Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Join the crowd

Felix Salmon imagines an "alternative universe" where a better solution to the Berkshire Museum's financial difficulties was ... deaccessioning artwork:

"In this alternative universe, once the board decided to get a real grip on its finances, it could start quietly talking to the Norman Rockwell Museum, down the road. Some kind of deal could surely be done whereby a donor would effectively fund the move of two great Rockwell paintings into the place where his legacy is most studied and celebrated. Technically, that would still have meant the deaccession of one or two Rockwells, but in practice no one would have minded very much, because the paintings would have stayed in a Berkshires museum."

No one would have minded very much?  I doubt that.

But in any case:  welcome to our crowd, Felix!

Berkshire Museum Injunction Extended to Jan. 29

Story here.  A spokeswoman for the attorney general said the extension "will provide enough time for attorneys to finish their investigation."

Recall what the trial court judge had to say about the AG's "investigation":

"He points out that the AG was 'made aware of the proposed sale' in June, at which point it 'commenced a detailed and thorough review':  it 'requested and reviewed numerous documents, conducted over 20 informal interviews, met with Museum officials in Pittsfield, had no fewer than 20 conference calls with Museum counsel and fielded more than 400 contacts by individuals interested in the transaction.'  In September, when the November sale was announced, the AG 'took no steps to intervene or even express dissatisfaction.'  It wasn't until Oct. 30, two days before the court hearing, that the AG got involved, and even then did not 'assert the the Museum breached its fiduciary duties, only that it has "concerns" and needs more time to complete its investigation.'  'Putting aside the issue of why four months was insufficient to complete this inquiry,' the Court continued, the AG failed to specify 'what information is necessary to complete its review, what attempts it has made to obtain such information, and when it will be in a position to offer its opinion.'"

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Monday, November 20, 2017

Are works owned by public libraries held in the public trust?

If not, why not?

The New York Times reports on a library in Jamestown, N.Y. that "says it needs to sell most of the 50-odd works in its collection to make ends meet, an especially formidable task, it said, since the city has slashed its budget over the last few years."

One interesting twist in the case: a couple of "art patrons" had "proposed keeping the collection in Jamestown by buying about 40 of the works for $1.2 million and finding a new home for them in the city" -- but the Attorney General turned them down!  The AG "objected to a private sale without testing whether the paintings might actually bring in more if sold through public auction."

Saturday, November 18, 2017

"There's no easy answer."

I found another member for my Deaccessioning Hall of Fame: Lynn Zelevansky, who recently stepped down as director of the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh (not, I don't think, because of her views on deaccessioning).  From an interview with Charlotte Burns of Art Agency, Partners:

"What about the question of using funds for operating expenses?

"That’s much harder to answer. It has traditionally been met with a resounding no from the field and organizations that set its standards, such as the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors.

"The worry is that a board might sell works from the collection as an easy way of paying outstanding bills. I remember a friend remarking when LA Moca went through its financial crisis that the institution—which is so deep in art by Rothko and Rauschenberg—could have sold a minor work by each artist without compromising the collection and solved its economic problems. But that’s not something you would want to happen without oversight. What would it involve? And what power would the overseers have to enforce their judgments? There’s no easy answer.

"I once stood up at an AAMD meeting and asked if there was some way we could imagine doing this in extreme and worthy situations, and the membership practically threw rotten tomatoes at me, so that was that."

That's basically the position of what Felix Salmon calls the anti-anti-deaccessioning crowd:  There's no easy answer.  Maybe there's a way to do it in extreme and worthy situations.  Or, as the trial court judge put it in his recent decision in the Berkshire Museum case, every proposed deacesssion must be examined on its own merits.

Against this extreme position of there are no easy answers and considering each case on its own merits, the anti-anti-anti-deaccessioning crowd throws rotten tomatoes.  (In fairness, it generally works for them.)

Photos Stolen From PS1

Or were they just borrowed?  Definitely a weird one.

Trinity Church VARA Suit Dismissed

The VARA lawsuit over the removal of a sculpture from Trinity Church in Manhattan has been dismissed. Story here.  Decision here.  I said when the case was filed that VARA claims relating to the removal of site-specific work have not fared well.  Add this one to the list:  the Court says "simply relocating The Trinity Root does not by itself constitute distortion, mutilation or modification under VARA."

In this case, the artist had the additional difficulty that he signed a contact transferring to the Church "all right, title, and interest to the Sculpture ..., including but not limited to the copyright therein, ... in perpetuity throughout the universe, for use in any manner ....  In the event of any termination of this Agreement, Trinity will own the Sculpture, in whatever degree of completion ..., and Trinity will have the right to complete, exhibit and sell the Sculpture if it so chooses. ... [The artist] understands that Trinity has not promised the public exhibition of the Sculpture, and that Trinity may loan the Sculpture to third parties as Trinity deems appropriate" (emphasis in the original).

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Tyler Cowen on the Berkshire Museum (UPDATED 2X)

Sell the Rockwells.  It's Just Business.

UPDATE:  More from Cowen here.

UPDATE 2:  Another thoughtful critic of the Deaccession Police, Brian Frye, was on Bloomberg Radio talking about the latest developments.