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May 22, 2010

When deaccessioning from museums is possible

Posted at 2:25 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

The British Museum (& most state / local authority owned museums in the UK), often stand behind the screen of anti-deaccessioning regulations, using these as an excuse to avoid restitution claims, stating that there is no point even entering into discussion, as they would not be allowed to return the artefacts if they did want to. In many countries though, deaccessioning is far less of a problem & can be relatively commonplace, as evidenced that the International Council of Museums publishes specific guidelines on the subject.

The guidelines are in fact published for the entirely different reason, that recently, a number of US art collections have tried to sell off large chunks of their collections. Therefore, it is clear that deaccessioning, while not perhaps legally regulated, should have clear ethical guidelines in place for institutions to sign up to as they wish – on the other hand, this is a completely different thing to outlawing the practice altogether.


Museum deaccessioning:
April 4, 2010
International Committee of ICOM for Museum and Collections of Modern Art

The International Council of Museums
General Principles on Conditions of Deaccession from Museum Collections


Ethical codes must evolve in response to the evolving nature of standards and practices in museums and in society, and need to be periodically reviewed, discussed and updated.

In view of recent controversial practice with regard to selling art from museum collections, CIMAM states its opposition in the first instance to the notion of deaccession. In those instances where deaccession is deemed defensible or necessary, CIMAM’s General Assembly adopts the following set of principles for the conditions of deaccession, and urges the directors of member institutions to accept these principles as guidelines for their institutions.
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