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Manifestações Artísticas / 09/06/2021


Pandemic rekindles debate over museum sales of works of art

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Pandemic rekindles debate over museum sales of works of art

While some see an opportunity to diversify the collection, others argue that practice can affect their exhibitions

After being hit hard by the covid-19 pandemic, US museums can now sell their artwork to make up for their losses. However, this caused the debate on the subject to be rekindled. While some see permission as an opportunity to diversify the collection, others argue that it can affect their exhibits.

The practice of selling works of art by museums is known as alienation. Before, it could only be done for the purchase of new paintings, sculptures or other artistic objects. But in April 2020, the American Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) lifted that ban and authorized the sale of artwork for two years to balance budgets.

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In September, the Brooklyn Museum, already in financial difficulties before the pandemic, put up for sale 12 works — including a Monet and two Dubuffets — with the aim of creating a maintenance fund for its collection. The director of the Metropolitan Museum (Met), Max Hollein, indicated in February 2021 that the institution would use the funds obtained the sale of works for the expenses of restoring its collection this year, mainly for the salary of employees dedicated to this task. . Hollein downplayed the importance of the decision, which he presented as temporary.

“Many institutions have practiced alienation for decades,” he said, specifying that the Met does not plan to sell more works in 2021 than in previous years. “We think this benefits the development of our collection,” he added.


The sale of works of art by museums is considered a controversial issue. The Anglo-Saxon museum world is generally more open to controlled sales, but most countries with a Latino culture, such as France, are opposed. The president of the Center Georges Pompidou, Serge Lasvignes, said he "doubts the interest of moving forward in this way", either to compensate for financial losses or as an "instrument of 'good management' of collection".

"It's very worrying that the works hanging on the wall are turned into financial assets," noted lawyer Laurence Eisenstein.

Eisenstein recently led a rebellion against those responsible for the Baltimore Museum of Art. The institution wanted to sell three works its collection — including a Warhol, worth an estimated $65 million — to create a preservation fund for the collection of the city's first museum, with a predominantly black population. In addition, it aimed to rebalance the collection through the purchase of works by women and artists belonging to minorities. However, in the face of criticism, the museum withdrew the sale in October and decided to raise funds through donations.

Most museums refuse to sell important pieces their collection. Other lesser-known institutions are already taking a step forward. Everson, a museum in Syracuse, New York, sold a Pollock that it had received as a donation for $12 million. The museum says it hopes to open up its collection to diversity.

"Art museum sells its soul," countered columnist Terry Teachout in The Wall Street Journal, accusing the institution of "betraying the public's trust."

Laurence Eisenstein also fears that donors and authorities will withdraw their financial support establishments that sell more than is reasonable.

"Can they think something like why they need our money?" Instead, sell your works,” he argued. “It would be very difficult for museums to remain the trusted guardians of US cultural property,” he pointed out.

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