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The Albright-Knox Pox: Will It Be Catching?

“Artemis and the Stag,” sold from the collection of the Albright-Knox Gallery

The thing that distresses me most about the mega-millions raked in by Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Gallery in its series of art disposals at Sotheby’s (including the $25.5 million hammer price, against a $5-7 million presale estimate, for “Artemis and the Stag,” above, at Thursday’s antiquities sale) is the museum’s ability to get away with this massive masterpiece liquidation without a scintilla of censure from its peers or legal authorities.

Where is the Association of Art Museum Directors, which should be more vigorously enforcing its own criteria for deaccessioning? Where is the office of the NY State Attorney General, which ought to be protecting the public’s interest in the public patrimony?
They’ve all looked the other way, leaving the impression that what Buffalo did was acceptable practice. I have explained several times, including here and here, why these sales were not acceptable but deplorable.

The museum recently rewrote its mission, which expedited the expedient sales of major works that could bring major profits. While it now intends to focus almost exclusively on modern and contemporary art, older works were collected and cherished by previous officials at the institution and, in several cases, were great favorites of museum visitors. Now many been sold, not only out of Buffalo but also, largely, out of the public domain: “Artemis” was bought by London dealer Giuseppe Eskenazi, on behalf of an unnamed European collector.

Colin Dabkowski
of the Buffalo News summarizes the various Albright-Knox disposals here. The most illuminating account I have seen of the “Artemis” auction is Lindsay Pollock‘s in Thursday’s Bloomberg.

Pollock tells us:

Heated bidding from banks with 26 phone bidders and paddle wavers in the room ignited every time something with the Albright-Knox name came up for sale….Gavel prices often dwarfed presale estimates.

Can any other financially pressed museum have failed to notice the market’s hunger for works bearing prestigious museum provenance? And can such institutions fail to be tempted, if not convinced, to adopt the Buffalo Solution, now that no authoritative voice has nixed the Knox?

Unless someone with legal and/or moral clout uses it to put a stop—and fast—to such gross betrayals by museums of the public trust, we can expect many more curators to go “Stag.” They may gain quick cash to bankroll their own art shopping sprees for their institutions, but the public will nevertheless be the poorer.

an ArtsJournal blog