The list of opponents to the Baltimore Museum of Art’s (BMA’s) deplorable deaccessions keeps growing (now some 150 strong). One particularly notable addition is very well known to CultureGrrl readers—Arnold Lehman, former director of the BMA and, subsequently, of the Brooklyn Museum.
Meanwhile, former BMA trustee Laurence Eisenstein, the lawyer who is spearheading the anti-deaccession campaign (who is also former chair of the BMA’s contemporary accessions committee), has sent to the BMA’s current board his own formal written request that it “reconsider and reverse your recent deaccession vote.”
Here’s a key excerpt:
More attention has now been “drawn to the deaccessions decision” (in the words of the above excerpt), thanks to an extensive piece published online today by Christopher Knight, Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic of the LA Times, who eviscerates this “colossal art museum scandal.” (His first piece reporting on the planned BMA sales is here.)
By contrast, the editorial board of the Baltimore Sun appears to have guzzled an entire pitcher of the Kool-Aid served up by the BMA’s director, Christopher Bedford. My own comments on the excerpt, below, from the newspaper’s editorial are in italics:
We…think it [the deaccessioning] is a smart business move [but a dumb cultural move?] and a welcome recognition that the status quo isn’t going to secure any institution’s place in the future or dismantle the structural inequities of the past….
We’re no experts in museum finance [you can say that again!], but the laudable goals of the end here appear to justify the means [as championed by Machiavelli?].
The danger of the BMA’s wrong-headed manipulation of public opinion is that if its planned misuse of the collection (which I critiqued in detail, here) isn’t decisively repudiated, museums may never again be able to convincingly argue that the integrity of their collections must be protected from those who want to solve an art institution’s (or even, as in the case of the city-owned Detroit Institute of Arts, a municipality’s) need for more funds by raiding important works from the collection. Good luck to the Association of Art Museum Directors in ever trying to re-cage the lion that it has now let loose.
As it happened, Christopher Bedford himself was a beneficiary of the then financially challenged Brandeis University’s decision to reverse its plans to “deaccession” its entire art museum: Bedford was named to become director of the Rose Art Museum a year after the collection of that museum was rescued from complete monetization, thanks to the intervention of a new, more culturally attuned university president.
But back to Baltimore: In addition to Lehman, BMA fans who have signed onto the save-the-collection campaign since last Thursday include:
—Stiles Colwill, past chair of the BMA’s trustees (as is Connie Caplan, an earlier signatory)
—Art historian Michael Fried, professor emeritus at Johns Hopkins University
—Additional former and current trustees and BMA Contemporary Accessions Committee members
—Numerous longtime BMA docents, museum members, artists in the BMA collection, artists in the Baltimore community, emerging gallery owners, and young and established collectors
Lehman’s high position at Phillips is particularly noteworthy because auction-house officials are generally deaccession-friendly, for obvious reasons: Museums are among their most prestigious, attention-getting consignors. As a former museum director, Arnold is also transgressively breaching usual professional protocol by publicly criticizing the actions of a successor.
To the best of my knowledge, Lehman hasn’t publicly objected to the recent announcement of extensive deaccessions by the institution that he directed most recently—the Brooklyn Museum. That institution’s current director, Anne Pasternak, appears to be an equal-opportunity consignor: I wrote about Brooklyn’s first round of disposals, at Christie’s, here. The second round is now headed to Sotheby’s.
Remember when I wrote that a tipster had told me that the Brooklyn Museum was thinking of selling “two lesser Monet’s”?
Well here’s at least one, scheduled to be sold along with other Brooklyn Museum consignments at Sotheby’s Impressionist/Modern evening sale at 7 p.m. on Oct. 28 (preceded by the 6 p.m. Contemporary sale, at which other Brooklyn works, as well as the two of the Baltimore castoffs, will be on the block):
Fall 2020 is shaping up to be “The Season of Deaccessions.”
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