The financial success of the Albright-Knox Gallery’s collections-management failure continues to grow: Hammer total for the 24 works from the Buffalo museum’s Thursday and Friday disposals at Sotheby’s was $5.98 million ($6.84 million, with buyer’s premium). On June 7, it sells antiquities, including its much admired Bronze Figure of Artemis and the Stag, estimated at $5-7 million.
The highlights from Thursday’s African, Oceanic & Pre-Columbian Art sale are here. The highest-priced Albright-Knox lot from Friday’s sale of American Indian Art was a Zuni Polychrome Pictorial Jar, selling for $57,000 (with premium), against an estimate of $15,000-20,000. Results from the museum’s two previous sales this year at Sotheby’s are here.
Albright-Knox director Louis Grachos told Colin Dabkowski of the Buffalo News that this result “bodes well for the future of the endowment and the gallery.” But I think it bodes ill for the future of responsible museum stewardship of collections that they hold in the public trust.
I don’t blame the auction houses for abetting this: I recognize that their job is to provide an efficient marketplace for authentic works with good title, not to enforce museum ethics. I was therefore pleasantly surprised, during my recent conversation with Marc Porter, the president of Christie’s, to learn that considerations of appropriate museum practice can sometimes can enter into his auction house’s business decisions:
We would counsel museums about what could be a norm in the culture with respect to the way in which cultural property is managed. And I think we’re an important voice in this. We have told institutions that their proposed method of deaccessioning was not something that we would recommend, and we have decided not to participate.
I, of course, asked Porter if his decisions “not to participate” had included the Albright-Knox sell-off. He refused to say.