October 29, 2006

Three perspecitves on deacessioning

Posted at 2:18 pm in Similar cases

The three articles below all appeared within a relatively short space of time & show how much opinion on the merits of deaccessioning varies.

In the first article, a Geneva Museum is trying to sell two ancient manuscripts in order to raise additional funds for the museum. So far, the issues have been dealt with in a secretive way which has heightened the amount of negative opinion. While in an ideal world the museum would keep the manuscripts, selling them enables them to ensure the continued preservation of many other items in their collection. In my opinion, while this sale is not necessarily a good thing, it is not a bad thing either.

In the second article, The Victoria & Albert Museum is considering leasing items in their collection (but not on display) to raise money. Generally people seem of the opinion that this is a good idea – although the only real difference with the first case is that the items are to be leased rather than sold. The intention of raising funds for the institution is almost identical. As these paintings are not on display anyway, it would appear that the only detrimental aspect that people could raise would be increased risk of damage or fading. The counter argument to this would be though that a publicly funded museum has no place in keeping artefacts out of view of the public.

In the last article, the Bury museum (owned by the Local Authority) has stirred up controversy by taking the decision to sell one of the Lowry paintings in their collection to help clear debts from other departments of the council – here the sale is purely for the money & does not directly benefit the museum in any way. Here it is clear that the museum is not making the decision, but is instead being forced into the move by its parent organisation – the paintings are purely seen as a financial asset rather than as part of the area’s local heritage.


October 28, 2006 – 10:10 AM
War of words erupts over sale of ancient texts
Plans by a Geneva museum to sell two ancient manuscripts for millions of dollars have drawn consternation from scholars around the world.

They fear the sale of the papyri, which date back to the 2nd century, could precipitate the break-up of a unique collection of around 50 texts held by the Bodmer Foundation.

The Bodmer, based in Cologny just outside the city, says it needs to raise money to guarantee the long-term future of its museum, which opened only three years ago.

But around 20 academics from Switzerland and abroad are calling for the sale of two manuscripts – gospels of St John and St Luke – to be halted.

According to Paul Schubert, professor of ancient Greek at Geneva University, the collection to which the texts belong is one of the most extensive and valuable of its kind in the world.

He says it contains New Testament codices, other Christian texts and three comedies by the Greek playwright Menander, which were all found together.

“One of the jewels of the [Bodmer] collection is this set of ancient books from the second to fourth century AD that all belong together,” Schubert told swissinfo. “It is the same as if the British Museum decided to sell one panel from the Parthenon frieze.”


The professor, who is a specialist in ancient papyri, said colleagues both at home and abroad were also concerned about the “hushed” way in which the sale was being conducted.

He said they only got wind of it after an academic tipped them off earlier this year that Yale University in the United States was being lined up as a possible buyer.

“We don’t know to whom they want to sell; we don’t really know what they want to do with the money. Is it really to pay for the museum or to buy other things?” said Schubert.

“We are just trying to draw attention to the fact that something has to be done. Selling the prize assets to keep an institution running is not the right way to do it. They are just shooting themselves in the foot,” he added.

The Geneva University professor suggested that the museum would be better off selling items of which they had two copies, adding that he hoped the cantonal government might be persuaded to intervene.

Raise capital

The reaction from the academic community has infuriated Jean Bonna, chairman of the foundation’s board, who insists the body is acting in the best interests of the museum.

Bonna explained that the foundation urgently needed to raise capital to help cover the organisation’s annual running costs of SFr1.8 million ($1.4 million).

He added that the foundation hoped to make around $9 million from the sale of the papyri, which he stressed had already been published in their entirety. The transaction has yet to be completed.

“We always knew that the [foundation’s] capital would be insufficient to run this museum, and ever since we opened the museum we have been discussing what to sell,” he said.

“It’s a responsible choice we have made after much reflection and taking all the interests into consideration,” he added.

Bonna pointed out that the manuscripts would be going to a museum, university or major library in Europe or America where they would still be accessible to researchers.

“The by-laws of the foundation are extremely clear: they allow us – if we need the foundation to survive, which is the case – to sell anything from the foundation,” he said.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont in Geneva

The Art Newspaper

V&A considers leasing paintings
By Martin Bailey | Posted 26 October 2006

LONDON. The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) may lease out pictures which are not required for display, to generate money for acquisitions. The idea was revealed by director Mark Jones, who plans to put a proposal to his trustees next year.

The V&A has 2,000 oil paintings, which makes it the country’s third largest collection. The difficulty, however, is that there is only space to show 170 oil paintings in its refurbished picture galleries, which were opened three years ago. A further 180 are on show in other galleries.

Mr Jones believes that it is wrong to keep large numbers of pictures off view. “I don’t feel it is defensible to hold objects in store, like paintings, which are intended for display.” The stored pictures, housed in premises in Olympia, can be seen by appointment and are available for loan to other museums (70 are currently out on loan).

Many of the stored works are of interest, but Mr Jones admits that there is a rump which are very unlikely to be requested. He believes that deaccessioning should be considered, but leasing does at least offer the opportunity to reclaim a work if tastes change, and it is wanted for display.

The leasing would probably be for several years, on a renewable basis, and Mr Jones insists it would be important to retain a degree of public access. This could be a similar system to that of conditional exemption from inheritance tax, under which owners are required to give access to individuals by appointment and to lend, when requested, to public exhibitions.

Leased V&A paintings could go to either companies or private individuals, with borrowers agreeing to environmental and security conditions, and to proper insurance. Money raised from leasing would be used for acquisitions. Mr Jones stresses that he still wishes to retain a strong display of paintings at the V&A, partly to emphasise the links between the fine and decorative arts.

Although less than a fifth of the V&A’s paintings are currently on display, there could eventually be some additional space. One plan is for paintings to expand into the adjacent textile galleries, if textiles were eventually moved to a new building in the area where the Spiral was to have been erected. This would double the paintings galleries, making it possible to show another 170 pictures, but this would still leave around three-quarters off view. Further space in the textile galleries is many years away and there will inevitably be competing bids for the rooms from other museum

BBC News

Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 October 2006, 11:44 GMT 12:44 UK
Lowry sale council faces action

A council planning to auction an LS Lowry painting to help balance its books may be excluded from the Museums Association, its chief has said.

A Riverbank was bought in 1951 by Bury Council in Greater Manchester for £175, but could now fetch up to £500,000.

Mark Taylor, director of the Museums Association, described the sale as “deeply irresponsible” and said it faced disciplinary action.

The authority said it was putting its people before a picture.

The painting has been removed from display at Bury Museum and Art Gallery to prepare it for sale at Christie’s on 17 November.

“It really is deeply irresponsible of Bury to start flogging off some of their pictures,” said Mr Taylor.

“Museums are very much about people’s identity and of course Lowry was one of the great artists of North West England.

“It’s really important the children, and people of all ages who go there, understand about the history of Bury and for them just simply to sell this picture for short term reasons, future generations will never see it and the picture may well leave the country.”

Mr Taylor told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he still hoped to convince the council to keep the artwork.

‘Wilderness years’

But he said disciplinary proceedings had been set up should the sale go ahead and expulsion was one of the options open to the panel.

“If that happens we will encourage governments and public funding bodies to refuse to deal or give any money to Bury museums,” he said.

But Bury Council leader Wayne Campbell told the BBC the association’s statement showed “a level of ignorance unsurpassed in the debate”.

He said the association had never had to make “the real decisions faced by a poorly funded public authority, anxious to ensure its spending was directed to vulnerable children, as Bury had to face in 2005/06”.

“They don’t live in the real world,” said Mr Campbell.

“Here in Bury we have decided that people come before a picture, and that can only be right.

“I am really glad this group doesn’t run our social services.”

‘Lack of funding’

Only one authority, Derbyshire County Council, has been expelled since the association was founded in 1889.

As a result, the authority “spent a number of years in the wilderness and suffered considerably from a lack of support and funding”, Mr Taylor said.

The Museums Association is a professional body which looks after the interests of museums, galleries and their employees.

LS Lowry is most famous for his matchstick men and industrial landscapes, based largely on Manchester and Salford.

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