• gerard van weyenbergh

MET museum sells artworks to face losses due to crisis

The management of the Metropolitan Museum of New York (MET), which has a budget deficit of nearly $ 150 million due to the health crisis, plans to sell some of its works of art, rarely or never exhibited, in order to pay maintenance costs for his collection, reports The New York Times .

The New York institution, headed since 2018 by Max Hollein , wishes to be able to benefit from the relaxation adopted by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) in April 2020 , with regard to the rules in terms of sales of works of art, or "deaccessioning" (ie the alienation of collections).

Until then, the AMMD, a professional organization responsible for supporting and guiding the practices of the 228 American museums that it federates, authorized them to sell works of art for the sole purpose of acquiring new ones. However, taking into account the severity of the current health crisis and the institutions' immediate financial needs, the association now tolerates that the revenues from these sales can be allocated to "expenses related to the direct maintenance of the collections". This possibility remains however, limited in time, and only runs until April 10, 2022.

In France, the practice of deaccessioning is interdicted under the principle of the inalienability of public collections; itself inherited from the Ancien Régime. Consecrated by the law of January 4, 2002 relating to museums in France and codified in article L. 451-5 of the heritage code, this general principle is regularly questioned or reinforced by public debate, such as the report. Rigaud from 2008.

This announcement arouses much criticism. Thus the former director of the MET, Thomas Campbell , now director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, expresses on his Instagram account his concerns seeing there "a slippery path", adding "the danger is that the sale of works by art for running costs becomes the norm, especially if leading museums like the MET follow suit".

Anticipating these criticisms, the director of the MET plays the transparency card. Thus, if the decision to sell works is well recorded, the board of directors must first approve, in March, a revision of the museum's collection management policy. The curators of the institution will have to evaluate the collections of their respective departments and choose the works to be sold. The selected works will, or not, be approved by the heads of department, Max Hollein as well as by the board of directors before their public auction.

The MET would then follow in those footsteps of the Brooklyn Museum which, last October, was the first major American museum institution to take advantage of this relaxation. Faced with significant financial difficulties, the museum had parted with twelve of its works of art. © Journal des arts