As predicted by me and by David Ross (who, as former director of the Whitney Museum, oversaw more than two thousand paintings, watercolors, and drawings from Edward Hopper‘s estate), the Association of Art Museum Directors will raise no objection to the decision of one if its members, Harry Philbrick, director of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, to sell an important 1934 Hopper streetcape in order to fund acquisitions chiefly of contemporary art.
In response to my query, AAMD’s executive director, Christine Anagnos, told me the following:
I have spoken with Harry Philbrick at PAFA, and, as he has said publicly already, they are following both their own collections policy and AAMD’s principles regarding the deaccessioning of the Hopper.
We are not in a position to evaluate the aesthetic or curatorial decisions made by member museums and their boards of trustees.
AAMD is, however, in a position to issue guidelines regarding criteria for responsible deaccessioning. As I’ve discussed in more detail here, those strictures need strengthening, to prevent the sale of such obviously important historic works as PAFA’s “East Wind Over Weehawken” to bankroll what Philbrick himself described (to Stephan Salisbury of the Philadelphia Inquirer) as “a crapshoot” on artists who have not yet stood the test of time.
As in stands now, AAMD will censure deaccessions only when sale proceeds are not used exclusively for acquisitions. Any other deviations from responsible stewardship, no matter how egregious, get a pass.
As the PAFA lapse vividly illustrates, this inadequate oversight needs to change.