The LA Times’s Culture Monster blog wades into the latest round of de-accessioning questions. LACMA is selling items from its costume collection as well as two major paintings–a Cranach and a Reynolds. The sales prompted Mike Boehm to provide a little history of LACMA’s activities in this area:
LACMA caught heat in the fall of 2005 when it sold 42 works through Sotheby’s, with the goal of raising $10 million or more for other art purchases. The works sold included paintings by Amedeo Modigliani, Camille Pissarro and Max Beckmann, sculptures by Alberto Giacometti and Henry Moore, and works on paper by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Edgar Degas.
Times art critic Christopher Knight challenged curators’ judgment that the museum possessed better examples by those artists and could thus part with the surplus. It was, he wrote, “as if collecting an artist in depth were somehow foolish … and as if museum art collections have no useful function unless composed of unquestioned masterpieces.” Besides, Knight noted, “tastes change, knowledge is not finite,” and what might seem expendable in the present could come to be viewed by posterity as an essential work.
In any case, LACMA is willing to make its judgments and take its chances, year in and year out. Financial statements on the museum’s website show that it earned $15.1 million from deaccessioning in 2005-06, when the Modigliani, Picasso, et al. went on the block. The take from deaccessioning dipped the following year to $1.6 million, about average for most of the last few years. But in 2007-08, proceeds from pruning the collection were up again, to $3.9 million.
LACMA says it’s judiciously pruning collections (Culture Monster)