Friday, February 21, 2014

Should museums sell art only to buy more art?

Another university has contemplated--and then gone ahead with--selling art to raise money.
Inside Higher Ed has the story:

February 10, 2014
"More than six years after announcing plans to sell a masterpiece of American painting -- the 1912 work "Men of the Docks," by George Bellows -- Randolph College has done so, gaining $25.5 million for its endowment.
In selling the painting, the college disregarded the policies of several art and museum groups, which state that museums (including those run by colleges) should sell art only to buy more art, not to improve their finances. The significance of "Men of the Docks" is evident not only by the price, but by the purchaser, the National Gallery of Britain, for which the painting is the first major work by an American ever bought for the permanent collection.
Randolph officials portray the sale as a success for the college, giving its endowment a significant boost, and point as well to internship opportunities the National Gallery has agreed to create for Randolph students.
But arts associations fear that such sales only encourage others, and undermine the role of college museums in preserving art, and educating students about art. In some cases, as at Randolph, college administrators have proposed to sell art. Brandeis University administrators in 2009 proposed to sell off its noted collection of modern art -- and the university backed away from the plan after a huge uproar.
Sometimes the idea is pushed from outside (especially at public universities). In 2011, some legislators urged the University of Iowa to sell Jackson Pollock's "Mural," an 8-by-20-foot painting that is considered one of the masterpieces of abstract art and of modern American art. (The university resisted the push.)
At Randolph, the board approved plans in 2007 to sell four paintings from the college's art museum, fought off a lawsuit seeking to block the sale, and sold one prior to "Men of the Docks," which is by far the most valuable and artistically significant in the collection."

Recall the earlier imbroglio that ensued when Brandeis university considered selling some of its art, which I wrote about here.

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