To sell or not to sell?

May 12 2011

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Here's a quick report on Tuesday's conference on deaccessioning at the National Gallery. The event was organised by Farrers. The conference was overall a success. The arguments for and against were well covered. One or two of the speakers went on for too long (one for far too long).

Simon Jenkins, the patron saint of common sense, spoke passionately for. He decried the acres of art left in storage in London whilst numerous National Trust properties (of which he is chairman) had bare walls. Nicholas Penny, director of the National Gallery, argued against, from the specific point of view of the National: as the national collection, it had inevitably to be the repository of some bad art, as well as the best. The duds were part of the collection's history. Gary Tintorow of the Metropolitan Museum demonstrated the benefits of relentless 'trading up' - selling the bad to buy better - but also highlighted the American approach to not being obsessed with keeping everything. How all the British curators in the audience must have envied his ability to regularly buy masterpieces at auction.

I was on at the end of the day to give the view of the art trade. But since this can be summed up in one word - yippee - I mentioned my plan to have an informal advisory committee of experts to help regional curators decide what to sell, what to keep, and how to prevent mistakes. I am optimistic that we will be able to establish something - and it is needed urgently, for like it or not, deaccessioning is already with us.

The speakers had a posh dinner at the Athenaeum Club, which was jolly. There was some talk of a new Culture Secretary, following the rumours that Jeremy Hunt might have to replace the perpetually ineffective Andrew Lansley. 

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