To sell or not to sell? Sewell vs. Deuchar on deaccessioning.

March 19 2011

The Guardian today had an interesting debate on deaccessioning between the art critic Brian Sewell and the director of the Art Fund, Stephan Deuchar. Deuchar was against, Sewell for. I'm broadly with Sewell, but would limit funds raised to collection care or acquisitions. 

The problem with the deaccessioning debate is that it is increasingly irrelevant. Museums up and down the country are already selling on a large scale. The question should instead be - what are we going to do about it? [More below]


In May I shall be taking part in a conference at the National Gallery on deaccessioning. I shall argue, as I have done for some time, that we need a government sponsored body to manage deaccessioning on a national level. This body, which would be similar to the Export Reviewing Committee, would have two main functions: first, to ensure that the national collection does not suddenly lose, say, all its Girolamo di Carpos in one go; and second, to make sure no mistakes are made.

I'm particularly worried about the latter situation. As an art dealer (there, interest declared), I regularly see American Museums mistakenly deaccession what they think is a work by an unknown artist. I know of many good pictures languishing in UK museum basements that are miscatalogued - and I don't want to see them being sold by accident to dealers like me.

In fact, I'm going to start a regular feature called 'In the Basement', where I shall give some examples. Feel free to join in if you know of any yourself. 


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