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The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Photo: Hugo Schneider/Flickr.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Photo: Hugo Schneider/Flickr.

Met to Deaccession $1 Million Worth of Prints and Photos to Make Ends Meet

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is to sell 219 prints and photographs to make up for a $150 million budget shortfall caused by the continuing Covid-19 crisis, according to Artnet News. Auction house Christie’s will handle the sale. The works, all duplicates of those in the Met’s collection, will be made available in three tranches beginning September 24, when a raft of Civil War photographs hit the block. The sale is expected to generate roughly $900,000 to $1.4 million and includes works by Robert Frank, Roy Lichtenstein, and Frank Stella. The museum confirmed that private dealer Tobias Meyer, a former star auctioneer at Sotheby’s, is advising the institution on the sale.

Plans are afoot for the Met to deaccession more—and more important—works, but the museum thus far has declined to say what those might be. In auctioning the prints and photos, the institution is taking advantage of the Covid-era guidelines established in April 2020 by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), which will remain in effect only into the coming April. According to those regulations, institutions may use funds gained through deaccessioning to pay for the care of their collections; normally, money generated by sales of art can only be used to buy other works. Though a number of US museums, reeling amid the pandemic, have turned to deaccessioning in order to survive the crisis, the practice has met with condemnation in some quarters, with detractors expressing concern that it represents the first step toward museums treating works as assets to be monetized, despite the fact that the AAMD is unlikely to extend the policy. Critics additionally cite fears that the practice will discourage donors, who might fear their gifted works will be sold at the first sign of a crisis.

Among those who don’t support the Met’s eager adherence to the temporary deaccessioning rules are the institution’s former director Thomas Campbell, who in March penned a scathing op-ed on the topic. Met director Max Hollein at the time dismissed criticism of the practice, saying “It’s not as if crazy things are happening.” Hollein noted that the Met typically deaccessions $10 million worth of works annually, and that the works being sold are almost always multiples, copies of “better quality” works the museum already possesses.