Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Judge rules in the never-ending Fisk University/O'Keefe case

Ruling by Tennessee Judge that allows the sale to go forward but says that $20 million must go into an endowment, leaving only $10 million to the university.  Neither the university nor the attorney general are happy with the outcome. I imagine that they are already getting started on appealing the ruling.

Summary of Fisk University/O'Keefe Case:
"In 1949, painter Georgia O'Keeffe facilitated the exchange of 99 paintings from the estate of her husband, Alfred Stieglitz. She made an outright gift of two of her own paintings to the school. These are on permanent display at the University's Carl Van Vechten Galleries.
"In 2005, mounting financial difficulties led the University trustees to vote to sell two of the paintings, O'Keeffe's "Radiator Building" and Marsden Hartley's "Painting No. 3". (Together these were estimated to be worth up to 45 million U.S. dollars.) However, the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, the legal guardians of her estate, sued to stop the sale on the basis that the original bequest did not allow the art to be sold. At the end of 2007 a plan to share the collection with the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art to earn money was being fought in court by the O'Keeffe Museum." - Wikipedia

This case drives home three issues that are critical to many museums: sustainability, donor's intents and deaccessioning. So, I ask, was this the correct decision, and if not, what is? What sort of effect might this have on other museums (or will it only affect those in Tennessee)? In other words, what do you think?

As a reminder, here are the stances of some of the major museum organizations on deaccessioning:

Deaccession stance by AAM: (from the 2000 Code of Ethics)

The disposal of collections through sale, trade, or research activities is solely for the advancement of the museum's mission. Proceeds from the sale of nonliving collections are to be used consistent with the established standards of the museum's discipline, but in no event shall they be used for anything other than acquisition or direct care of collections.

Deaccession stance by AASLH: (from their Statement of Professional Standards and Ethics)

"Collections shall not be deaccessioned or disposed of in order to provide financial support for institutional operations, facilities maintenance or any reason other than preservation or acquisition of collections, as defined by institutional policy."

Deaccession stance by AAMD: (from their 2010 AAMD Policy on Deaccessioning)

"Funds received from the disposal of a deaccessioned work shall not be used for operations or capital expenses. Such funds, including any earnings and appreciation thereon, may be used only for the acquisition of works in a manner consistent with the museum’s policy on the use of restricted acquisition funds."

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