Forgive the late link on this item from the LA Times’s Culture Monster blog but the glaring double standard in Christopher Knight’s post is hard to let pass. One of the central arguments of the strict anti-de-accessionists is the public’s right to see the art that has been placed in trust for them by private individuals. Knight is one of the most vocal proponents of public over private stewardship of art.
So it is odd to see him reverse course and argue now that donor intent is paramount. Here’s his musing on the Rose Museum lawsuit in the context of the Barnes Foundation litigation:
Ever since news of the Brandeis scheme rocked the art world six months ago, the tragic fate of the Barnes Foundation outside Philadelphia has been rumbling around in my head.
In what has been called the “legal theft” of a multibillion-dollar art collection, a group of powerful Philadelphia philanthropies, politicians, businessmen and others finagled the planned relocation of the foundation’s unparalleled collection of Post-Impressionist, early Modern and other art from its unique suburban home to a downtown spot on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway — a grand total of less than eight miles, but light-years away from the non-commercial, domestic environment the donor envisioned, constructed and gave to Pennsylvania for safekeeping. Aside from the waste of at least $150 million in private and public money to make the move, the relocation plan represents a 180-degree departure from the charitable intentions of the late founder, Dr. Albert C. Barnes.
Moving required approval from the Montgomery County Orphans Court, which oversees trusts. When the court agreed to the plan in December 2004, setting aside the founder’s mandate, a hue and cry arose over the possibility that the high-profile case was setting a dangerous precedent. What effect would the ill-advised orphans court decision have on future charitable gifts, at home and elsewhere, not to mention donations already made?
How does any of this jibe with the penchant for the public’s access and right to art? It seems a willfully contrarian point of view that does little or nothing to come up with an overarching framework for the position of art as a public trust.
As Donn Zaretsky has repeatedly pointed out on his blog, the Rose debacle is a reaction to the AAMD deaccessioning rules and an attempt to get around the guidelines governing a museum by ceasing to be a museum. (That’s not an excuse or defense of the action.) However, calling the Barnes move “legal theft” does nothing to resolve that conflict. It only further clouds the subject with idiosyncratic positions.
Rose Art Museum Lawsuit Recalls Barnes “Legal Theft” (Culture Monster)