Friday, March 12, 2021

Should Art Museums Sell Artwork to Keep the Lights On?

After a financially challenging year, the Metropolitan Museum has announced that it is considering selling pieces from its collection to cover some of its losses, making an exception to its normal rule against deaccessioning for operating expenses. 

The Association of Art Museum Directors relaxed their rules on the practice, making it OK to do so without censure.  

This decision will have long range consequences, affecting the willingness of collectors to donate. When donors offer their collections, they often require museums to accept a lot of works that are of lesser quality or inauthentic. 

The Met in particular has a huge number of works in storage that it will never show, either because the works are on paper or they're not authentic or they're out of fashion. 

Which works should be prioritized for sale? Some museum curators, such as the Indianapolis Museum of Art, have assigned letter grades to all the works in their collection to decide which ones are first in line for sale. 

Read more: 

New York Times: Facing Deficit, Met Considers Selling Art to Help Pay the Bills

Clean House to Survive? Museums Confront Their Crowded Basements

ArtForum: Met Contemplates Deaccessioning to Cover Def


arturoquimico said...

Although many of my art / artistic friends cringe when I say this... but in the long run, it is a business. Probably best to sell the studies, the "unfinished" works, before selling personal favorites; but unless your spouse has a good job or the museum has good foundational funding... you've got to keep the doors open and/or support the family. I think museums can sell during hard times, buy during economic boom times and continue to survive... it is the same in "real" world... you work what jobs you can always looking to secure that life long dream job (which seldom lasts over 10 years before you find another one)... that's life!

CatBlogger said...

It's a tough call....what has been done historically? Did museums in the great depression take similar actions, or the European museums after the destruction of art donors typically restrict what can be done with their donations?

If museums have material that are no longer in fashion, those works might not fetch the prices needed by the museum.

I've got a Frank Reilly question. I found two very expensive books about Reilly's methods online. They may answer this question, but I thought you would know....Reilly prepared his oils by mixing colors in advance. If he worked in gouache, did he also premix? I've seen you lay out gouache in a wet paper towel to slow this common in studio work?

CatBlogger said...

What has been done historically? During the depression, or after WW2? Do donors typically restrict what can be done with their donations?

Perhaps museums that don't periodically cull their collections, are like church attics or basements....repositories for donations no one else wanted either.

CatBlogger said...

Here's a question about working techniques of golden age illustrators. I've seen your info (book and blog) about premixed oil color and gamut maps. Would the same premixing be used for gouache, or is gouache seen as a preliminary medium, to be used for layouts before the final oil painting is executed?

D.K. Vosburgh said...

RE: the previous comment about donors specifying how their works are treated in the future, the sad fact is that when money is concerned, it simply doesn’t matter. Norman Rockwell donated several of his works to the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Mass. with the stipulation that they remain there permanently for the enjoyment of his friends and neighbors. But as James has written about here on the blog, they were sold off, along with a number of other pictures in the collection to raise money for “modernization and improvements” (for which read “a bunch of interactive junk that will be obsolete in five years”). It’s saddening to think that, if I ever want to see NR’s barbershop and the blacksmithing contest again—which I spent hours in front of growing up—I’ll have to go to George Lucas’s museum in LA.

Drake Gomez said...

If a majority of the revenue from these sales goes into a budget for new acquisitions, then I think deaccessioning is a reasonable practice. Even more so if the sales are itemized in certain ways--sell an Old Master work, most of the money goes toward buying new Old Masters. My fear, though, is that the revenue will go towards more questionable expenses, or towards speculating on whatever art is currently fashionable. Deaccessioning artwork has been an issue with colleges and universities, too, some of which have sold pieces from their permanent collections to fund other parts of the institution.

Salty Pumpkin Studio said...

Donations should take up the slack.
If selling to trade up artwork, then maybe with deep lean towards no.

Ben Roach said...

Malcolm Gladwell did a piece ("Dragon Psychology 101") about the practice of Museums hoarding their treasures. Interesting to hear about the financial side of things on that podcast episode.

Ben Roach said...

Did I post this already? When I clicked submit, my previous post looks as if it went away after I was prompted to log in...anyway... Here's a link to a Gladwell Podcast about museums hoarding their treasures:
Interesting to hear about the financial side of it and how some collections are so big they can't even be known by their own curators.