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A Step In The Wrong Direction — Or False Advertising?

What comes after crowdsourcing and crowdfunding? Crowd-deaccessioning, of course.

Smol_Le Village Innonde_4660Yup, the Georgia Museum of Art (at the University of Georgia) has opened an exhibition of five paintings (one at right) from its collection by the French artist Bernard Smol (1897–1969). The museum wants to keep just one of them because of “limited storage space and evolving collecting philosophy.” Four, then, will be deaccessioned. But instead of making that curatorial decision itself, the museum wants help. According to the exhibition description, “Visitors will be able to vote on which one they would like the museum to keep, and the curatorial staff will take those votes into consideration.” It then says the the paintings are “of comparable dimensions, styles and significance,” so it’s too hard to decide what to sell “except for a difference in their exhibition histories and the ways in which they entered the collection.”

Huh? In the press release, Lynn Boland,  the museum’s Pierre Daura Curator of European Art, said:

Deaccessioning is never something to take lightly, and we strive to be as careful and transparent as possible. This exhibition gives us a chance to examine and explain the process while soliciting input from the public on the future of their collection.

She then cited a similar “deaccessioning” exhibition at DePaul University in Chicago, called The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, in 2010.

Take a look, then, at the museum’s blog, where Boland continues:

The paintings do not align with the collection goals as defined in the museum’s mission statement and acquisition policy, the paintings have not generated any scholarly interest or interest from the public in more than 50 years, and they have not been exhibited during this time.

Images of all five paintings are posted on that site, and Boland proposes which one she wants to keep. Based on the pictures — which is probably not enough — I would agree with her.

But why ask? Isn’t this just a gimmick? Suppose visitors pick the weakest painting — would Boland listen? Would the director and trustees? Would they really abdicate their curatorial judgment that way?

I hope not. Two is not a trend; let’s not see a third of this exhibition genre.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the GMOA




  1. David ALLAN says

    It is a pity that Lynn Boland (or her predecessors) did not have time to help generate scholarly or public interest in the paintings.

    Perhaps if they had exhibited them…

    Curators and administration at fault here ?!

    What point in keeping the curators at all, if the public is fit to make decisions ?

  2. Tired of Trends says

    Soliciting the input of public taste is a slippery slope–not too much farther down the hill we will have galleries brimming with the hand-embossed giclees of Thomas Kincaid.

  3. Donald Knaub says

    I find it interesting that as Americans realize that they have lost the interest and control of the federal legislators to the lobbying industry, culture tries to make their voices important. TV shows where the winner is voted by the public is the pinions relevant thru crowd sourcing. But its simply abandoning professional expertise to ask the public to determine which painting is important to a collection

    • Thank you Judy for bringing this to our attention. And thanks to Donald for a viewpoint I hadn’t considered. There are limits as to ‘audience’ interaction and participation. Certain matters should remain autocratic; not democratic in cultural presentation. If individuals such as Joe Papp, Harvey Lichtenstein and Ellen Stewart ‘polled’ audiences, artists such as Robert Wilson, Merce Cunningham, Richard Forman—the list goes on—likely wouldn’t have been given a platform, thereby, not becoming instrumental figures in any cultural dialogue.

  4. Rick Johnson says

    I wholeheartedly agree that a popular contest that fills a museum with commercial products from Thomas Kinkade or Elvis on Velvet would be a disaster, but I do think we want to connect with our audiences and listen to their opinions. I think the museum’s qualifier that they “will take those votes into consideration” leaves them more than enough room to make the best curatorial decision and explain why. This sounds like a creative way to engage visitors in a process in a more transparent way that encourages them to have a discussion about the relative merits of different paintings. Turn over the ultimate decision to a popular vote? No. Solicit input and engage your best customers? Yes.

  5. Scott Redford says

    I just want to say that I am appalled at the elitist sentiments in these comments. Art is something made in private and validated in public. Art has to have a public. There are as many examples of culture that were popular in their day and are still regarded by all as first rate. I don’t need to list them here. I disagree with the deaccessionin of those works because as a set they seem to tell a fascinating story of an at present obscured artist. But this descent into elitism is unwarranted in the 21st Century. Happily most of these baby boomer elitists won’t be around too much longer.

  6. I think a museum should do its best to honor art that has been donated to the permanent collection by keeping it in the collection. If the museum buys the art, it can do with it as they please.

    But let me address 2 topics that ‘Tired of Trends’ brought up in my mind, that of ‘giclee prints’ and ‘trends.’

    The future of museums and their photography print collection may be quite a bit different from the current state of being if they wish to keep collecting. A lack of storage space and conservation expenses is a common thread with museums nowadays.

    The latest straw that broke the camels back on this subject came from a recent correspondence with Peter Barberie – the Brodsky Curator of Photographs, Alfred Stieglitz Center at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He just flatly told me that as much as they would like to accept certain photographs into their collection, they are only accepting donations that fill very specific gaps in their collection.

    His comments made me wonder how overloaded museums will house the generations of work that photographers have yet to produce. There is no room at the inn for any of them it seems.

    I was wondering if a new approach would be of any help to this problem. Not being a curator myself, I may be overlooking some aspect of my idea that may not work. But I thought I would bring it up in any case for you to mull over.

    Would it be more conducive to a museum short of space and funds if photographers donated high resolution TIFF files of their images for a museum to care for in a digital collection? That way they should not be much of a concern with space limitations and conservation costs should not be that high.

    In my plan, a museum would have full rights to use the digital files to reproduce as prints for display or to use in publications in any aspect that a museum normally uses physical print donations. The digital images would be high grade scans of the negatives or exact copies of the full resolution digital files.

    Nowadays archival pigment prints / giclee (ink jet prints) can equal or surpass the old Eastman Kodak Dye transfer print when it comes to image quality. And when it comes to dye stability…there is no contest. A pigmented ink jet print will far, far outlast a dye transfer print for fading. (If you want copies the actual fade test photos write me.)

    The digital images should be finished and ready to go. In that, the museum could run off a print using most any pro grade printer that would use a 3K ink system to produce a high grade print for display. The museum would also be able to use the reduced JPEG images from the TIFF for any publication or editorial use they may have. The only limit would be that the museum could not run off prints to sell or sell duplicates of the digital files. (If that was so stipulated in the donation.)

    It has never been a concern in the past who prints the actual photographs. Cartier Bresson, Cindy Sherman, Bruce Gilden and a host of other photographers didn’t print their own photographs. So whether the photographer, a lab or it is is convenient, a museum, prints up the work for display is of no consequence. As long as the final print is done faithfully to the original.

    Something to think about as we all run out of room! Some photographers may not be as eager to give high resolution files. But the museums can put it out there and it may become a new trend and eventually the standard that museums must use if they would like to expand their collections, but have no room for new works.

    Something has to give…

    Daniel Teoli Jr.

    “Looking at photographs, like taking them, can be joyful, sensuous pleasure. Looking at photographs of quality can only increase that pleasure.” Pete Turner

    “A photograph that has not been shared or at least printed is almost an unexistent photograph, is almost an untaken picture.” Sergio Garibay

    • Daniel Lewis says

      People think that digital images allow for a “accession and forget” kind of approach that doesn’t use up resources. In fact, as soon as a library or museum creates or takes in a digital object, that object then needs to be curated, just like a four-cornered document, photograph of painting. It needs to be conserved (migrated forward over the years to new media, and sometimes to new file formats); it needs proper description and consistent metadata, sourced from proper controlled vocabularies so people can find it consistently; and it needs to be made available somehow to a research audience, which is often not trivial. So while digital surrogates are immensely useful, there is a substantial amount of labor involved with them as well. There are other issues too, which I won’t elaborate on here.


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