Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Financial Crisis Provokes Deaccessioning in Europe

The New York Times reports on a trend among European museums to sell part of their collections to pay for acquisitions or meet other financial obligations as government cultural subsidies have been cut back. Other museums have sold artworks to offset the costs of failed state banks or other state debts. Whether the sales fund acquisitions or government budget cuts has significant consequences.

In Britain, the Northampton Museum lost its accreditation and eligibility for national grants when it sold an Egyptian statue to fund a museum construction project.  The British Museums Association questioned whether the money would be used for this purpose and disapproved of its use to offset budget cuts by the central government. The national Museums Association and ten other arts organizations, including the Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund, have announced that they will not work with museums who sell works for this purpose because it constitutes “a breach of trust with the public,” the public trust argument previously gutted by Donn Zaretsky.

In Germany, the sale of 400 works from the collection of a government-owned bank which folded in 2012 is currently debated by politicians, art experts, and local authorities. In November, a state-owned casino, WestSpiel, sold two Andy Warhol silk screens to fund another casino in Cologne.

French lawmakers have proposed the sale of artworks in storage at the Louvre. France may limit the works that can be sold to those that are duplicate works, not part of a core collection, the proceeds of which can only be used for future acquisitions. However, often the first consequence of falling subsidies is cuts of acquisitions funds; this model treats a symptom of the same underlying issue.