Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Market for art

One of the unusual things about the art market is that the "velocity" of art that becomes acknowledged as important, i.e. the rate at which it changes hands, is low. This is particularly so for art that is acquired by museums; it is often much harder for museums to sell art ("deaccession" it) than to buy it; many people think that museums should not sell art, particularly when it is acquired by donation. (Tax laws cause a lot of art to be donated to museums, as does the desire to maintain the integrity of particular collections.)

All of this is on display following the decision of Brandeis University to close its art museum and sell all of its art: Ailing Brandeis will shut museum, sell treasured art. The university needs both to cut its budget and replenish its endowment, but the decision to do it this way has aroused at least a little repugnance. Some quotes from the Globe article:

"The move shocked local arts leaders and drew harsh criticism from Rose supporters and the Association of College and University Museums and Galleries. "

"While museums regularly deaccession individual pieces, the wholesale sell-off of a collection of the Rose's stature is unprecedented. Codes of practice common among museums stress that art should not be sold to cover operating expenses."

""I'm in shock," said Mark Bessire, the recently named director of the Portland Museum Of Art. "This is definitely not the time to be selling paintings, anyway. The market is dropping. I'm just kind of sitting here sweating because I can't imagine Brandeis would take that step.""

""This art was never given to the museum for those purposes," he said. "It should be a last resort. I can't understand how Brandeis is in such dire straits."

"There's a history of the Rose, a beautiful history in the annals of contemporary art that is not understood by the president or any of the board of trustees," said Lee. "What they’re doing is a travesty.""

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