Tuesday 17 March 2009

Well played

At the beginning of the year there was a deaccessioning furore in the States, triggered by the National Academy Museum in New York's decision to sell two Hudson River School paintings.

Deaccessioning is a touchy subject. There's money involved, of course - sometimes sizeable amounts. There's moral issues around works that were donated or bequeathed to institutions, or where money was donated to assist with acquisitions. There can be accusations of faddishness of taste, or of short sightedness. There are some who simply believe that once acquired, a collection item is forever.

I think that's why there was a little flurry of tweets last night in response to the Indianapolis Museum of Art's deaccessioning page on their website.

Not only does the IMA explain why they deaccession items (including a link to their policy) and list the collections that have been reviewed since 2007. They also have a searchable database of items that have been deaccessioned, which includes information about how and when the items were disposed of, or if the items are still waiting to be sold, transferred or exchanged.

Funds raised through deaccessioning are dedicated to purchasing new works in the relevant collection area, and the IMA notes "We will soon be linking deaccessioned artworks [in the database] to artworks newly acquired by means of the relevant funds."

They say that sunlight is the best disinfectant. In this case, I think the IMA is proving that transparency and the ungrudging release of information is the best way to tackle potentially tricky situations.

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