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The Met Considers Deaccessioning Art to Raise Maintenance Funds

NICOLE MCNULTY, HOST: It’s been reported that the Metropolitan Museum of Art is considering deaccessioning, or selling valuable pieces of art to raise funds to pay for collection maintenance.

KATIE ANASTAS, HOST: It’s a very controversial move in the museum world, but one that many institutions are now considering as they struggle to balance their public mission with financial survival during the pandemic.Fei Lu reports.

FEI LU, BYLINE: Museums do remove work from their collections, but rarely for cash sale. Sometimes they’ll donate duplicate or flawed works to other institutions. Then COVID happened, and museums lost months of admissions and gift shop sales, leaving them cash strapped. Erika Sanger is the executive director of The Museum Association of New York. She says for an institution as vast as the Metropolitan Museum, the maintenance costs alone are substantial.

ERIKA SANGER: The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the largest art museum in the United States. It is the largest physical plant with the largest collection, a leak in the roof at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It's not going to cost same to fix as a leak in the roof of a small upstate historical society.

LU: Last week in an interview in the New York Times, the Metropolitan’s director Max Hollein said the museum was considering deaccessioning works in its permanent collection. Its not clear how the Met might use the income from sales. We asked the museum to comment for the story and they didn’t respond. Last April, the Association of Art Museum Directors lifted its restrictions on museums deaccessioning art, for a period of two years. And there is a general recognition in the art world that museums may now have to take steps that a year ago were considered unthinkable.

ROSANNA FLOUTY: The power of museums is that they are in the Forever Business. But if a work is acquired by a museum, the tacit understanding is it won't get deaccessioned.

LU: Rosanna Flouty is a professor in the Museum Studies Program at NYU. She says deaccession may solve short term fiscal problems, but has long-term risks.

FLOUTY: The fear is that it opens the floodgates for museums to go ahead and deaccession their works, to then keep the lights on. And, and I know that, I think many would argue that that's just bad decision making.

LU: She says if deaccessions become regular practice, artists and donors may hesitate to donate art to museums. And short-term finances shouldn’t influence decisions about what stays in museums collections. Hazel Clark is a professor at Parsons School of Design.

HAZEL CLARK: This is what museums do, basically, they're cultural institutions, but also, you know, they their objects are also commodities. I mean, they have market value. So that's, that's the truth of the matter. So, you know, it has happened in many other museums and is happening in other museums whether we like it or not.

LU: The Met is reportedly consulting with auction houses before making more specific deaccession plans. Fei Lu, Uptown Radio.


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