Apr 15, 2009

Montclair Art Museum to Deaccession 50 Works

James Panero reports in the WSJ on the decision by the Montclair Art Museum in Montclair NJ to deaccession 50 works from the museum's permanent collection:

[T]his plan will include the sale, or "deaccession," of 50 works from the museum's permanent collection, among them a Jackson Pollock drawing valued at $300,000 to $500,000 and several Hudson River School and American Impressionist works with estimates ranging from $25,000 to $300,000, according to a prospectus prepared by Christie's. The auction house believes the sales will generate between $2.9 million and $4.3 million for the institution, which says it will use the funds for future acquisitions. Presented as curatorial housekeeping, but in fact motivated by financial exigencies, the Montclair sales -- if allowed to proceed -- will set another sorry example of an institution cashing out on art in the public trust. . . . 
 Now, as its overall endowment has dipped 25%, to $6 million from $8 million, the museum risks not having enough cash on hand to back its loans. That's where this deaccession comes in -- to raise cash to satisfy the requirements of its bank bonds. What's most troubling is that nothing on the books is designed to stop it, even though Montclair is liquidating art in its permanent collection to raise the aggregate collateral for its loans -- precisely what AAMD claims to oppose.
Lora Urbanelli, the director of the museum gives the case for the deaccessioning in this case:

We took out tax exempt bonds at a certain time in our history. And when you do that -- we are diligently paying them off -- but whenever you do that, as part of the agreement, you agree to have a certain amount on hand in an endowment fund. At times when our endowment is flagging, we go below that line. So this is a creative way to keep the endowment full and to stay above the water line to grow our endowment for acquisitions -- just so we are in the good graces with the bond covenants. All the bank wants to know is that the endowment is a healthy one for the size of the institution. There's nothing untoward. There is nothing to hide. The deaccessioning that we're about to do has been more or less in the works for years. What we're doing now is considering an acceleration of a process. . . . The AAMD sees no problem with the way we are handling this situation.
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