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Claude Monet, Les Iles à Port-Villez, 1897.
Claude Monet, Les Iles à Port-Villez, 1897.

Brooklyn Museum Continues Deaccessioning Spree

No doubt spurred on by the tremendous success of its first deaccession sale, which saw the institution reap $5.4 million ($6.6 million with fees), an amount considerably beyond its expectations, the Brooklyn Museum is planning another deaccessioning round. On the block this time will be works by Degas, Dubuffet, Matisse, Miró, and Monet.

The initial auction, overseen by Christie’s, took place on October 15, with hot sales including a sixteenth-century painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder that fetched a whopping $4.2 million, twice what the museum had counted on getting for the work. The second sale is to take place October 28 and will be hosted by rival auction house Sotheby’s; it is expected that this round will yield roughly $17 million.

By selling off its treasured European works and old masters, the Brooklyn Museum hopes to raise $40 million; the plan is that this money would generate an annual $2 million, to be spent on conservation and care of the collection, and on staff to perform associated tasks. Previously rare and still highly disputatious, deaccessioning has become an increasingly common practice following the Association of Art Museum Directors’ April suspension of a rule allowing the deaccessioning of works only to provide funds to buy more works, and its specification that sale funds could be funneled to the care of collections.

The suspension of the rule comes at a time when many institutions are struggling financially under the burden of the continuing Covid-19 pandemic. To date, the Baltimore Museum of Art; the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York; and the Palm Springs Art Museum in California have taken advantage of the rule. Across the pond, London’s Royal Academy is contemplating deaccessioning a Michelangelo tondo, to the presumed tune of $127 million.

Critics of the fundraising tactic point to the possible short-sightedness of such sales, which can be seen as placing custodial costs over the elevation and preservation of art. “This effort is designed to support one of the most important functions of any museum—the care for its collection—and comes after several years of focused effort by the museum to build a plan to strengthen its collection, repatriate objects, advance provenance research, improve storage and more,” said Brooklyn Museum director Anne Pasternak in a statement.