Disaccession Decision Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Selling Museum Art in Troubled Times | Sullivan and Worcester


Robin Pogrebin at New York Times wrote an excellent article on the news that the Brooklyn Museum intends to sell several works from its collection to raise funds. The museum is explicitly relying on the pandemic-inspired announcement in April by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) relaxing its industry guidelines (and suspending sanctions) over the product of the sale of art and how the resulting product should or should not be used. The parallel announcement by Syracuse University of its intention to sell a Jackson Pollock painting in a manner more conforming to the old rules provides an instructive moment to consider what has really changed in six months of a new era.

As the world came to a halt in March and April, we tackled the changing landscape here and again in Apollo magazine. Review: Under normal circumstances, the AAMD strictly oversees its guidelines in sanctioning museums, most recently and publicly at the Berkshire Museum for its 2018 sale of the best paintings in its collection. In April, however, the AAMD issued temporary guidelines authorizing the spending of Income earned on this product (obtained after the sale, not the gain on the object compared to its purchase price). At the time, I wondered what impact this could have; it takes tens of millions of dollars in cash and investments to generate income that could significantly contribute to a museum’s bottom line. And the updated guidelines provided no further definition of what “direct care of the museum collection” (the use approved by the new guidelines) actually means.

The Brooklyn Museum announcement provides the first public example to consider this approach. The museum has explicitly announced that the intention is to create a cash reserve that will generate around $ 2 million per year “to pay for the care of the collection.” Director Anne Pasternak told the Times that she meant “direct care, such as cleaning or transporting a work of art” and “a percentage of the salaries of those involved in that care, such as registrars, curators, curators and managers of collections ”. According to The arts journal, the sale will include Lucretia by Lucas Cranach the Elder, and ten other works including that of Courbet, Banks of the Loue with rocks on the left, from Corot Italian early tenant a jug, and at 15e century Saint Jerome by Donato de ‘Bardi. Pasternak said The arts journal: “Although a few works have been exhibited, we have much stronger examples in the collection for which we are better known”, and that[t]its approach will allow these works to enrich other collections and reach new audiences, while allowing the museum to ensure that the heart of our collection is protected in perpetuity. There is, no doubt, some tension between marketing art at auction as unique and defending surrender on the grounds that the pieces are redundant and will not be exhibited. Here too we imagine the museum trying to tick the boxes Why a work can be sold trying to maximize the value of the institution’s assets in accordance with other fiduciary obligations. These are important paintings.

Shortly before the Brooklyn News, the Everson Museum in Syracuse announced that it would sell a painting by Jackson Pollock, Red composition (1946) “in order to refine, diversify and build the Museum’s collection for the future”. In other words, buy different works of art. Syracuse disavowed any financial reason for the sale and presented it as entirely curatorial.

For Brooklyn and Syracuse, AAMD is not the only consideration, as New York is the only jurisdiction that has actually put any of these principles into a legal context. The Board of Regents of the New York State Department of Education, which oversees most licensed museums in New York State, has promulgated regulations governing the charter and operation of state museums. , which include rules regarding the assignment. NY Comp. R. & Regs codes tit. 8, § 3.27 (2013). If a museum violates the regulations of the Regents, the Regents have the power to revoke the institution’s charter, and no museum can operate in New York State without a charter or other authorization from the Regents. NY Educ. Law § 216.

The regulations require a written collections management policy which ensures that the proceeds from the sale of transferred works of art must be allocated to a segregated fund and cannot be used for any purpose other than “acquisition, preservation”. , conservation or direct maintenance of collections ”. Identifier. § 3.27 (c) (6) (vii). The regulations provide that a museum cannot transfer a work of art from its collection unless the art meets one of the following criteria: “(i) the object is incompatible with the mission of the institution as stated in its mission statement; (ii) the article has not retained its identity; (iii) the article is redundant; (iv) the preservation and conservation needs of the object exceed the institution’s capacity to respond; (v) the item is removed to accomplish collection refinement; (vi) it has been established that the article is not genuine; (vii) the institution repatriates the object or returns the object to its rightful owner; (viii) the institution returns the item to the donor, or to the donor’s heirs or assigns, to meet the donor’s restrictions on the item that the institution is no longer able to comply with; (ix) the object presents a danger to people or other collectables; and / or (x) the item has been lost or stolen and has not been recovered. Identifier. § 3.27 (c) (7).

Each of Brooklyn’s (and Syracuse’s) proposals clearly meet these regulations as long as they have the required collections policy (all major museums I know of do), and Brooklyn’s explanation that the funds will be used for “direct care” is surely intentional. However, the meaning of these terms remains largely a matter of interpretation. One could argue that almost all the expenses of a museum relate to the maintenance of the collection because, despite the easy formulation of Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby in defending the Berkshire Museum clearance sale that “a museum’s greatest asset is its open doors,” no one pays to go to an empty museum unless they rent it out as a reception hall. The museum is there for what it contains, whether exposed or hidden but accessible to scholars. But the electricity that powers an HVAC system takes care of the collection, doesn’t it? And “a percentage” of Conservative salaries recalls Lisa Simpson’s question about C. Montgomery Burns’ environmental good faith: “Each copy contains a certain percentage of recycled paper. And what percentage is it? Zero … zero is one percent. “

The question is not theoretical, as we did last spring. Most of the museums have been closed for six months. Invoices are due. The arts journal reported that the Royal Academy of Arts in London planned to reduce forty percent of his jobs.

What is the difference in the way the museum uses the money? To the extent that the objection is rooted in the concern to move works from a museum to a private collection, the question is correct. In a museum with finite space, what is is the point of having things that most people will never see (his pseudo-psychological explanation that they are “grabbers” is insufficient)? The answer is not simple, but fundamentally it should be because museums are repositories of knowledge and access to scholarship that requires thinking in a longer time horizon. At its best, a museum isn’t just a just-in-time Wal-Mart display of what’s most valuable or current. At the same time, people are giving away a lot of what might be considered junk charity, which languishes in storage and diverts space and resources.

The real meaning of the “two-year” moratorium is also unclear. Assuming the Brooklyn Museum creates this $ 40 million fund, does AAMD expect the museum to embark on a wave of acquisitions after two years with the funds that have been invested and that generate revenue? cash income? Brooklyn would (still) be in Regents compliance, but would it face AAMD sanctions if it sticks to the same approach? And will anyone care?

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