Posts Tagged ‘deaccessioning’

October Art Sale?

September 22, 2010

The New York State Board of Regents, in an unexpected action, will allow regulations concerning museum deaccessioning practices to expire on October 8th.

Barring some other action, this will allow New York museums and other cultural institutions in the state to sell artwork from their collections to fund general operating expenses and other purposes. Such sales are usually frowned upon by art ethics organizations which typically take a position that art in institutional collections should only be sold to generate funding for the purchase of other artwork.

Richard Brodsky said to the NY Times that the action, “…removes a substantial obstacle to the monetization of art held in the public trust” and [the Board’s failure to halt the lapse] could cause “the transfer of art from public to private hands.”

Update/clarification:  It seems that the fears of museums selling off their collections to pay for general operating expenses has been overblown.  The regulations set to expire are/were temporary measures, as described here.  Existing general regulations continue to prohibit the use of art sale funds for operating costs.  Artifactum will post links to the regulation in the near future-check back.

Museums Voice Opposition to New York’s Anti-Deaccessioning Law

June 23, 2009

Major New York art organizations are reportedly uniting in opposition to the state’s proposed legislation on regulating the practice of deaccessioning artwork.  The legislation was introduced in March by Assembly member Richard Brodsky.  (See March 18 post).  Organizations that have joined in a letter expressing their concerns to Assemblyman Brodsky are said to include the Museum of Modern Art, Lincoln Center, and the Studio Museum of Harlem.  Richard Armstrong, Director of the Guggenheim Museum has apparently also written to Richard Brodsky about the proposed legislation.

Institutions may deaccession artwork for a variety of reasons ranging from the intent of donors, to covering necessary running costs, or to purchase other artwork.  Raising funds has been a particularly thorny issue recently considering the drop in value of some endowments and other economic conditions.  The New York proposal would prevent to use of revenue gained from artwork sales to be used for “operating expenses.”  There has, however, have been some concern as to precisely what such expenses may encompass. 

While deaccessioning may unfortunately curtail the public’s access to certain artworks – assuming such works are sold to private collectors – limiting art organizations from raising funds at this time may be an even greater harm.  Because of this, the potential results as well as the intent of the proposal should be seriously considered.


New York Bill A06959 summary and text 

Notes from an interview with Richard Armstrong, May 2009

 Institutions Try to Slow Bill to Curb Sales of Art

A Selected Chronicle of the Times: Museum Cuts, Shrinkage, and Expansions

April 30, 2009

  • The Akron Art Museum has cut staff and hours. The number of exhibitions will also be reduced by about one third.
  • The Bishop Museum in Honolulu has announced plans to cut both staff and hours, beginning May 1st.
  • The Boise Art Museum has laid-off an associate curator and plans additional staff cuts, reportedly hoping to staff some areas of the museum with volunteers instead.  The museum has a new director and is apparently struggling with accumulated debt.  
  • The Brooklyn Museum will put its entire staff on a one week furlough this summer and reduce the salaries of those making in excess of $60,000.  Some planned exhibitions have been cancelled as well.  The museum has lost about 32% of the aid that it previously received from the city of New York.
  • The Everson Museum has cut two full-time positions and is planning to outsource others to reduce costs.
  • The Getty Trust has announced that it will lay off about 14% of its workers, resulting in the elimination of about 97 positions and with future vacancies to remain unfilled.   The top 10 administrators at the Getty will be taking pay cuts as well.  It is also reported that present financial conditions will require some planned exhibitions to be cancelled and although entrance will remain free of charge, the cost of parking will increase–up to $15 per vehicle.
  • The Japanese American National Museum has reduced its hours as a result of financial issues.   It is now closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.
  • The Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, prior to its apparent rescue from the jaws of insolvency, announced plans to reduce its staff by 20%; a total of about 32 postions.
  • In March the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced 74 layoffs, adding to the 53 that already occurred.  The museum’s endownment has reportedly dropped by 28% in value.  (That’s a loss of about $800 million).
  • The Philadelphia Museum of Art has instituted cuts to salaries and exhibition plans.  Admission fees may rise as well.
  • The Walters Museum in Baltimore has eliminated some jobs, instituted a hiring freeze and furloughs.  Some planned exhibitions have been cancelled. 
  • And then there is the uncertain future of the Rose Art Museum.  It will remain open while its fate is decided by Brandeis University, which had previously announced plans to deaccession the museum’s entire collection.
  • The Las Vegas Art Museum has closed its doors, at least for the time being.  The fate of its collection is unknown.

The list goes on; these are but representations of the entire picture.  Economic conditions have hit nearly across the spectrum of art institutions.

Along with the losses attributed to the decline in value of endowments and debt, other factors may be involved, including the interconnected structure of the museum system itself.  In consideration of joint projects and traveling shows, the cancellation of exhibitions has a potential for producing a cascading effect.  That is, when a payment is involved and one institution cancels, the lending institution may not receive additional revenue it was counting on either.  Regardless, as a result the personnel at both museums involved in the logistics of such projects is not needed either.  Also, the combination of rising entry fees and a loss of personal income may, if not yet, contribute to a decline in attendance as well.

On the other hand, a few institutions are moving forward with plans to expand, despite mixed conditions.

  • The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum intends to continue with expansion plans despite a recent staffing cut.  A loss of value in the museum’s endowment was sited as the cause, but the expansion is presumably funded through separate fundraising efforts.
  • The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art recently announced that it intends to expand the museum’s space signficantly, although there no concrete plans as of yet.
  • The Saint Louis Art Museum has apparently revived its expansion plan and intends to begin construction later this year.
  • And, the Crocker Museum in Sacramento is in the midst of new construction that will triple the exhibition space.  Interestingly, it purchased some building materials left over from the Museum of Modern Art (NY) renovation. 



New York Proposal to Regulate Museum Deaccessioning Practices

March 18, 2009

A bill has been proposed in the New York State Assembly that would make it illegal for most museums in the state to freely deaccesssion, or sell off, artworks to meet ordinary operating expenses. The bill was sponsored and drafted by Richard L. Brodsky (D-Westchester). Matthew Titone (D-Staten Island) is co-sponsor.

The New York Times reports that sale proceeds from such artwork could only be used for building the museum’s collection or otherwise preserving the collection. The bill would also restrict a museum from leveraging the value of artworks for loan purposes. “No item in a museum’s collection may be used as collateral or may be capitalized.” A museum is defined as an entity holding or intending to hold collections and which is “a governmental entity, educational corporation, not-for-profit corporation, or charitable trust.” The proposal is apparently in response to the National Academy’s sale of artwork last year and conditions at other state museums and historical sites.

Certain questions about what artwork sale revenue may be used for operating expenses under the bill remain and the proposal establishes a study to consider whether buildings are part of museum collections. The bill also contains provisions for conditions that would permit the sale or removal of artwork from a museum collection because of repatriation purposes, as well as inauthenticity, redundancy, and other reasons. It is unclear as to how the proposed law would interact with the general right to freely alienate property, and whether this ability applies to an institution like a museum or historical site.

At the time of this posting, the text of bill number A06959 was not yet available on the NY Assembly website. At a later time it can be viewed here.  In the meanwhile, a pdf copy is available in connection with the Times report below.

Bill Seeks to Regulate Museums’ Art Sales, NY Times

New York Assembly homepage

Update:  See bill number A06959 text, summary, and actions (NY Assembly).

“Plundering” the Rose Art Museum

March 17, 2009

 The NY Times reports that the name benefactors of Brandeis University’s Rose Art Museum have spoken out against the planned “repositioning” of the museum and called such an action a “plundering” of the collection. The University’s trustees have been under fire since January when it voted to sell off the museum’s significant art collection to raise revenue for the University’s financial shortfall. There has been widespread criticism of the decision.

Meryl Rose, a representative of the Rose family for whom the museum is named, suggested that the damage done to the museum’s reputation would remain even if it is not closed to the public. She asks, “What donor would give a piece of art that might be sold to pay for administrative expenses?

Museum Family Denounces Brandeis