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Legislation Regulating Art Deaccessioning Dies in Albany

Monday, August 16, 2010

Legislation intended to regulate the practice of deaccessioning has died in Albany, after it was opposed by major cultural institutions including the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim.

Many in the museum world frown upon deaccessioning, or selling off, art to cover operating costs or pay debts. But a bill to increase safeguards against the practice ran afoul of cultural organizations, who insist that the bill is not necessary.

Lee Rosenbaum covers art and museums for The Wall Street Journal and The Huffington Post, and blogs as Culturegrrl at ArtsJournal.com. “There is going to be increased temptation to sell works as a quick fix,” Rosenbaum said.  “There’s easy monetization that can happen when a museum is in financial difficulty.”

Rosenbaum says that publicity about the issue may keep cultural institutions from deaccessioning their works. “It's hard to know which force will be more powerful—the need for money, or the need to maintain a professional reputation and status with one’s peer institutions,” she says.

The bill’s Senate sponsor, Jose Serrano, withdrew support for the measure after hearing negative feedback from cultural institutions.  Another of the bill’s sponsors, Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, is running for state attorney general, an office that has oversight over deaccessioning rules.

Rosenbaum says the bill may not be dead forever. "The issue may come up again under a more proactive attorney general,”  she says.

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