Thursday, January 20, 2011

Storage statistics to shock even the "anti-deaccessioning police"

In the midst of the heated deaccessioning debates on both sides of the Atlantic, I've long held that deaccessioning (i.e. selling or removing a work of art from a museum's collection) should be regulated as opposed to prohibited outright. The fear among the "anti-deaccessioning police" that without a blanket prohibition against deaccessioning museums will sell-off vast amounts of their collections is simply irrational. There is absolutely no reason why oversight, transparency and certain, limited restrictions cannot ensure that deaccessioning is carried out ethically and with the best interests of the collection, the museum and the public in mind. A strong argument in favor of controlled deaccessioning is the fact that a substantial part of a museum's collection is often in storage whereas newer museums struggle to build their collections for want of museum-quality pieces (and funds). Not to mention arguments based on the need to update and refine collections and the potential benefits derived from including deaccessioning as part of the efficient and financially-sound management of a museum.

The BBC has reported on storage statistics for London museums including the British Museum, the Tate (Britain and Modern) and the Natural History Museum likely to shock even the most obstinate anti-deaccessioning vigilante. The statistics express the amount of art in storage as a percentage of a museum's collection as well as the annual cost such art represents. Most museums in the UK capital were found to have over 90% of their collections in storage. Is this really what the public (for whose benefit museums hold art in trust) want? This absurdly polarized debate is all about taking sides and in the midst of the madness, the basic tenet that the mission of all museums should be "more, better engagement of more people with more art" seems to have been lost.


  1. Cristina;

    Your argument has only one shortcoming — it is logical. Cultural property management is not based on logic, it is based upon ideological principles that are more important to some than the holy grail.

  2. Very interesting point, it will be interesting to see what happens!