The Tate is throwing its weight around a little bit in the case of the city of Southampton’s desire to deaccession some works from its collections to fund a Titanic museum for tourism, according to the Guardian. Meanwhile, Jonathan Jones takes a hard line on all deaccessioning. Here’s the other side of the coin from some of the more celebrated American cases were art sales were used to save institutions:
The council plans to sell off works from the excellent collection of Southampton City Art Gallery. This has some surprising gems, including a picture by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, the surreal Renaissance master who composed faces of fruit and vegetables. But it also has a policy of buying modern art, including paintings by Bridget Riley and Chris Ofili. It displays its collection of about 3,500 works in rotation, and uses it to create imaginative exhibitions that mingle past and present. I have seen some outstanding shows here, including I Love Melancholy, an exhibition that juxtaposed Renaissance, Romantic and contemporary art.
It seems to be the collection’s very liveliness that has opened it to attack. First the Riley acquisition was pilloried in the city newspaper; now the council has decided the collection is fair game.
Protestors defending the collection (you can sign their petition here) say they are not opposed to de-accessioning – the selling of works from collections – in principle. But I am. To me, this case proves why curators should never flirt with such ideas. Collections have to be sacred.
Southampton City Council should desist from this folly. It’s a dark day for museums when their artefacts are greedily eyed as assets. By this logic, no work of art in a British public collection is safe.
Southampton’s Art Sale is Pure Folly (Jonathan Jones/Guardian)