Deaccessioning Drama

The controversy at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University which erupted earlier this year when the University’s Board voted to close the museum and sell its collection remains in the news.  The decision was made to raise operating expenses for the University – a no-no, and the source of the controversy.  The Museum as it is currently known will still be closed to the public and will now be an academic fine arts center for the University.  The matter of the future of the collection remains unclear at this time though it continues to stir controversy in the press and in the arts and academic communities.

Another institution recently accused of violating deaccessioning protocol in museum circles is the National Gallery Museum in New York.  That institution sold two paintings in December for $13.5 million to raise operating funds and stated its plans to sell two additional works as well.  The American Association of Museums instantly imposed sanctions on the museum by ordering all other museums to stop all loans to the offender and to cease any future collaborative projects.  This week, however, the AAM and the NGM sat down together to work out a compromise which would allow the NGM to remain a museum in good standing so long as they agreed not to sell any other works from their collection.  The AAM members would also voluntarily help the NGM work through its current problems and to make it a viable institution.

In an attempt to add  state legislation into the mix of museum association ethical codes which currently advise museums on what they can and can not do, New York Assemblyman Richard Brodsky on Tuesday introduced a new bill with the New York State Board of Regents (which oversees educational activities within the state) to the New York State Legislature proposing to set deaccessioning guidelines for state museums which would prevent actions such as those taken by the NGM.  Intended to protect the public trust and to ensure that museums remain intact for the good of the public, the legislation represents a new approach to the problem which typically involves just the art and museum community.  The Museum Association of New York participated in drafting the legislation as well .  In financial times such as these we can expect the problem to grow in the short term as the ranks of cash-strapped institutions swell.  Will other states follow this lead?