Friday, February 25, 2011

"The Getty will get its Turner"

Modern Rome -- Campo Vaccino, J.M.W. Turner (1839)
Last year, the Getty Museum bought the Turner "Modern Rome" at auction for £29.7m (setting a new record for the artist which was not surprising given the work had only come to market once in its 171 history and experts considered it to be Turner's finest landscape of an Italian city). The painting had resided on loan in the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh since 1978 before being transferred to Sotheby's in London for the auction. However, following the sale, its export to LA was delayed in an attempt to find a UK buyer able to match the hefty price tag and prevent the national loss, a practise previously discussed on this blog (see here and here).

No buyer was found and the export license was finally granted earlier this month with the Getty now preparing to celebrate the arrival of its "new pride and joy," due to go on display March 8. But is it ok for the Getty to "celebrate"? Donn Zaretsky has posted on the hypocrisy of "celebrating" a foreign museum's loss while fiercely opposing deaccessioning by national institutions such as Fisk University or the University of Iowa (the former resulting in extensive and ongoing litigation over the fate of the Stieglitz Collection and the latter almost succeeding in the enactment of legislation to create an endowment fund for as many as 1,000 student scholarships to avoid having to sell the Pollock "Mural"). While I fully agree that the anti-deaccessioning police's stance is often ridden with double standards and contradictory arguments, in this case I don't think that their failure to denounce the ethics of the Getty's acquisition is hypocritical because the painting was only on loan at the National Galleries. In other words, no deaccessioning took place -- it was offered for sale by a private, not a public, seller: a descendant of the 5th Earl of Rosebery. So for once it seems we can all celebrate in unison without raising any eyebrows.

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