Selling Off Art, Selling Out The Public
November 2nd, 2005

Lee Rosenbaum is the latest to lament the increasing practice of museums to sell off public treasures. Many of the examples she gives in this Op-Ed in the NY Times are from New York cultural institutions: “Last May, the New York Public Library sold its most admired painting, Asher B. Durand’s “Kindred Spirits,” [below, to a Wal-Mart heir] for a reported $35 million. Sotheby’s will soon auction 18 more of the library’s works, including two important Gilbert Stuart portraits of George Washington. In 2003, the Museum of Modern Art privately sold a seminal Cubist Picasso of superlative quality”

The reasons for this failure “to protect and preserve the public patrimony” are hollow or outright false: “When the Guggenheim Museum sold a major Kandinsky in 1990, for example, it argued that it could easily spare one because it had so many. But this explanation disregards a museum’s responsibility to collect artists’ work in depth.
“Many museums simply explain that their missions have changed: Works valued by previous curators and visitors are no longer deemed part of the “proper scope” of the institution’s collecting. The New York Public Library, for instance, has decided that it should still collect drawings and prints but not the paintings and sculptures it displayed for generations. Similar second thoughts ravaged the folk art collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1999. The Whitney decided that 19th-century folk art was “not essential” to the Whitney’s mission of collecting post-1900 art. But its founding director, Juliana Force, not only had mounted folk art shows but was also a pioneering collector in that field. More recently, in both 1974 and 1980, the Whitney had organized definitive folk art exhibitions. ”

For more on this trend, see “Kindred Spirits: Art and Money”

By on November 2, 2005, 12:35 am
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