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The “Cello Player” Debacle, Continued: Inquirer’s Critic Scolds; PAFA’s Deputy Director Leaves

Edward Sozanski, the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s art critic, pulled no punches yesterday in criticizing the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ sudden sale of Eakins‘ “The Cello Player” to defray the cost of “The Gross Clinic.”

He doesn’t know the half of it.

CultureGrrl has just learned that Kim Sajet, PAFA’s deputy director, who was responsible for overseeing the decision to sell the important Eakins, is to become the new president and CEO of the Historical Society of Philadelphia. According to Deborah Raksany, the Historical Society’s grants and communications officer, Sajet’s new appointment is effective Apr. 2.

Under the deaccession guidelines of the Association of Art Museum Directors, “no work of art in the collection may be considered for deaccessioning without the recommendation of the director to the board.” In our recent joint public radio appearance, the vice chair of PAFA’s board of trustees, Herbert Riband, indicated that Sajet had made that recommendation. But now we know that she did so with one foot out the door, and this adrift institution, already without a director since Derek Gillman left for the Barnes Foundation, is now to lose its deputy director as well.

Here’s what Sozanski had to say in the Inquirer:

The sale of “The Cello Player” is troubling for several reasons. First, because the academy opted to deplete its core collection, which defines its purview and its standards, instead of deaccessioning lesser works. That’s like spending trust-fund capital.

Second, as a center of Eakins scholarship—the Charles Bregler archive gives it that stature—the academy should be trying to build up its Eakins collection rather than merely holding the line. Third, the sale of “The Cello Player” means the net loss of one Eakins for Philadelphia. And finally, because after engaging the public in an emotional campaign to save “The Gross Clinic,” the academy owed the people who wrote the small checks and dropped tens and twenties into the collection boxes more candor.

The essential problem appears to be that, once Jefferson had imposed an unreasonable (and unnecessary) time frame on the rescue effort, the academy was from the beginning too small a player for The Gross Clinic game. It entered into a compact with the much larger and more resourceful Art Museum to share equally the financial pain of a task that had to be accomplished….For either museum in the city of the artist’s birth, and where he established his reputation, selling a major Eakins should be a last resort. Yet for the academy board it appears to have been the first resort

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