untitled.jpgRemember we told you about Montclair Art Museum’s (MAM) plan to deaccession pieces from its collection? Well, an opinion piece that followed in the Wall Street Journal set off controversy with an assertion that MAM’s actions would be “another sorry example of an institution cashing out on art in the public trust.”
Lora Urbanelli, director of the Montclair Art Museum, says deaccessioning is not a dirty word. It’s something that’s done by practically every museum. Doing it correctly means that monies from the sale of the deaccessioned pieces go directly toward the acquisition of new art. “We’re doing what we need to do to ride out the recession and make it to our centennial. But to suggest that the deaccessioning was being done as a means to securitize a bond was entirely untrue.” Urbanelli adds that everything being done in regards to deaccessioning is in line with the American Association of Museum Directors’ guidelines. “Whenever you sell a work of art, you use the funds to buy another work of art. This is the guarantee you make to the public. You don’t sell paintings to pay the electric bill.”

MAM received support from the Los Angeles Times and Modern Art Notes in response to the WSJ article.
Urbanelli says the pieces that will be auctioned by Christie’s have been chosen carefully and for specific reasons. “You look at the collection and evaluate whether you need to keep a piece by an artist that’s not as good as the others you own, a piecethat has been sitting in storage. You consider if it makes more sense to sell it and acquire something that is better for the collection.”
Most of the items up for auction have never been shown. One example is a handful of rugs that have sat in storage (the museum does not have textile curators). “Long ago it was decided that MAM is an American Art museum, so some pieces don’t fit that mission.”
The first of the sales is May 13, when the fragile untitled Jackson Pollock drip drawing goes on the block. The last sale is June 10.

Liz George is the publisher of Montclair Local. liz@montclairlocal.news

10 replies on “Clearing Up Misconceptions About MAM’s Deaccessioning”

  1. That’s the first Pollack I’ve found even remotely pleasing. It says 400-600k but I’ll bet it goes for more than that.

  2. Not so fast on the cheerful dismissal of this one as a non-starter in terms of controversy, Liz.
    According to the “culture grrl” blog which runs on the daily “Arts Journal” website, at least one of the “deaccessioned” (an unfortunately coined word which, weirdly, to me instead recalls Goering looting the best of Europe’s art during the early 40’s for his private collection) pieces was in fact listed in the Montclair Museum’s own catalogue of 200 important holdings, a copy of which the blogger bought during her recent visit to the Museum.
    So if the piece (the Pollock drawing? I don’t recall) was important enough to cite in an official Musuem publication as a key piece, why is it suddenly unimportant enough to be put up for sale? Did Ms. Urbanelli address this issue even partially? Certainly this smacks of bad advance planning on the part of the Museum staff, leading to a now dedundant Museum publication and the accompanying waste of paper and ink.

  3. I have never found anything by Jackson Pollock to be remotely pleasing, including the dribbled farce shown above. Really, I’d like someone to explain to me why this thing is worth half a mil…

  4. It’s worth whatever some other sucker is willing to pay for it, Pork Roll. But yes, once you’ve seen two or three Pollocks, you’ve pretty much seen them “all.”
    More on the Montclair Art Museum matter, Liz: there seems also to remain some controversy as to what the proceeds from the 6 planned sales will actually go for. The Museum apparently claimed that these monies will go solely for the purchase of new acquisitions, but was perhaps subsequently caught fibbing a mite, since according to the WSJ’s James Panero they also “will first be used to keep the museum’s endowment at the level required to satisfy terms governing the institution’s tax-exempt bonds, which had been issued to fund its expansion.” That was the key point raised in the original WSJ story, which I don’t quite think is effectively refuted by Urbanelli’s vague reassurances to the contrary.
    The extensive list of deaccessioned pieces also includes, among other stuff (your own dismissive reference to a “handful of rugs” which’d never even been displayed was a bit of a red herring), two Gilbert Stuart portraits, albeit not of Washington. Nonetheless, they and so much else being sold off (a Winslow Homer, a William Merritt Chase, a Bierstadt, a Glackens, a Motherwell, even a 7-volume folio of Audobon’s “Birds of America” – this is a first-string grouping of artists even if art historians might plausibly dismiss the individual examples of their work as minor ones) constitutes American art, which is after all the Montclair Museum’s mission.
    So this doesn’t sound as cheerfully disposed of a matter as Ms. Urbanelli claims. At the least, it seems to call for some follow-up reporting by whichever Barista has the cultural beat. And there is much more of interest at http://www.artsjournal.com/culturegrrl.
    The list of deaccessioned pieces, by the way, is apparently not on the Montclair Museum’s own web site, which seems a curious omission.

  5. Yes, cathar, there are a number of works being sold by first string artists. In those cases Urbanelli has said the museum has other more significant works by these artists and that these piece have not been on display because the museum owned more important works they chose to display. So while a museum that didn’t have any Gilbert Stuart works would be in a position to want to acquire these portraits, MAM already has other works that they consider to be better.

  6. I’ve offered to trade my throw rug, where I recently spilled coffee and tomato sauce, for a Pollack, but the museum isn’t returning my phone calls, I think because they discriminate against small mammals with big ears.

  7. Liz, I’d honestly expected you to be a snoop on this one, not just to buy into Urbanelli’s pat-sounding responses and bland reassurances. So why, for example, the dumping off of a piece which the MAM itself listed as one of its 200 most significant in its own suddenly redundant publication? And given the sort of coverage this matter has been drawing, you couldn’t have posed a few harder questions?
    (As a sidebar, if you really want to see a large, first-class collection of American art and you haven’t yet ever been there, get thee to the Wadsworth Atheneneum in Hartford, CT.)
    Walleroo, in some circles you’re probably viewed as a potential rug yourself. But no matter how stained your t-shirt is from your tendency towards slurping, I’d still always assign much more value to your sorry hide than I would to any late-period Jackson Pollock.

  8. I understand the controversy behind where funds will go from the sale of these pieces. However, the important thing here is that MAM is doing this to stay alive. Think about the difficult decisions they have had to make over the past few months in order to keep functioning. Do we really want to lose such an important institution in our town? No one is giving, the endowment is down and who knows what else is effecting they’re bottom line. So cut them some slack and let them do what they have to survive and get through this economic mess.

  9. If more people in Montclair actually supported the museum financially, they wouldn’t need to deaccession works to buy new artwork.

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