It’s as if the disposal disputes that roiled Brandeis University, Randolph College and La Salle University had never happened: In those three infamous cases involving art museums under the auspices of educational institutions, the schools’ trustees and administrators saw fit to monetize their art to provide cash for operating expenses or capital projects, contrary to the ethical principles governing most art museums, which say that proceeds from art sales should be applied only for acquisitions or for collection care.
Now Valparaiso (Indiana) University has revealed that three commercially attractive works from the collection of its Brauer Museum (all of which happen to feature mountains) will be sold “to raise $10 million for the renovation of two freshman dormitories,” as reported by Kalia Richardson in the NY Times. At this writing, you can still see the the three works on the museum’s collection website:
The museum’s nonagenarian namesake has reacted with the fury of a 20-something. According to the NY Times’ report:
Richard Brauer, a retired art professor who served as the director of the museum that now bears his name, has told the university’s leadership he wants his name removed if the school goes through with the sale. “It really does outrage me,” Brauer, 95, said. “I think it’s wrong; the museum profession calls it the worst practice. And I think it’s shameful.”
After having been closed for two years, the Brauer reopened in November under a new director, Jonathan Canning, who was previously director of curatorial affairs and public programming at the Hyde Collection, Glens Falls, NY:
According to Angelica Villa‘s Mar. 6 report in ARTnews, the planned art sales were “met with pushback by the museum’s director” and the school’s Faculty Senate, in a split vote, called for the sales to be stopped. Although Canning is not a member of the Association of Art Museum Directors (one of four professional organizations that have roundly condemned the sales), he is a member of the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries (AAMG), whose executive committee president, Kristina Durocher (in response to my emailed query) lambasted “Valparaiso University’s terrible decision to sell works of art from its museum to fund dormitory construction.”
Here’s an excerpt from AAMG’s Statement Against Monetizing the Collections of Academic Museums & Galleries:
AAMG reasserts its condemnation of the monetization of collections. Proceeds from the sale of deaccessioned works should never be utilized to fund the operations of the museum or its parent institution, including exhibition and programming costs, capital improvement or related expenses, the servicing or repayment of debt, or the establishment of endowments dedicated to any of these purposes. This prohibition also extends to staff salaries and endowments for the general support of staff or faculty [emphases added].
AAMG maintains its position that proceeds from sale of deaccessioned collection objects must be reinvested in the collection [their emphasis, not mine].
As CultureGrrl readers know, I have repeatedly maintained that artworks are no less crucial to a nonprofit museum’s educational mission than books are to a library.
I can’t help but notice that museums’ professional organizations seem to be more willing to clamp down on the little guys, like the Brauer, than on the major institutions, like the Museum of Modern Art. MoMA recently got a pass for its astonishing disposal of some 22 of 81 works from the collection of the late William Paley. Proceeds from the Paley sales at Sotheby’s were “to support MoMA’s ambitious goals in digital media and technology,” as described in The Philanthropy of William S. Paley, a feature on Sotheby’s website.
Here’s a star lot from that dispersal last November:
In response to my query about what seems to be a double standard, an AAMD spokesperson told me that “from AAMD’s perspective, this [the MoMA disposal] does not appear to be a ‘deaccessioning’ issue.” [CORRECTION: In a previous version of this post, I mistakenly wrote: “the Brauer disposal” instead of “the MoMA disposal.” AAMD was one of the four organizations, linked above, that issued a condemnation of the Brauer sales. My apologies for the muddle.]
That said, MoMA’s 1992 announcement [click on the .pdf-download], issued when those works came to the museum, had described the Paley windfall as a “donation” of “one of the most important private collections to be entrusted to a public institution in recent years.”
What’s more, MoMA’s website for the 1992 exhibition of “The William S. Paley Collection at The Museum of Modern Art” had noted that he “left his collection of more than 80 works of art to the William S. Paley Foundation for donation to The Museum of Modern Art [emphasis added], where he was chairman emeritus at the time of his death in October 1990.”
If this wasn’t, strictly speaking, a “deaccession” (because the works ostensibly belonged to the Paley Foundation?) it could, with justification, be perceived as one by future potential donors to MoMA.
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