I can’t believe I’m seeing this. Have I just died and gone to Deaccession Heaven?
No, I haven’t myself been deaccessioned (yet) and the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s newly launched Searchable Database of Deaccessioned Artworks truly does exist in real cyberspace. It’s everything I asked for in this post and at the end of my 2005 NY Times Op-Ed piece, For Sale: Our Permanent Collection….and more.
So what does state-of-the-art deaccession disclosure look like?
First, the IMA publicly posts its deaccession policy. (That seems to me the FIRST reform that the Association of Art Museum Directors should have insisted upon in its recent accord with the National Academy—a published deaccession policy conforming to AAMD guidelines.)
Next, the IMA posts not only all the works it has recently sold but also those it has targeted for sale, in advance of their actual disposal, providing an opportunity for public comment. (Here’s the entry for the Buffet, pictured above, whose auction sale date has yet to be determined.)
The IMA’s database makes public comment easy: The entry for an object brings up not only details about the work and (in many cases) a photo, but also a clickable “Comments” link, allowing concerned museumgoers to register their reactions (or objections) online. If anyone actually thinks Buffet’s “Paimpol” belongs in an art museum, speak now or forever hold your peace.
If a work has already been sold, the object record tells you when and where, along with the price. If (like the Buffet) it hasn’t yet been sold, it tells you when and where it is scheduled for sale (if that’s been determined), along with estimated value. If it was offered for sale but failed to sell, the database says so.
IMA’s deaccession listings, which go back to 2007 (when the museum began its collections-evaluation project), are searchable in many useful ways. One improvement they should consider, though, is providing an alphabetical list by artist—a relatively simple refinement, given what’s already been achieved. (You can already type an artist’s name in the search box and come up with work by that artist.)
There’s one refinement already planned by IMA that I never thought to call for: specific details on how sale proceeds are applied. The museum plans to link sold works in its database “to artworks newly acquired by means of the relevant funds.”
The one big omission that I hope can be addressed is the failure to provide any explanation as to why a work is being relinquished—issues of quality, condition, etc. The public should be told why a work is being removed from the public domain. The drawback to such disclosure is that a description of a work’s shortcomings could compromise its performance at auction. But most buyers already realize that if a museum is selling a work, it’s usually (although, alas, not always) because that object doesn’t belong in the museum.
All we need now is for every other museum director in the country to follow Maxwell Anderson‘s inspired lead. This should become the Association of Art Museum Directors’ new gold standard for deaccession transparency.
I hope Max will make this technological advance available to the entire field immediately…if not sooner!