Monday, December 8, 2008

Museum Censured for Selling Art to Pay Operating Expenses

The L.A. Times reports that the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) issued a "stinging rebuke" this morning, criticizing the decision by the National Academy Museum in New York to sell two paintings to pay operating expenses. Lee Rosenbaum initially reported the story in her blog, Culture Grrl. She reports that the Museum is considering the sale of two other paintings as well. Lee Rosenbaum wonders whether the NY Attorney General will investigate. The Museum's lawyer concluded that notification of the AG was not necessary under the circumstances, but one wonders about any restrictions imposed on the original gift of the property. The Museum received the two Hudson River School paintings as part of a 92-painting bequest from James A. Suydam in 1865. As Culture Grrl points out, photos of the paintings are still posted on the Museum's website (here and here).

The statement issued by the AAMD censures the Museum, noting the "fundamental professional principle" that a museum can sell (deaccession) works of art only to buy other works for its collection. Proceeds should not be used for other needs of a museum, which appears to be the case with the sale of the two paintings by the National Academy Museum. The Museum voluntarily withdrew membership in AAMD last week and says that it should not be bound by the AAMD guidelines. The AAMD statement calls for its members to cease dealing with the Museum, to make no loans of art and to participate in no collaborative projects with the museum.

Sadly, this story probably reflects one more victim of the current economic woes and it may not be the last deaccessioning problem to surface. The Museum had been running at a deficit of $800,000 in a $3,000,000 budget. The Museum has a $10 million endowment, but the endowment is restricted and cannot be used for operating expenses.


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