Donn Zaretsky responds to some lazy criticism by Christopher Knight of his deaccessioning arguments. If you want to have a serious discussion on the merits of a policy, then you should probably avoid distorting the opposing viewpoint, provide some evidence for your position, or at least take the time to read your opponnents views. In this case, painting Zaretsky with a broad “deregulation” brush, and revealing a real distaste for lawyers generally cuts against any broader point Knight may have had. Though the latter probably isn’t a bad idea generally—lawyers are a special breed after all—cultural policy and museum management has too long ignored and shunned sound legal principles.
That appears to be a real shame in this case as Zaretsky probably doesn’t disagree too much with Knight’s core philosophy on collections management. It seems to me Zaretsky points out the flaws and inherent inconsistencies in the stated policy. As he argues “what I see myself as having been doing during this debate is pointing out the inconsistencies in, the hypocrisy that is built into, the conventional art world view on deaccessioning (namely that it is perfectly fine when the proceeds are used to buy more art, but absolutely forbidden for all other purposes).” That seems to me to be a very valuable argument, and an important role that few others have done.
He goes on to discuss the prominent deaccession examples of recent years, including the National Academy to avoid closing its doors, or Universities want to sell works because of substantial drops in endowments, or Thomas Jefferson decides to sell its $68 million work because nobody visits it, or a universal museum attempts to shift gears because of a declining local economy. Now we can challenge these stated views, and certainly should maintain healthy skepticism of these attempts to deaccession works. However the current rules prevent and even preclude this kind of debate.
As I’ve speculated before, one wonders if in this economic climate, we may have to think about adopting the approach much of the rest of the World uses for cultural management, which is an increased level of Government support and funding. Much of the cultural management structures in the UK, such as the Waverley Export Process, were initiated in response to economic hard times, and the loss of art and world-heritage leaving the UK and heading elsewhere, namely to the US. It might be worth remembering, that the Universal Museums in america were formed at the expense of other nations. Though it may be pessimistic, I’m increasingly convinced that art follows money and influence.