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Bellowing about Bellows: Randolph College’s Maier Museum is “Not a Museum”

Bradley Batemen, president, Randolph College

President Bradley Bateman, Randolph College

In reporter Amy Trent‘s Feb. 7 article in the Lynchburg, VA, News and Advance, she quoted President Bradley Bateman of Randolph College proudly touting the “fiduciary responsibility” evinced by his institution’s deplorable deaccession of its Maier Museum’s signature Bellows painting. That $25.5-million sale to the National Gallery, London, was arranged through dealer Rachel Kaminsky, New York, who customarily handles “Old Master and 19th Century Paintings, with a specialty in 16th and 17th century Dutch and Flemish.”

In Trent’s dumbfounding follow-up, posted online today, Bateman baits his opponents in the museum and college communities by trumpeting an even more irrational rationale for the widely criticized sale.

According to Trent’s report (with my own comments in brackets):

Bateman said Randolph College’s Maier Museum of Art is not a “museum” but part of a “non-profit institution that owns art.” As a result it operates not according to the rules and regulations that govern museums but the fiduciary responsibilities of an institution of higher education, said Bateman. [Do those “fiduciary responsibilities” include disposing of important educational assets to beef up the university’s general endowment?]

To that end, he said, Randolph will continue [emphasis added] to own and perpetuate the arts through partnerships like the one recently established with the National Gallery as part of the Bellows sale. [Does that mean we can look forward to more such deaccession-related “partnerships”?] Bateman calls the partnership an example not of a school that “denigrates” art but values art, art education and the creation of art [not to mention the monetary value that can be derived by selling art].

We are not a museum [emphasis added]. We have other purposes,” Bateman said.

In nonsensically denying that the Maier Museum is a museum, Bateman has adopted the John Klein Line. (Klein, Bateman’s presidential predecessor, started the deaccession snowball rolling in 2007.) As Bateman should know, the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) decisively disposed of Klein’s “we are not a museum” argument in a forceful letter it sent to the college’s then president in June 2011.

That letter stated, in part:

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 [emphasis added].

In a Q & A regarding the ramifications of AAMD’s censure of Randolph College, the association stated that it hadn’t yet imposed any sanctions on the Maier Museum (as it did, for almost two years, on the National Academy), because “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.”

That hope clearly has not been realized.

Whether or not the Maier Museum finds itself ostracized by American museums as a result of the Bellows sale, it has almost certainly lost the confidence of potential art donors. Randolph College may, going forward, have to content itself with gifts of livestock, not still lifes—a change of direction foreshadowed by a photo accompanying its Meet Our New President feature, which bears the following caption: 

Brad Bateman meets “Dusty,” a recently donated horse [emphasis added], during a visit to the Randolph Riding Center

RandHorse

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