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The Broader Significance of the Maier Massacre and the Stieglitz Egress

Since my first attempt at podcasting was an abysmal fizzle, I’ll share with you, the old-fashioned way, what I was planning to talk about. (Where is my daughter, the acoustic engineering grad student, when I really need her?) You’ll just have to try to imagine the following words being uttered with a thick Bronx accent.
I was going to speak to the broader ramifications for the museum profession and for the general public of what I’ve been posting on steadily for the past few weeks: the Maier Museum Massacre and the Stieglitz Egress.
For one thing, the Association of Art Museum Directors has finally shown some teeth. And it’s about time. In fact, it seems as if the whole artworld has been speaking with one voice against the planned sales of Randolph College’s and Fisk University’s artworks to fund those institutions’ non art-related needs.
All well and good. But what laid the groundwork for these disposals? I think it’s the actions of AAMD members themselves, in selling important works that they should not have been selling, and getting away with it without significant censure from their peers. True, those sales met the standard of selling art to buy other art. But a number of recent museum disposals did not fit comfortably within AAMD’s clearly enunciated criteria for deaccessions: inferior, inauthentic or damaged works that really don’t belong in the public domain, or duplicates. And suddenly changing an institution’s mission statement to “justify” a new deaccessioning campaign doesn’t pass the smell test.
The planned Fisk and Randolph disposals are one more skid down the slippery slope that’s been greased in recent years by the Albright-Knox Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum, and, most recently, the St. Louis Art Museum, to name four.
If Randolph and Fisk get away with this, we know full well that other financially strained institutions, which should be holding their art in trust for the public and honoring their donors wishes, are also going to try to use their collections as convenient ATM machines (as one student at Randolph recently put it). Not only will these institutions’ constituencies be the poorer for the loss of their cultural inheritance, but potential donors may think long and hard about what to do with their money and their art. Art sales shouldn’t be used to bail out inadequate administrators.
Robert Cooper Jr. of Tennessee and Bob McDonnell of Virginia, get in there and do what state attorneys general are supposed to do—protect the public’s interest in what’s rightfully theirs!

an ArtsJournal blog