Granville Redmond, “Silver and Gold,” sold in March by the Orange County Museum
Mike Boehm and Christopher Knight of the LA Times own this story, so there’s no need for me to rehash all the details of the Orange County Museum’s secret sale to an unidentified private collector of 18 of its 20 early 20th century California plein-air paintings for $963,000, which many have said is a bargain price.
What’s a bit strange (and unremarked in the Times pieces) is that David Walker, the director of the Nevada Art Museum, where 10 paintings from the sold collection are now on display, told Boehm that the private collector had approached the museum about the show in February. The paintings, according to the Times report, were not sold until late March.
This latest deaccession controversy underscores the lessons that need to be learned from such secret sales (shades of the National Academy). As I have repeatedly argued (most recently, in my deaccession talk at the University of Iowa): If a museum finds that it has no use for museum-quality works in the public domain, it should keep them in the public domain by giving them to another museum that would gladly preserve and display them.
I believe that such works should be transferred, not sold, because they are already part of the public’s patrimony and museums shouldn’t have to pay to reacquire them for us. But if objects ARE sold, the public must be informed, preferably in advance, using the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s online deaccession database as a model of transparency.
In the Orange County case, the museum didn’t have to look far to find a willing and eager institutional recipient: As Boehm reports (at the first link, above), the Laguna Art Museum would still dearly love to get its hands on these works, preferably by donation from the new private owner; possibly through purchase.
The secrecy and possible fiduciary lapses related to this disposal are yet another reminder of the urgent need for legislation to regulate deaccessioning. The Brodsky bill, now pending in the New York State Legislature, provides a good (although not perfect) model for how to do it.
Speaking of good role models, many thanks to CultureGrrl Donor 44 from Phoenix!