Monday, February 22, 2010

Deaccesioning in the Museum World: A Message from the Director

Today we hear again from guest poster Brian T. Allen, the Addison Gallery's Mary Stripp & R. Crosby Kemper Director, this time regarding deaccessioning policies in museums:

Recently I returned to Andover from the annual meeting of the Association of Art Museum Directors, the key organization representing the major museums in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Over the past few years, the dominant issue at this conference has been the restitution of stolen art, primarily Nazi loot but more recently antiquities. On both accounts the Addison could take a politely interested but ultimately distanced view. But in this past meeting in January a new issue emerged to displace the mighty topic of restitution: the sale of art from permanent collections to pay for operating expenses.

The centrality of this issue merely reflects the temper of the times. Many museums are under enormous financial pressures as endowments have dropped, visitorship continues a long term decline, and donors have become strapped for disposable cash. Many museums facing financial problems have substantial assets – art in the permanent collection – and more and more directors and trustees are seeing the sale of some of these assets as a quick fix.

The Association of Art Museum Directors decided years ago to thwart temptations of this kind with a simple, straightforward rule. It is a violation of museum ethics to use money from the sale of a work of art accessioned in the permanent collection for any reason other than the purchase of new art.

There are many reasons for this standard. When an object enters a permanent collection, it becomes part of the history of the museum and part of the cultural heritage of the community the museum serves. It enters the collection via a curatorial decision that it will advance the educational mission of the museum. Selling art to pay the bills is an assault on the mission and heritage of the museum and an affront to the proposition that art has a unique power to educate and to inspire.

There are practical reasons as well for this standard. Selling art to support operating expenses puts the museum on a very slippery slope indeed. Trustees and major donors, if they know that this avenue is available for balancing the budget, will pressure museum directors and curators to sell art rather than write checks themselves to support the museum. Why should a donor give money to a museum that has ample assets to liquidate as opposed to the local animal shelter, theater company, or hospital that has no such assets? The risks to the museum are enormous, and the effects of selling art to pay operating expenses are deeply corrosive.

This issue will stay with us for some time. The Association of Art Museum Directors has its standard but the American Association of Museums, which represents art museums, historical societies, house museums, and science and children's museums, has a critically different standard. The American Association of Museums allows for the sale of art to support and purchase new art and the undefined cause of “direct collection care.” Each institution is free to interpret this rule in its own way. It could be interpreted liberally to include not only conservation of works of art but salaries for registrars, curators and even for the portion of the electric bill commensurate with the percentage of the museum building occupied by art storage. Given the terrible state of museum finances, this may indeed evolve as the museum standard as a way to smuggle new money into museum coffers.

Many museums are seeking to tap endowments dedicated to acquisitions for operating expenses, and these museums are not institutions at the margins of the museum world. In this dangerous and ambiguous world, there will be much more to report to you in the future as this story unfolds.

Posted by:

Brian T. Allen
The Mary Stripp & R. Crosby Kemper Director

Monday, February 15, 2010

Thinking Outside the Frame

“Going out into the world and seeing people who live, breathe, and ARE their art was incredible.”

In order to help students think outside the frame for a self-portrait assignment, the Addison Gallery arranged for three Lawrence High School photography classes to visit three art galleries in the SoWa (South of Washington Street) neighborhood of Boston’s South End.

"Visiting the exhibit clarified my goal…”

At Gallery Kayafas, Arlette Kayafas talked students through the taxonomic groupings of portraits by August Sander, the seemingly candid street scenes by Jules Aarons, and the portraits of women and children in Lebanon by Rania Matar.

One student, who had been struggling to find the best way to format her desire to use a series of photographs of the moon to express her individuality, was inspired by Sanders’s “wall photos side by side creating just one of his main topic.” She now plans to use this grouping idea to generate visual interest in her image.

“I remember a certain piece of art that was so small that people had to get really close to see the shape and detail. It was fascinating! So, I’ll put small details in my [work] that will stand out by making people focus more.”

At Carroll and Sons, Joseph Carroll invited students to explore works from the Boston Drawing Project, created to make works on paper available to a larger audience. This incredibly wide variety of works, ranging from paintings and drawings to photographs and collage, inspired students to think about creative modes of expression for their self-portraits.

“I plan on adding some of the artists’ techniques into my own artwork, such as creative textures and repeated patterns for the background of my photos.”

“I noticed that artists don’t just have one thing that they’re influenced by. For example, Raul was influenced by his culture, where he grew up, his own likes and imagination, AND Japanese anime! He displayed all of that in his work and I plan to collaborate most of my passions and influences into my work as well.”

Raul Gonzalez, whose exhibition of drawings, animations, paintings, and an artist book featuring fictional characters that play on vintage animations and cartoons, entitled “Lookum Here: It Might Could Have Been,” was on display at Carroll and Sons, talked through his inspiration, process, and work with students. This opportunity to meet an exhibiting artist moved some students think more about their own artistic process

“I’m thinking of getting a sketchbook and drawing specific characters I always draw… The art gallery showed me that I can most likely integrate my cartooning tendencies with photography as long as the main idea stays intact.”

“You can barely notice where he cut the image.”

At the Howard Yezerski Gallery, students were fascinated with the collages and photomontages of John O’Reilly. Comparisons between his work and the works on paper by other artists in the exhibition inspired other students to consider the applications of these techniques in their own work.

“I am going to use John O’Reilly’s focus on collage and incorporate it into my text. I want to take a picture of our student body at lunch and then take pictures of different letters for my text.”

As one student realized, having the exposure to artists and artwork, “instead of looking at someone’s artwork online or in a book,” greatly widens their approaches to their assignment and their work as artists outside the classroom. “I’ve realized that artistic freedom is limitless.”

Posted by
Jamie Kaplowitz
Education Fellow

Monday, February 8, 2010

Holy Giacometti!

Today we hear from guest poster Brian T. Allen, the Addison Gallery's Mary Stripp & R. Crosby Kemper Director, regarding the current state of the art market:

Although Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) was not an American artist, I could hardly not notice the sale of one of his life-size bronzes for £65,000,000, the most expensive work ever sold at auction (see left). The sale, which took place on February 3 at Sotheby’s in London, speaks much about the chaotic state of the art market in the depths of a terrible economy.

I follow the art market closely, both the auction art market and the dealer-based market and want to share a few observations about the state of the market in light of the Sotheby’s auction. The market is in a curious place now. Buyers have lost many, many billions of dollars during the course of the financial crisis. This has had two fundamental effects. Capacity has dropped, and we see this in the steep declines in totals generated in almost every auction. Sometimes sales totals are down by more than half the take for the same sale in 2008. Consignments have shriveled as well, with anyone having any discretion on whether or not to sell deciding to keep their art until the economy improves. But consignments still happen. Death, divorce, and debt still drive sellers to Christie’s and Sotheby’s, but if a collector is not a Madoff victim, chances are he or she is waiting for an overall financial uptick before selling art.

In the face of reduced supply, there are still many people with both enormous wealth and a voracious will to collect. They are competing for art in a market where the supply of great things has been reduced by this new hesitation to sell. So, despite the overall decline in auction sales totals, records are still broken in most sales. The prices of objects of the very highest quality have not dropped but, indeed, have continued to increase, whether the object is a painting by Rembrandt or van Dyke, a drawing by Raphael, or an extraordinarily rare bottle of wine. If a high quality object has been in a private collection for many years, its freshness to the marketplace makes it even more appealing.

I would not call the Giacometti art of the very highest quality. Rather, I would place it in the general category occupied by Andy Warhol’s painting, 200 One Dollar Bills, which sold for almost $44 million late last year. Although the Warhol is historically a more important work than the Giacometti, both are flashy “name” artists and immediately recognizable brands whose presence on a Manhattan or London wall bespeaks their owner’s cultural and financial firepower.

Surprisingly, then, given continued demand and reduced supply, now is probably a good time to sell at Christie’s and Sotheby’s. On the dealer side, overall my dealer friends tell me the market is improving very gradually after a deep freeze that lasted most of 2009. A wobbly stock market will not help to keep things moving in that direction. I will report more after I visit the major art shows in New York in early March.

Posted by:

Brian T. Allen
The Mary Stripp & R. Crosby Kemper Director

Monday, February 1, 2010

Carroll Dunham Prints: A Survey opening at University Art Museum at SUNY-Albany

The Addison may be closed for renovation, but there is still an opportunity to see artwork from our collection!

Our traveling exhibition Carroll Dunham Prints: A Survey, will be opening at its third and final venue on Tuesday, February 2nd at the University Art Museum at SUNY-Albany, NY. The show is comprised of over one hundred prints from the Addison's collection of the artist's work spanning the 1980s until the present.

I was fortunate enough to travel to Albany a couple of weeks ago to help with the unpacking and condition checking of the objects. The University Art Museum's elegant exhibition space is considerably different from the Addison's galleries in that you can stand in the middle of it and view almost the entire show from one viewpoint. You can compare objects of different types and periods easily and it makes quite an impact on the viewer.

This is a venue that is certainly worth visiting! We, and the staff at the University Art Museum, hope to see you there!

Posted by:

James M. Sousa
Associate Registrar for Collections and Archives