Will Iowa's 2008 floods end up washing away on of the state's prized works of art? The Daily Iowan reports that legislators introduced a bill in the Iowa House Wednesday to compel the University of Iowa to sell its famous Jackson Pollock painting, Mural, and use the revenue for scholarship assistance. The painting hung in the UI Museum of Art but has been in Davenport and Chicago since the 2008 floods. Mural is considered to be one of the most important modern Ameircan paintings. In the 1940s the UI School of Art and Art History was one of the most innovative studio arts programs. Pollock patron and art dealer Peggy Guggenheim gave the Mural to the University in 1951. It is valued at $140 million.
There seems to be a lot of deaccessioning going on at museums around the country. The Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia is the latest, announcing that it has decided to sell 13 paintings by the British painter Walter Greaves, a friend of James McNeill Whistler's. The museum will sell 12 of the artworks through Christie's New York starting with the Old Master & 19th Century Paintings, Drawings & Watercolors sale on January 26 and others will be sold at the Interiors sale in February. The 13th painting, a portrait of Whistler, may be placed with local museum.
As per the usual terms of deaccessioning, money earned in the sales will go into the Rosenbach's acquisitions fund to be used for being new art. Derick Dreher, the museum's director, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the decision to sell was made back in October. The Greaves works were acquired in 1911 by Philip H. Rosenbach, an art dealer who founded the museum with his brother, A.S.W. Rosenbach. According to Dreher, Rosenbach spent the next 30 years trying to sell the paintings but he had bought them at a high point and was never able to get a return on his investment.
Walter Greaves met Whistler around 1863 and Whistler took on Greaves and his older brother as studio assistants. The Greaves brothers taught Whistler how to row, he encouraged them to draw and paint. Greaves made many portraits of Whistler including the image shown at right, showing a dandified Whistler on the widow's walk at his house in Lindsey Row, Chelsea. Greaves achieved some level of notoriety and had several exhibitions but fell into disfavor and died in poverty. The painting shown at right is estimated at $30,000 to $50,000.
The Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland, Ohio is the latest to deaccession some older art. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the museum will be selling off 32 works as part of the auction of "Important Old Master Paintings" at Sotheby's in New York starting on January 27. As with many other deaccessioning efforts, this one is selling off many works that haven't been exhibited in recent years. There may even be some deals to be had, 21 lots from the museum have a low-end estimate of under $10,000. To some collectors, works that have been in a museum can have more value because of provenance. Most of the works to be sold were given as gifts. Earnings from the sale will be used to buy more paintings for the collection.
In 1949 the museum bought the pair of paintings shown above which depict Roman hero Horatius Cocles defending the Tiber. They were believed were by the important 18th century Italian painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo but experts later confirmed that they were done by a follower of Tiepolo. The painting are being sold as one lot with an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000.
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.
The economy seems to have prompted another museum to consider a major deaccessioning. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Montclair Art Museum in Montclair, New Jersey will sell 50 works from the museum's permanent collection. Christie's has prepared a prospectus for the pieces and predicts that the sale could bring in between $2.9 million and $4.3 million for the museum. Among the pieces for sale is a Jackson Pollock drawing valued at $300,000 to $500,000. The museum has said it will use the funds for future art purchases.
According to the Journal article the museum has been selling things off for a while. And last January, it shipped off its 6,000-volume art library as a gift to Montclair State University . The museum may sell its costume and rug collections next and the Native American artworks could also be in peril.
The Association of Art Museum Directors forbids museums from using the sale of art in their permanent collections to pay for general operating expenses or to underwrite loans but deaccessioning can be a way to refine a museum's focus, selling things that don't fit the vision to acquire things that do. But lately the continued paring down has the public, and potential donors, concerned. James Panero's article in the Journal seems to indicate that there are a variety of factors to consider in the Montclair Art Museum sale and that the reasons for this particular deaccessioning are far from cut and dried. Collections carefully put together over years and time represent a particular mission to both the museum and the community it serves and so care must be taken to make sure that the art itself just doesn't become any emergency bailout package.
Many museums are deaccessioning works of art but the Indianapolis Museum of Art is making it easy for potential buyers to find out which pieces will be up for sale. The museum has created a searchable database of recently deaccessioned artworks on its website. The list includes information on when a piece will be sold at auction, valuation, provenance and in some cases a picture of the piece. The deaccessioned works include coins, paintings and even pieces of vintage lace.
ArtDaily reports that the database is part of a whole new level of transparency for the museum. Later the database will be used to show how money raised by deaccessioned artworks will be used to buy new pieces by including links from deaccessioned works to new acquisitions (proceeds from deaccessioned works are used only to acquire other works of art and not used to pay operating expenses). The piece shown at right is a Madonna and Child on a wood panel which will be auctioned off as part of Christie's Interiors sale on June 26.