A.D.Coleman runs a photography blog and has been diligently covering the decision to sell the Polaroid collection at Sotheby’s this coming Spring. In response to an earlier post on AMM asking why–when so many interested parties were eager to see the collection remain intact, preferably at a public insitution–no buyer had emerged, Coleman suggests the legal status of the collection has prevented a sale.
Coleman says the Whitney Museum, Getty Museum and Museum of Fine Arts in Houston all expressed interest in acquiring the collection but could not consummate a deal (though it should be pointed out that he says that only the Whitney backed off, the Getty and Houston institutions were turned away by Polaroid’s then owners):
This brings me to the logical conclusion that every potential buyer — “individuals, investors and institutions” — has discovered in examining the collection’s documentation that the bulk of it is contractually encumbered in ways that prohibit (or at least problematize) its sale, thus also making perilous its purchase as a whole. If that’s true, then all prospects have had good reason to back off and not bid on the collection.
What does “encumbered” mean? […] Certainly the “non-exclusive” rights to utilize works in the collection, licensed to Polaroid by the photographers represented, and those photographers’ contractual rights “in perpetuity” to borrow their works for exhibition and publication purposes, constitute encumbrances. And encumbrances, in turn, prevent free and clear transfer of ownership; indeed, they undermine any claim to full ownership.
And that in turn might explain why the current incarnation of the Polaroid Corporation, as a last resort, hastened this past spring and summer to have the Minnesota Bankruptcy Court recertify all the collection’s contents as free and unencumbered contractually, and got that same court to approve the piecemeal auctioning off of all that work.
These are all good points but they’re mostly speculation and, more germane, don’t explain why the collection has not found a buyer since the bankruptcy court cleared all title to the works. Presumably all the artists involved would prefer to see the collection stay whole and find institutional stewardship. What Coleman is suggesting here is that the creditors would prefer to see is a maximizing of value at the expense of the artist’s interests and the historical importance of the collection. These too are excellent points.
So why haven’t the Whitney, Getty or Houston museums returned to buy the collection as a whole? Is it the recession’s impact on their acquisition budgets? Why hasn’t a single collector emerged to pay the “reasonable” price for the collection and donate it to an institution? These are not rhetorical questions. Anyone have some answers?
Polaroid Collection: Update 8 (Photocritic International)