New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, under the direction of Max Hollein, is considering selling some of the rarely or never-shown works in its collection in order to offset a possible $150 million budget gap, the New York Timesreports. Doing so would allow the museum to take advantage, as many other blue-chip institutions have, of the Association of Art Museum Directors’ (AAMD) announcement last April that it was temporarily loosening restrictions surrounding deaccessioning. Typically, money from sales of museums’ artworks must go toward the purchase of other artworks. Recognizing the peril in which the continuing Covid-19 crisis has placed museums, the AAMD has said that until April 10, 2022, such funds may be spent on the care of the institutions’ existing collections.
“None of us have a full perspective on how the pandemic will play out,” Hollein told the Times. “It would be inappropriate for us not to consider it, when we’re still in this foggy situation.”
Should the Met decide to sell some of its works, it would be following in the footsteps of the Brooklyn Museum and the Baltimore Museum of Art, both of which met with resistance, with the latter, especially, taking so much heat over its planned deaccessioning of three well-known works by Brice Marden, Clyfford Still, and Andy Warhol that it abandoned the sale of all three.
Former Met director Thomas P. Campbell, now director and chief executive of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, expressed alarm over the possibility of the Met selling off works, writing on his Instagram, “The danger is that deaccessioning for operating costs will become the norm, especially if leading museums like the Met follow suit. Deaccessioning will be like crack cocaine to the addict — a rapid hit, that becomes a dependency.”
Should the decision to sell works be taken, the museum’s board must first approve a revision to the institution’s collections care policy, which it is expected to do in March. Then the Met’s curators would have to carefully evaluate their respective departments’ holdings before choosing works to be sold; after that, the sale of the selected works would have to be approved by department heads, Hollein, and the board.