Was the National Academy Museum Justly Censured or Cruelly Hobbled?
In yesterday’s New York Times, Carmine Branagan, the director of the National Academy Museum, likens the AAMD’s censure of her sale of two paintings to “basically shoot[ing] us while we’re wounded.”
That provocative statement frames Jori Finkel’s excellent story which neatly outlines all of the issues on both sides of the fence. Here Finkel lays out some facts before giving Donn Zaretsky his props for raising an unpopular question:
The sale of artwork from a museum’s permanent collection, known as deaccessioning, is not illegal in the United States, provided that any terms accompanying the original donation of artwork are respected. In Europe, by contrast, many museums are state-financed and prevented by national law from deaccessioning.
But under the code of ethics of the American Association of Museums, the proceeds should be “used only for the acquisition, preservation, protection or care of collections.” The code of the Association of Art Museum Directors is even stricter, specifying that funds should not be used “for purposes other than acquisitions of works of art for the collection.”
Donn Zaretsky, a New York lawyer who specializes in art cases, has sympathized with the National Academy at theartlawblog.blogspot.com, asking why a museum can sell art to buy more art but not to cover overhead costs or a much-needed education center. “Why should we automatically assume that buying art always justifies a deaccessioning, but that no other use of proceeds — no matter how important to an institution’s mission — ever can?” he wrote.
On the other side, we have the question of what happens when it becomes open season:
Dan Monroe, a board member of the directors’ group and the director of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., said that almost any museum can claim financial hardship, especially now that endowments are suffering. “It’s wrong to look at the situation from the standpoint of a single institution,” he said. “You have to look at what would happen if every institution went this route.”
It’s a classic slippery slope, this thinking goes: Letting one museum sell off two paintings paves the way for dozens of museums to sell off thousands of artworks, perhaps routinely. “The fact is as soon as you breach this principle, everybody’s got a hardship case,´ Mr. Monroe said. “It would be impossible to control the outcome.”
Whose Rules Are These, Anyway? (The New York Times)