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AAMD’s Midwinter Agenda: Auction-House Presentation, but No Deaccession Deliberation? UPDATED

In yesterday’s post, I predicted there would be “a lot of thinking about the unabated deaccession crisis at the midwinter meeting of the Association of Art Museum Directors, which begins next Monday in San Antonio”…

…or maybe not.

A museum director who is attending the meeting leaked to me the three-day schedule (with speakers’ bios) that he has received (a version of which is to be released to the press tomorrow). As of the time that document was disseminated, there was no session on the agenda that specifically addressed the growing disregard of AAMD’s professional guidelines for deaccessions (p. 19).

What we do have is a presentation on ‘The Current State of the Global Art Market, Developing Trends, and the Impact of the Creation of New Museums in the Middle East and Asia.” As you might guess, the speaker is an art-auction luminary—Ed Dolman, chairman and CEO of Phillips auction house, which is the sponsor of AAMD’s meeting. He had firsthand knowledge of “the Creation of New Museums in the Middle East” as former acting chief executive officer of the Qatar Museums Authority. Before that, he was chairman of Christie’s.

Ed Dolman

Also scheduled to attend AAMD’s meeting is Arnold Lehman, the longtime director of the Brooklyn Museum, who is now senior advisor to Dolman and a member of Phillips’ advisory board. In essence, that auction house bought access to the museum directors’ conclave by sponsoring the midwinter meeting: There are no officials of other auction houses listed among expected attendees.

Arnold Lehman
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

When Lehman’s auction-house appointment was announced, I predicted that he would “become the auction firm’s Rainmaker-in-Chief, adding museum luster to “the Phillips brand” and helping to attract consignments and buyers, thanks to his network of contacts from many years of wooing collectors, dealers and donors on behalf of the Brooklyn Museum and, before that, the Baltimore Museum of Art.”

That now seems to be happening.

Two additional Phillips officials are on the published list of those attending AAMD’s meeting. Phillips had also sponsored last year’s midwinter meeting, where Lehman gave a presentation (topic unspecified in the press release).

I’d like to think that auction-house sponsorship of the midwinter meeting was not a factor in AAMD’s failure to include any mention (on the version of the agenda that I’ve received) of plans to discuss the alarming rush to auction by financially troubled institutions looking to raise quick cash for operations or capital projects. But even if there’s no actual conflict of interest in accepting auction-house sponsorship, there is, at minimum, the appearance of one.

Here’s p. 2 of the meeting agenda that I obtained:

Deaccession discussions may occur in the breakout sessions, where members can raise pressing issues. But for the most part, the main focus of the meeting seems to be another highly important, hot-button issue (at a safe remove from art-market controversies)—how to foster diversity in museum audiences and staff.

UPDATEHere’s Friday’s press release for the meeting.

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