Deaccessioning. Museum Cash Crisis

City by M.A

Available from and

I had a bit of a blog breakdown after writing Tuesday's post. I scoured on line for art news that I could add some of my, oh really, why? tone to, but aside from a few stories about the latest art heists which to be frank were from the retro period of the 70s, nothing much caught my eye. Except for the word "Deaccessioning".

Now that's a worrying word. What it basically means is that I've got some real competition on my hands to shift some of my art. "Deaccessioning", is what museums do when things get really tight. The art world is seeing huge leaps in sales, but remember that those large sales come from just 0.5% of the total market. Remember I wrote about this in my earlier post -

It seems that things in the world of fine art museums are woefully less economically vibrant. They have a dirty little secret, they're selling their art rather than saving it. This is concerning on a number of levels, firstly it takes away any possibility of the general public viewing the art, as it should be viewed in a climate controlled gallery. Secondly, I wonder who buys this work, and is it to actually help the museum, or is it to feed an ego that can only be maintained by having something that then becomes exclusive to them?

Don't get me wrong, I know a majority of art collectors who are collecting art above investment, do the right thing and look after the works. Some even allow the museum to keep the work on display. Others though are purely looking at the work as a transitional piece that will be sold and purchased, sold and purchased, just like stocks in the city. Supply and demand comes into this, and that's a whole story for another blog.

The problem has been fermenting for years. The Delaware Art Museum raised eyebrows in 2014 when they decided to carry out a "deaccessioning" exercise to make a dent in their $19.8m debt. The Association of Art Museum Directors applied sanctions, and gave the museum a good slap on the hand for treating art as disposable assets.

Deaccessioning isn't against the law. It is frowned upon. Usually this practice is seen when there is a forged piece within a collection, but ethical guidelines forbid museums from unloading their collections whenever times get a bit tight. Not sure I would have said $19.8m was a bit tight, more a bit dire. Could that situation have been handled differently? Possibly, but there is no real way of knowing, without knowing much more of the background.

You can read more over at the Smithsonian site and here is the link:

How would you handle a museum cash crisis?




Popular Posts