Monday, October 04, 2010
Museums On My MindI've had museums on my mind all morning...ever since I saw this posted on the Art Law Blog. Zaretsky's posting title makes his feelings on the situation VERY clear. But I found myself weighing the options: Yes, it would be terrible for a collection to lose part of itself purely for financial gain; and wouldn't it be equally terrible for an entire institution to shut down (and the collection disposed of) because that financial need couldn't be met?
I've noticed that in most of the press regarding the deaccessioning of art works (ahhh, horror, horror), the discussion is generally rooted in the AAM Code of Ethics (which you can download here). This is the policy with that famous line, "Proceeds from the sale of nonliving collections are to be used consistent with the established standards of the museum's discipline, but in no event shall they be used for anything other than acquisition or direct care of collections." But the very same bullet point begins with the sentence, "disposal of collections through sale, trade, or research activities is solely for the advancement of the museum's mission." Is continuing to EXIST not an advancement of the museum's mission??
Let's take a closer look at a museum's mission statement. The Met's mission statement:
"The mission of The Metropolitan Museum of Art is to collect, preserve, study, exhibit, and stimulate appreciation for and advance knowledge of works of art that collectively represent the broadest spectrum of human achievement at the highest level of quality, all in the service of the public and in accordance with the highest professional standards."
If the museum's mission statement asserts the goal to "collect, preserve, study, exhibit", then it essentially asserts that it intends to EXIST as a museum. I suppose that there is great deal of interpretation that could be inserted here--there is no mention of a brick-and-mortar building that houses the collection, for example. This could potentially be talking about a virtual, online collection as well, I suppose.
Let's take a look at The Rose Art Museum's mission statement:
"Founded in 1961, The Rose Art Museum of Brandeis University is an educational and cultural institution dedicated to collecting, preserving and exhibiting the finest of modern and contemporary art. The programs of the Rose adhere to the overall mission of the University, embracing its values of academic excellence, social justice, and freedom of expression.
An active participant in the academic, cultural, and social life of Brandeis, the Rose seeks to stimulate public awareness and disseminate knowledge of modern and contemporary art to enrich educational, cultural, and artistic communities regionally, nationally, and internationally. The Rose affirms the principle that knowledge of the past informs an understanding of the present and provides the critical foundation for shaping the future. It promotes learning and understanding of the evolving meanings, ideas, and forms of visual art relevant to contemporary society."
Looks like there's a similar problem here. The mission of the museum defines itself as being an "active participant", a "promot[er] of learning" and a "stimula[tor] of public awareness". It does not define itself as a building to house the collection, nor does it state the intent to keep the collection intact.
Perhaps, then, it is the mission statements of museums that need to change instead of the AAM code of ethics. New York State tried to pass a bill, but has been unsuccessful . No one is sure where that leaves us now.
What exactly happens when a museum closes? Here is one great example of museum collection (and disposal) policy. If this is in any way standard, then the various museums on the brink will be splitting up their collections to distribute among other institutions, and eventually selling what's leftover. So here we are again, back at that issue of selling works from the collection. Pretty vicious cycle.