The Deaccession Debate: Another Loophole

Last week, we learned of an “innovative arrangement” that avoided deaccessioning violations. The Brooklyn Museum had “transferred” some items from its collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, only to have the Met auction the items and transfer the proceeds back to Brooklyn.

This week, we learn of another loophole in museums’ standard deaccessioning policies.

The Clyfford Still Museum in Denver is set to receive 825 paintings from a bequest. Artinfo explains that the city of Denver was given the bequest on the basis that it would build a museum devoted solely to the artist’s work. The Clyfford Still Museum plans to open in 2011.

Under the museum’s policies, it cannot sell any of these paintings, after accession, for any purpose other than acquiring new paintings. So now the museum is attempting to sell 4 of the paintings before they have been accessioned to the collection.

Judith H. Dobrzynski
is in favor of the strategy: “I would rather see the sale of four paintings from the collection than see the museum start out life shakily. Besides, I have heard that selling donated works before official accessioning — which sometimes takes place years after the initial gift or bequest — is hardly rare among museums. It just happens in secret.”

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