AAMD Censures National Academy Museum
AAMD Censures National Academy Museum
The Association of Art Museum Directors released a statement today censuring New York's National Academy Museum for its decision to deaccession works of art from its collection in order to pay operating expenses.
"It is ... a fundamental professional principle that works can only be deaccessioned to provide funds to acquire works of art and enhance a museum’s collection," the statement reads. "The National Academy is now breaching one of the most basic and important of AAMD’s principles by treating its collection as a financial asset, rather than the cornerstone of research, exhibition, and public programming, a record of human creativity held in trust for people now and in the future."
The AAMD had approached the National Academy prior to its decision sell the works "in the hope that we could offer assistance in investigating alternatives to deaccessioning," according to the statement.
Upon notifying the AAMD of its decision last night, the National Academy voluntarily withdrew its membership in the association. In its statement, the AAMD responded to that move by saying, "It is not, however, membership in AAMD per se, but rather a broader commitment to ethical museum practice that demands adherence to the principles governing deaccessioning. Therefore, we have no choice but to censure the National Academy for this action."
According to the AAMD's code of ethics, its members are now called on to suspend loans of works of art to the institution as well as any ongoing collaborations. The association, which "aids its members in establishing and maintaining thehighest professional standards for themselves and the museums theyrepresent," has 180 museums in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
The National Academy Museum houses "one of the largest public collections of 19th- and 20th-century American art in the country," comprising more than 5,000 works "in almost every artistic style of the past two centuries," according to its Web site. The institution did not immediately respond to ARTINFO's request for comment on the matter.
The Artsjournal blog CultureGrrl, by veteran arts journalist Lee Rosenbaum, has revealed which works the National Academy sold, as well as some details behind the sale.
According to Rosenbaum, the deaccessioned works are the Hudson River School paintings Scene on the Magdalene (1854) by Frederic Edwin Church and Mt. Mansfield (1859) by Sanford Robinson Gifford. She also reports that the private sale, brokered by Sotheby's, was to a private foundation and that according to an agreement between the Academy and the foundation, the paintings are to be hung publicly, though no institution was specified.
Rosenbaum spoke with Carmine Branagan, interim director of the Academy since July, who said that the organization's membership of artists had voted 181 to 1 (with one abstention) in favor of selling the works. The proceeds are to be applied to programs, operations, fund-raising initiatives, and gallery improvements."
Branagan said the academy runs a "chronic operating deficit" of about $800,000 on a $3 million budget and may not dip into its $10 million endowment for operating expenses. "We had a choice of selling or becoming part of the dustbin of history," she said.
As for the AAMD's objection to the sale, Branagan said that the academy, which acquires works only through donations from its membership of artists, should not be bound by the association's guidelines, because "we are really not a traditional museum and we are not an acquiring museum, so it's difficult to adhere to a standard that's not part of who we are."
The Church and Gifford works were part of a donation from member James A. Suydam in 1865.
Rosenbaum also reports that two additional works are being considered for deaccessioning: John White Alexander's Portrait of Mrs. Thomas Hastings (1901) and Robert Blum's Study for a Japanese Beggar (1891). The Academy aims to raise a total of $15 million through the sales, much of which has reportedly already been earned from the Church and Gifford works.