Filed under: Art
The issue of when and just how much of its artwork a museum can sell is one we keep seeing in the news. A planned Denver museum's plan to sell four paintings done by its namesake is causing a bit of controversy. The Clyfford Still Museum has announced a plan to sell four of the 825 paintings mean to be housed in the new Clyfford Still Museum.
The sale could raise $25 million for the museum because Still's work rarely comes up for sale. The museum will be a Clyfford Still treasure trove housing 94% of the artist's work. The Denver Post reports that the sale doesn't technically violate the American Association of Museums and Association of Art Museum Directors terms for "deaccessioning" artworks. The privately funded museum hasn't opened yet and therefore hasn't taken possession of the pieces which were bequeathed to the city of Denver when Still's widow, Patricia, died in 2005.
According to the Denver Post article the museum petitioned a Maryland county court to permit the estate to release the four works early before the formal transfer of ownership so it isn't so much deaccessioning as pre-deaccessioning. The works would be sold as a group to other museums. Once the museum owns the paintings the rules are clear that it can't sell art to boost its coffers. Although Still wanted his work to remain intact in a single collection, his wife had donated or sold several works after her husband's death, a precedent that the museum is using to justify the potential sale.
The museum ethics rules are in place to make sure that museum leaders do not sell artworks to balance budgets during crises but we've seen several university-related museums test the boundaries of these rules. The Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University threatened to close and sell off its $350 million art trove but ended up with a plan to rent them instead. More recently Fisk University in Nashville received approval to sell off a share in its Stieglitz art collection to the Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas.