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The Berkshire Museum Effect? La Salle University to Sell 46 Works from Its Museum

I’m sick of doing deaccession stories. But here we go again:

Following in the stumbling footsteps of the Berkshire Museum, La Salle University, Philadelphia, has announced plans to sell some 46 works from its collection of more than 5,000 objects. The proceeds will “help fund teaching and learning initiatives in its new strategic plan,” as reported by Susan Snyder and Stephan Salisbury in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

In other words, the use of the proceeds will run contrary to professional guidelines for museums, which say that deaccession funds should be applied only to acquisitions (Association of Art Museum Directors) or acquisitions and direct care of collections (American Alliance of Museums, Association of Academic Museums and Galleries).

Here are a few highlights from The La Salle 46 (full checklist here):

Ingres, “Virgil Reading the Aeneid Before Augustus,” 1865

Eakins, “Mrs. Matilda Searight,” 1904

Albert Gleizes, “Man in the City,” 1920

University museums are subject to the whims of the umbrella institution’s board and president, making them particularly vulnerable to decisions that are not in their own best interests. We’ve gone through this before, with the threat not only to the Rose Art Museum’s collection, but to the museum itself. That threat disappeared with Brandeis University’s appointment of a new president who understood the importance of the museum and its collection to the lives of students and the surrounding community. But the museum at Randolph College was not as lucky.

Both of those cases, as well as the unresolved Berkshire Museum situation, involved their institutions in lawsuits from opponents to the planned sales. So unless La Salle’s two-year president, Colleen Hanycz, has her head in the sand, she must know that her institution could have some legal bills to contend with before it can proceed with this plan.

Colleen Hanycz, president, La Salle University

Christie’s, which won the dubious distinction of auctioning the La Salle consignment, estimates that these disposals will raise some $4.8-$7.3 million, according to the Inquirer’s report.

From the looks of the museum’s checklist of its castoffs, this appears to be another cream-of-the-collection dispersal to raise quick cash at the expense of the museum’s public—particularly its students, for whom the collection serves an important educational resource.

I’ll have more to say, as I learn more.

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