Museums and their Observers Debate the Field’s Deaccessioning Ethics

Category: Ethics
19th century engraving of a live auction, with auctioneer at a podium pointing at a painting and audience standing before him

Recent sales of art by institutions like the Berkshire Museum and Baltimore Museum of Art have reignited the debate about when and how museums deaccession collections and to what purposes they can apply the funds generated from sales. There is consensus that museums need to be careful that their governing authorities and the public understand that collections are not a financial asset to be raided to fund new initiatives, but opinions vary as to how museums can deaccession and still meet their responsibilities as public trusts.

“If rules against deaccessioning did not exist, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko warns in Museum Administration 2.0, the collection would appear to be “a cash reserve to be used anytime it is needed.” Beatty agrees that keeping museum art off the market is crucial, but he suggests there may be better ways to achieve that goal.”

– Steve Dubb

August 1, 2018; Hyperallergic "Deaccessioning-the permanent removal of objects and/or art from a museum's collection-has been at the forefront of many discussions of museums of late," notes Bob Beatty in Hyperallergic.

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