goodwill’’).

“Deaccessioning’’ is the museum term for the removal of objects from a permanent collection, so the title might trigger the kinds of questions raised elsewhere in Welty’s work: What separates an everyday object from an art object? Are our homes like museums? What do we hoard; what do we no longer have uses for; why?

I really like this. "What separates an everyday object from an art object?" This is the crux of my argument pro deaccessioning. If we get rid of the aura (Benjamin and all), then we get rid of this romantic notion of the museum, art, and the "public trust." One day.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Former Penn Academy Pres: Relax Deaccessioning Rules

Donn Zaretsky takes a fine-tooth comb to Gresham Riley's article on why deaccessioning rules should be relaxed in this day and age.
"But," he says, "the existing policy is in fact an exercise in smoke and mirrors, providing neither guarantees of public access nor commitments to maintain possession." On the one hand, "because of limited exhibition space, most museums’ collections are consigned to storage." In addition, the current rules "don’t prohibit a museum from selling ...; they merely limit the use of proceeds from the artwork that’s sold."