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AAMD Reaffirms Condemnation of Maier Museum Art Disposals, After Visits to Randolph College

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Signature of Dan Monroe, AAMD’s new president, affixed to letter sent to Randolph College’s president condemning Maier Museum’s past and (possibly) future deaccessions

Back in October 2007, the Association of Art Museum Directors condemned Randolph College’s plan to sell four artworks from its Maier Museum, with proceeds to be used for general university purposes. (The Maier is not a member of AAMD.)

In a longer, more strongly worded letter sent last Wednesday to Randolph President John Klein, AAMD’s new president, Dan Monroe, reaffirmed the association’s “censure of the previous sale of a work [my link, not his], the plan to use the proceeds (or the income therefrom) for operations, and the announced intention [my link, not his] to continue such practices.”

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Rufino Tamayo, “Trovador,” 1945, sold by Randolph College for $7.21 million at Christie’s, May 28, 2008

AAMD’s investigation leading up to this new censure was detailed in an e-mail sent to members. It states:

In October 2010, members of the AAMD’s Board of Trustees met with leadership of Randolph College and the Maier Museum to give them the opportunity to present their position and to offer AAMD’s support in finding alternatives to deaccessioning works from the Maier Museum to fund operations at the College.

At that meeting the Trustees heard a presentation by John Klein, President of the College, and Peter Dean, a trustee of the college. They stated that the Maier was not an art museum, but rather a program of the college, and so was not bound by the professional standards of the field.

On Apr. 20 of this year, members of the Board of Trustees [Alex Nyerges, director, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and William Eiland, director, Georgia Museum of Art] visited Randolph College to
understand better the nature of the Maier Museum and how it functions on the campus.

The following are excerpts from the June 22 letter sent to Klein (and leaked to me). On behalf of AAMD, Monroe wrote:

We have carefully considered Randolph College’s position that the Maier Museum of Art is not an art museum and is therefore not subject to AAMD’s prohibition against selling art to support operations. We find this position irreconcilable with the College’s public statements in its advertising, promotion, and Form 990 filings, all of which state that Randolph College operates an art museum.

We are sympathetic to the fiscal challenges Randolph College confronts, but once a college or university creates a museum, it must manage that museum according to the standards of the museum field. Failure to do so not only compromises the standing of the Maier Museum of Art, but also that of the art museum community as a whole.

Based on these points, AAMD confirms its censure of the previous sale of a work, the plan to use the proceeds (or the income therefrom) for operations, and the announced intention to continue such practices….

As we have with other institutions facing some of the challenges you have identified, AAMD is very willing to discuss with the leadership of Randolph alternatives to the course of action currently being pursued.

Even more illuminating is the extremely detailed Q&A (also leaked to me) prepared by AAMD to explain the ramifications of its letter. (It’s interesting to note that the association has stopped short of asking its members to refuse to collaborate in any way with the Maier, if the deaccessions do occur—an action taken against the National Academy that I regarded as excessive.)

Some Q&A excerpts:

Q: What is the purpose of the censure that AAMD has imposed on Randolph College?
A: Our hope is for a similar outcome to that of the National Academy Museum—that Randolph College will put in place a financial plan to set the College on a solid financial footing without future deaccessioning of works from the Maier Museum to meet expenses. As with the National Academy, we have offered our support in finding alternatives to the course of action currently being pursued by the College. If the College remains unwilling to consider alternatives to the sale of art, then we hope that they will stop promoting the College as home to an art museum, or using the notion of having a museum on campus as a tool for recruiting students and donors.

Q: Does the censure of Randolph College mean that AAMD members cannot loan or borrow works from the Maier Museum?
A: No. AAMD has not sanctioned the Maier Museum at this time.

Q: Why didn’t the AAMD impose sanctions on the Maier Museum, in addition to its censure?
A: AAMD hopes that Randolph College will work with the AAMD to change its current plans and AAMD believes the current censure is the best approach at this time to achieving that goal.

Q: What action could Randolph College take that would cause the AAMD to lift its censure?
A: If Randolph College made—and followed—a commitment not to deaccession works from the Maier Museum for operating funds, AAMD would lift its censure.

Among the three works that the Maier Museum, Lynchburg, VA, had planned to auction at Christie’s (in addition to the Tamayo), before court challenges and the art-market recession intervened, was its signature George Bellows:

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George Bellows, “Men of the Docks,” 1912, Maier Museum

Monroe’s strong, well-reasoned defense of core professional principles is an auspicious beginning to his year-long tenure as AAMD’s president. I encourage you to click the above links to read the full letter and Q&A.

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