With the Covid-19 crisis, American museums are giving up family jewels
“A carefully considered decision. ” Anne Pasternak, director of the Brooklyn Museum, justifies in these terms New York Times the sale at Christie’s, on October 15, of twelve paintings, notably by Lucas Cranach, Gustave Courbet and Camille Corot, from its collections. Estimated value: 3 million euros. In the United States, the deaccessioning, this device allowing museums to dispose of certain works in order to buy others is common. The Brooklyn Museum had already sold, in November 2019, a Pope by Francis Bacon for 5.5 million euros. Except that the proceeds of the sale were then used to acquire new parts. This time, the goal is more prosaic: to cover the maintenance and logistics costs of the collections.
Six months ago, such a decision would have earned the New York museum the sanctions of the Association of American Museum Directors (AAMD), which oversees this procedure. Only sales intended to acquire funds to enrich the collection are authorized. In 2018, the Berkshire Museum was thus pointed out after having discarded some forty works – raising 36 million euros in the process – in order to finance its extension.
Sanctions lifted until 2022
That same year, La Salle University in Philadelphia spilled some ink after shedding five coins for 1.7 million euros, money it wanted to invest in its educational programs. “A rape”, had immediately released Caroline P. Wistar, former curator of La Salle, questioned by the Philadephy Inquirer. As a reprimand, the AAMD then urged its 243 members to cease all collaboration with these two institutions, in other words to no longer lend or borrow works from them.
In April, during confinement, the AAMD however put water in its wine by temporarily lifting this type of sanctions until April 10, 2022. In the meantime, the Covid-19 pandemic has rolled out American museums. Already in March, the AAMD estimated their losses at 28 million euros per day, forcing certain institutions, such as the museums of Philadelphia and Boston, the MoMA in New York and the SFMoMa in San Francisco to massively fire their staff. According to AAMD, the situation is so dire that a third of museums could go out of business.
Between “Have a conservation team of decent size or works that never see the light of day”, because stored in reserve, the choice of Anne Pasternak was quickly made. Other establishments are also seriously considering selling to recover. The Indianapolis Museum of Art in Newfields recently undertook an A to D rating of its 54,000 objects – 20% of them received a D, making them candidates for sale .
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