Criticism of Deaccessioning as a Way of Sustaining Museums An Article Review

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Criticism of Deaccessioning as a Way of Sustaining Museums: AnArticle Review

Criticism of Deaccessioning as a Way of Sustaining Museums: AnArticle Review

In As Museums Try To Make Ends Meet, `Deaccession` Is The ArtWorld`s Dirty Word, Elizabeth Blair expresses the controversy onthe permanent removals of museum objects. She presents her argumentsby highlighting the latest case of Delaware Art Museum`s sale ofpaintings, an art publisher opinion, the Detroit stand on selling itsartwork after bankruptcy declaration and visitors take ondeaccession. However, she asserts that “deaccessioning is notforbidden” but the proceeds from the sale should only be used topurchase another piece of art. Blair’s analysis seems to point outthat although museums have the right to sell their arts, they shouldonly sell those “stuff laying around in their basement that theyonly bring out periodically.” Thus, deaccessioning is not anappropriate option for galleries even when they are in dire need ofmoney. As Beal (Director of the Detroit Institute of Arts) puts it,even during the Depression, when the DIA almost shut down, none ofits arts were deaccessioned. The evaluation of Blair’s article willhelp outline the key issues exposed, as well as, provides a criticalresponse to the work.

Blair begins her work by acknowledging that museums get in problemsby selling their pieces of artworks. She points out Delaware ArtMuseum as one of the most recent museums that sort to sell a paintingin order to settle its debt for a construction expansion as wellrestocking its endowment. Blair highlights the debate indeaccessioning decisions as being unfavorable to museums. Museumsserve as a protectorate for various collections of preserved heritageor artwork, and so pieces of art should not be equated to liquidassets or cash used to operate the museum. The author briefly citesthe main reason behind Delaware Art Museum`s plan to sell some of itswork as failed financial efforts for a period of five years thatincluded cuts to its staff along with refinancing. She supports thisviewpoint by citing Marion Maneker who asserts that other than facingfinancial difficulties, museums may sell a painting if it is of noimportance anymore. In fact, guidelines allow museums to dispose ofarts that are deemed duplicitous or false, but they should considermoral issues related to floating the art in the market.

She then adds an art publisher’s opinion that selling museums artto beget other works does not take in hand the realities of museumoperations. Blair also poses a similar case in Detroit when the citydeclared bankruptcy and placed all its assets on the table includingthe art collection at Detroit Institute of Arts. In this case, theattorney general denied the sale of the museum pieces on grounds thatit is a public trust. She concludes her article by including avisitor’s view that museums can dispose of the pieces of work thatlay around the basement because they no longer draw people. However,she also includes an experts’ opinion regarding deaccessioning andits negative influence on the sustenance of museums. According toBeal, deaccessioning should be the last resort for museums, as theirgoing concern is influenced by the significant paintings they have.For example, Beal says that if the DIA sold the Van Gogh during theDepression, the painting would not be on display today.

Blair’s main purpose for writing this article is to expose some ofthe financial plights that some museums undergo alongside theapplication of deaccessioning. The inclusion of deaccessioning anddisposal in museums is a critical clause. The author shows howbreaking the deaccessioning rules can bring unwanted outcomes tomuseums. The deaccession policy mandates that selling pieces of artshould be for the sole objectives of acquiring more art and not forfunding the operational functions of the museum. The Delaware ArtMuseum had one remaining after struggling with a financial debtdating five years back. Since the means to put up for refinancing hadfailed, to the museum resort to breaking the deaccession rule thusinviting problems. The museum used the cash from the sale of one ofits painting to pay off its debt rather than buying new pieces ofart. This move earned the Delaware Art Museum a revoke of itsaccreditation, ability to receive loaned works and other grantsbesides hurting their image to the point of refusing to participatein interviews.

The author manages to successfully reveal the dilemma involved in thepermanent removal of an artwork in a museum. Her use of the latestdeaccession situation gives the article a stronghold. She comparesthe impact of the deaccession plan on two significant museums. TheDelaware Art Museum is both a national and international center formajor exhibitions, outreach programs, funds for student enrichmentand art conservation. The Detroit Institute of Arts, on the otherhand, had the most valuable assets that would be of importance inclearing Detroit out of bankruptcy. Blair’s successfully juxtaposesboth decisions to sell some of its paintings as unclean because theybring disagreements and division. For instance, the Association ofArt Museum Directors (AAMD) and the Detroit attorney forbid the moveto preserve cultural assets. However, the art publisher, who seemsmore conversant with the daily operations of the museum and a visitorstand for utilizing the cash from the sale for the benefit of runningthe museum.

As much as Blair achieves building a debatable situation, she failsto clearly establish her stand. For instance, she concludes her workby including and quoting one of the visitor’s opinions on the selloff pieces of art. Besides, there are no pointers as to which sidethe author takes on deaccession. In this way, the author falls shortof incorporating her working title to illustrate the dirtiness ofdeaccessioning in the art world. The author only succeeds inhighlighting the deaccessioning issue but fails to take a stand. Infact, she mostly provides the opinion of other people by illustratingthe importance or harms of selling paintings, which only helps toinform the audience. Moreover, the information given is notcomprehensive enough to draw a line on whether museums shoulddeaccession arts or they should seek other ways of financing theirprojects.

Deaccession is a challenging move with diverging views from membersof the art society, visitors, art publishers and the general public.Whether the proceeds from deaccessioning go into the acquisition ofnew artwork or into operation expenses, it all serves the fundamentalintention of keeping the museum in healthy existence. The art societymight need to reconsider the deaccessioning policy especially whereit involves large art centers such as the Delaware Art Center.Blair’s article accomplishes drawing significant attention to therules and regulations surrounding deaccessioning along withconsequences resulting from disobedience of the same policy. Thiswork along with similar articles can form the basis of the artsociety revision on deaccession objectives.


Blair, E. (2014). As Museums try to make ends meet, `deaccession` isthe art world`s dirty word. National Public Radio. Retrieved13 October 2016, from

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