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AAMD Pushes the Hot Buttons: Rent-a-Rose, Private-Collection Shows, Recession Exhibitions

AAMD members on the fast track (site of the Indy 500). Zero-to-Forty Conforti in the driver’s seat. (Couldn’t they get the Jeff Koons racecar for this occasion?)

I’ve always wanted to be a fly on the wall of the Association of Art Museum Directors’ national meetings. In one of the most infamous moments of my so-called career, I went undercover, grabbing an unclaimed name badge and attempting to infiltrate.

That was the meeting, many years ago, for which the press had been urged to trek up to Worcester, MA, for a brief public session—a panel including (to the best of my recollection) Philippe de Montebello, Glenn Lowry and James Wood, discussing museums’ responses to the issue of possible Nazi loot in their collections. Craving more of a payoff after my long drive, I penetrated the inner sanctum for the regular closed-door meeting and scrunched down, as unobtrusively as possible, in the rear of the auditorium.

But I had foolishly neglected to don my blond wig, phony nose and dark glasses. Spotted immediately, I was promptly ejected. (What was I thinking? Many profuse apologies ensued.)

I was disappointed but not surprised when, a few days before this week’s conclave, I received this reply from AAMD’s executive director, Janet Landay to my query about the agenda:

As usual, we will be addressing a number of different issues, including the work of the Deaccessioning Task Force. But as you know we do not share the meeting schedule publicly.

But I WAS surprised—pleasantly—to discover that AAMD has now, in essence, shared its agenda via its Twitter page. What I’ve learned is that two of the three hot-button issues that I had suggested they should address (exhibition of private collections in museums, Rent-a-Rose), and many more, have indeed been matters for discussion.

Here are some key tweets from “AAMDIndy” (most recent to earliest):

2010-14 Strategic Plan under discussion in plenary session–packed room, engaged group.

Wrapping up discussion about honor donor intent [emphasis added] and the recent history of decisions that have challenged AAMD policies as written.

Public criticism of collection-based exhibitions as recession concessions.

Collections-sharing models.

Brandeis “loans.”

Exhibition of private collections in museums: clear protocols and guidelines needed [emphasis added].

Breakdown of mainstream media coverage. [Long live the blogs!]

Cultural property claims and legal proceedings against museums and staff.

First hot topic: attempted monetization of collection.

First morning session ending. Next up: “Hot Topics.”

Artist-Museum Partnership Act: seeking tax vehicle so charitable provisions can be attached to restore tax-deducts for artists.

Now I REALLY wish I could have been be a fly on the wall!

I’ve saved the first substantive tweet for last:

Janet Landay announces that Deaccessioning Task Force has completed new version of policy; will be voted on by members on Weds. [That’s today.]

After its mid-winter meeting, the Deaccessioning Task Force had issued an interim edict (scroll down), reaffirming the principle that art-sale proceeds should be used NOT for “operating or capital purposes,” but only for “the refinement and expansion of the collection.” This issue has gained greater urgency in the current financially challenging climate.

I am hoping that the full report of that task force, if approved by the members, will soon be released to the public. What I really hope is that the New AAMD Transparency will extend to keeping us all in the loop about the association’s thoughts on all the “Hot Topics” listed above. I’m encouraged by the latest dispatch from Tweet Central:

Committee reports and board actions being presented; results to be announced by AAMD in aftermath of Indpls mtg.

Above all, I hope that the AAMD will issue clear, forceful guidelines—not just suggested considerations—to be followed by member directors who are grappling with these issues.

Speaking of member directors, the one hot-button topic I had raised that was not on AAMD’s tweeted agenda was dealer-to-director. But I had the opportunity to discuss this Jeffrey Deitch-inspired issue with AAMD’s outgoing president, Michael Conforti, at the donors’ party for the Clark Art Institute’s soon-to-open Picasso Looks at Degas, the night before he flew to Indianapolis.

While not specifically discussing the LA MOCA situation, Conforti did tell me that AAMD’s membership committee, in vetting new directors, would take into account that these are changing times. That means, he said, that people who would not formerly have been considered “director material” might now be deemed appropriate candidates.

Conforti added that AAMD does not stipulate certain credentials as prerequisites for membership, specifically mentioning that a PhD was not necessary. (If it were, not only would Professor Philippe have been disqualified, but also 61% of AAMD’s current members, according to statistics provided in the tweets from Indianapolis.)

Conforti did mention that potential new members are judged on “values and standards,” as well as “character.” Here’s what AAMD says on its own website about its qualifications for membership:

Eligible individuals will be professionally qualified for their positions by a sufficient combination of art historical training, museum experience [emphasis added], demonstrated ability and adherence to the Code of Ethics of the Association.

“Museum experience”? As self-described during his Guggenheim talk, the museum experience of LA MOCA’s new director, Deitch (who is not yet an AAMD member), consists of a short stint at the Cordova Museum, Lincoln, MA, at the very beginning of his otherwise commercially oriented career. I’ll leave it to AAMD’s elders to decide whether Deitch’s stated intention to sell works for business purposes from his former gallery’s inventory constitutes “adherence to the association’s Code of Ethics.” (The guidelines stipulate, in the second paragraph on P. 20, that “a director shall not deal in works of art.”)

But enough of this caviling. The most entertaining AAMD tweet, so far, was this:

Majority of current AAMD directors will retire within a decade. Imagine the unreasonable demands on THAT assisted care facility!

Will the final tweet, at today’s conclusion of the annual meeting, be that non-nonagenarian Kaywin Feldman has ascended to the presidency?

Will Kaywin tweet?

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