Money ran out: Western museums began to sell masterpieces from their collections

Money ran out: Western museums began to sell masterpieces from their collections

Money ran out: Western museums began to sell masterpieces from their collections

17 September 2020, 10:01
Photo: Christie's
The Brooklyn Museum of Art put up for auction 12 paintings by Christie's - among them Cranach, Courbet and Corot. The money from the sale will go towards maintaining the collection. This measure would have been unthinkable a year ago - today it only evokes sympathy.

Yelena Ivanova

Cultural institutions around the world are hit hard by the effects of the pandemic. The fact that American museums were allowed to sell exhibits in the collection is an extraordinary event. This is a testament to the dire financial straits of culture.

Museum Director Anne Pasternak says: "Selling is a big challenge for us, but in this situation it is the best way to preserve the collection".

Selling museum pieces to cover running costs has long been taboo. The Association of Art Museum Directors allowed the sale of works if other exhibits were purchased with that money. The museums themselves took their task of preserving art very seriously and often refused to evaluate paintings, sculptures and other art objects. But after weeks of quarantine and other restrictive measures, museums lost all income. After opening, they work on a reduced program - due to hygienic restrictions and the lack of tourism as such. In April, the Association of Art Museum Directors decided not to punish museums selling exhibits to preserve their entire collection. This limitation has been lifted for a period of two years, until April 2022.

The Brooklyn Museum - the first of the major art institutions - decided to take advantage of the new rule. The director of the museum wants to raise 40 million dollars from the sale of paintings, which will go to the newly created fund. According to the plan of the museum authorities, the fund's money will be invested, and interest in the amount of $ 2 million a year will go to the maintenance of the collection - restoration, transportation of paintings to exhibitions and insurance. Part of the money will go to the salary fund for those employees who are involved in the collection.

The museum fund has 160 thousand storage units, and the paintings sold make up an insignificant part - like any large museum, Brooklyn has thousands of paintings and other works of art in storerooms.

The paintings will be sold at Christie's at the end of October during the Old Master Auction and the European Art Auction. Selected for sale are paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder, Giovanni del Ponte, Donato de Bardi, as well as Gustave Courbet, Camille Corot, Hendrik Willem Mesdag and 6 more works.

It is not only important for a museum to have works of outstanding masters in its collection. It is much more important not to lose the opportunity to tell the audience about the artists, about the time when they worked with the help of paintings.

Selling paintings from museum collections is not just about getting money for what is kept in storerooms. It will mean that this work, perhaps, will forever leave the public space. Private owners can exhibit paintings and art objects at exhibitions - or they can lock them in warehouses in Geneva and Luxembourg, far from the public. From public property, the paintings pass into private ones and are actually lost to humanity. That is why any museum sale is so painfully perceived by specialists. Recently, the Everson Museum of Contemporary Art in Syracuse, New York, decided to part with the Jackson Pollock painting, which has become an icon of American post-war art. The painting will also be sold at Christie's at auction of the 20th and 21st centuries. This caused a storm of indignation among specialists. “You cannot sell the exhibits that form the basis of the collection - just like you cannot sell books from the library”, said critic and curator Robert Storr. “We have witnessed betrayal in relation to the museum and the public, and we will reap the fruits of it for a very long time”. Experts say there is no excuse for selling Pollock from the museum; the museum has betrayed its mission.

The situation with museums around the world is disastrous. According to UNESCO data in May, 13% of museums around the world have not reopened since quarantine. In July, the situation became even more tragic: in the United States alone, 12,000 museums are under threat of complete closure - and this is one in ten museums in the world. 87% of museum directors said they would only have enough funds for the next 12 months. A third of museums have already fired every fifth employee, salaries have been cut by 20-40%.

The budgets of international museums are half funded by private donations, which have ceased to flow amid the pandemic and crisis. The first thing Western museums have done is to reduce their staff at the expense of caretakers and interns. Even museums such as the Tate Gallery in London or the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York have long hoped for help from the state, but they also went on layoffs.

The director of the Brooklyn Museum is again considering selling a few paintings, but what the museum, she says, will never do - they will not sell the work of living artists.

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