Friday, June 5, 2020
 

Deaccessioning in the time of Corona

Not surprisingly, the AAMD has just stated that given the Coronavirus and it’s devastating financial proginy, they’re ok with museums selling off artworks and using those proceeds for “operating expenses.”

Donn Zaretsky, long time champion of deaccessioning, says never-say-never: “It never made any sense to say there were no possible circumstances in which selling art to generate operating funds could be justified. The pandemic is a very obvious example of such a circumstance, but clearly not the only one. The right approach should always be ‘to weigh the actual costs and actual benefits and try to determine whether, on balance, all things considered, the [proposed] sale is a good idea.'”

Which makes sense. Why is this pandemic and the financial mess it is creating a good reason to lift deaccessioning and restricted fund guidelines? What if a year from now there’s a pandemic 10 times as bad? What if some other natural or man-made catastrophe sidelines only museum educational programming, including teacher payrolls? Is that a good reason to lift these guidelines?

My more controversial side says that this whole deaccesioning in the time of the pandemic is really just hogwash. I mean, seriously, who cares what the AAMD thinks? At this point art institutions (museums, etc.) are so entrenched in the art stock market–which is to say, commercial viability–that the notion of a “public good” has become nothing but academic and journalistic fodder.

Regardless, if some cultural institutions decide to deaccession, I’m curious which institutions will sell artworks, and which artworks they’ll sell (I have my hunches). One thing’s for sure: auction houses will be happy with the news, and certain collectors as well. Happy bidding!


 

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