Arguing against a straw man to further the strict constructionist view of deaccessioning, Christopher Knight runs a long story in the Los Angeles Times purporting to show Deaccessioning Done Right. In the story, Knight shows how funds from the Bernard and Edith Lewin Deaccessioning fund were used to buy 43 works of Latin American art that vastly improved the LACMA’s collection to the benefit of the viewing public.
The late couple made their fortune with furniture stores in the San Fernando Valley and Glendale, but they also operated galleries specializing in Modern Mexican art. Some 4,000 paintings, drawings and prints were in their LACMA gift, reportedly valued at around $25 million, for which the museum paid the couple an undisclosed annuity until their deaths.
The art’s quality was mixed, as a modest 1997 LACMA “best of” exhibition showed. An art dealer’s inventory is rarely a coherent collection, least of all for a museum. Knowing that, LACMA staff worked with the donors in managing the gift to make it possible to maximize their personal enthusiasm for Latin American art in a publicly beneficial way, without making a fetish of every individual work in the bequest.
According to a museum spokesman, the primary restriction on the gift was that nothing could be sold during the donors’ lifetimes, without written permission. In fact no deaccessions were made until November 2004, after both were deceased.
One of the immediate problems with this position–which is meant to show Knight’s liberal view of the issue–is that the donation of a dealer’s stock is hardly a representative case of the tough choices museums must make to deaccession work. More to the point, this example of deaccessioning does nothing to address the real issue of recent months–and likely to re-emerge in years to come–how should institutions in extremis deal with the pressing issue of art as an asset.
Museum Deaccessioning Done Right (Los Angeles Times)