The discussions around the potential sale of the Detroit Institute of Art's collection to help the city pay down its crippling debt have generated a lot of coverage. Last week, Nina Simon did a sterling job of sumarising the ethical guidelines museums have self-generated around deaccessioning, and how the proposed DIA sale conflicted with these. Simon also captures some wider thinking on the topic:
I feel conflicted about this whole question. On the one hand, it drives me nuts that the ethical rules around deaccessioning force museums to protect objects in a way we do not comparably protect other core aspects of our work. There is no requirement that if you cut an educational program that you have to use the funds saved from that to fund other educational experiences. I've worked with museums that have hefty collections and restricted acquisition funds but are closed to the public because all of their dollars and assets are wrapped up in objects and none in public service or access. I can also see the argument that it actually makes museums MORE relevant if our assets are considered fair game in a situation like Detroit's--just as important and just as endangered as other core services.
At around the same time, an article in the New York Times covered Dia's decision to auction works from its collection in order to create an acquisitions fund, and the exchange and promised gift system MOMA has undertaken with Ellsworth Kelly and several private donors to improve their holdings of the painters' work. (I saw the Chatham paintings when I was in New York last month. They made me cry.)