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Milking It: Delaware Art Museum will sell two more works of art

11 August 2014

The Delaware Art Museum has confirmed that it will sell two more works from its collection. Milking Time (1875) by Winslow Homer, and Alexander Calder’s The Black Crescent mobile work, will be offered up in an effort to pay off $19.8 million of debt.

The announcement comes less than two months after the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) sanctioned the museum for its disposal of Isabella and the Pot of Basil by the Pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt. The sale violated the association’s code of ethics, which states that any funds raised by the sale of work from a museum collection must be ringfenced for acquisitions. The painting fetched a very disappointing $4.25 million at Christie’s (half the low estimate) on 17 June. This time, Delaware is taking the Homer to Sotheby’s.

You can’t lose accreditation twice. Museums across the US have already been advised to decline loans to Delaware and turn down collaborations. So there’s really very little anybody can do to deter the sale, except to remind the director Michael Miller that shrinking your art collection to pay for an overambitious museum expansion is something of a folly; shortsighted at best, and actively self-destructive at worst.

The museum’s administration argues that selling a few items from its stores is the only way to keep the doors open. The sad thing is that now they’ve started down this route, they might be right. Where once a drive for donations might have been an option (Detroit Institute of Art’s success in raising a large chunk of the $100 million it needs to secure its art collection is a case in point), it’s likely that many potential supporters would now think twice about giving to a museum that treats its core collection as a disposable asset.

It’s easy to imagine a scenario in which the museum, already out in the cold as a result of its recent deaccessioning decisions, keeps on shedding the very items that might have helped save it had they been placed at the core of a very different fundraising campaign.

Related Articles

Mind the Gap: William Holman Hunt’s ‘Isabella’ should stay in Delaware (Lisa Zeiger)

Northampton museums lose Arts Council Accreditation (Maggie Gray)

Forum: Deaccession Debates

Lead image: used under Public Domain licence