Disasters of Deaccessioning: Delaware Art Museum’s Final Blow to its Collection.

Ruth Osborne

Winslow Homer, Milking Time (1875).

Just last week, the Trustees of the Delaware Art Museum announced the private sales of two paintings from its permanent collection as they closed “one of the most difficult chapters in the story of the Delaware Art Museum,” according to its CEO Mike Miller.

He asserted in the Press Statement that the goal for all this deaccession and auction debacle – which we have discussed since its beginning last year here, here, and here, was finally accomplished through the sale – “protecting and preserving this beautiful Museum for our community.” So what is gaining precedence here – the historic collection for which the Museum was founded in the first place, or the building with its 21st century $32.5 million expansion?

The paintings just sold for undisclosed amounts were Milking Time (1875) by Winslow Homer and Arthur Cleveland (1946) by Andrew Wyeth, two of the museum’s most central artists to its original founding circle. But if the Museum had announced its debt was eliminated last September, why was there need to sell two more such important works to beef up its endowment?

It is this kind of serious Board mismanagement of collections stewardship that ArtWatch fights to speak out against. Without the standards set up by the American Alliance of Museums, the Delaware Art Museum would not have suffered a sanctioning as punishment for these actions. Furthermore, as Judith H. Dobrzynski has keenly pointed out, will this even stop other respected institutions from collaborating with a museum that has lost its accreditation?

Mismanagement and other issues will be the topic of the evening at an upcoming lecture hosted at The Coffee House Club in midtown Manhattan next Wednesday. Historic Preservation and its connection with collections stewardship will be explored. An overview of recent gains and losses of this and the last century reveals how closely linked the issue of preservation is with caring for cultural sites and artistic heritage. Collections being dismantled, art being damaged in transit, extreme conservation measures wiping away the history of centuries – these are the cost of not caring for art.

Details for the lecture are as follows below. Please RSVP via coffeehouseclub@hotmail.com or 212-391-5609.

Historic Preservation & the Cost of Caring for Art in the 21st Century

Wednesday, July 15

6:00 p.m. cocktails + lecture ($10)

8:00 p.m. dinner ($40)

* you must reserve for dinner 24 hours in advance

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