The De-Accessioning Debate Continues
Although Lee Rosenbaum‘s interview with Michael Conforti–the head of the AAMD, the institution that censured the National Academy Museum for their sale of two paintings to pay operating costs–was intended to re-inforce the AAMD’s position on de-accessioning, the story seems to have shifted in light of the news from Brandeis. In the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Conforti says:
this financially perilous period is “a great time for art museums.” They are, he said, “bellwethers for people at moments like this. We saw this happen after 9/11. If we are doing our jobs well, we’re the places that people can turn to in times of instability. The reality is that the Metropolitan Museum, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Phoenix Art Museum are not going away.”
Maybe so, but the same could have been said about Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and Citigroup not long ago. One of the defining features of this economic crisis is that no shibboleths remain. This contingency colors Mr. Conforti’s discussion his role in the National Academy Museum’s decision making:
When he discovered that the academy had proceeded with the sale, ignoring his efforts to persuade its officials to address their financial predicament through other means, Mr. Conforti was angry. “I think we had, in this situation, an organization that was determined to sell and that sold before there was a public discussion,” he said tensely. He revealed that he, along with AAMD’s then executive director, had held a meeting prior to the sale with Carmine Branagan, the academy’s then interim director (now director), and an academy trustee. He offered AAMD’s help in exploring other strategies for financial recovery.
“We know that there were other options,” he insisted. But his follow-up phone calls to academy officials, twice before its decision to sell and once afterward, he said, were never returned. Ms. Branagan’s recollection is that “he called once and left a message asking if a decision on the deaccessioning had been reached. . . . I waited until the decision was final and called him the same day.”
It would be valuable to have some idea of what were the other options, especially since Mr. Conforti suggests there should be a public discussion of these decisions. Though it’s not clear how that public discussion would work in practice.
He’s a Museum Leader for These Troubled Times (Wall Street Journal)