Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Have your Stills and ... ... sour-mash(???) too

Dean Sobel, director of Denver's Clyfford Still Museum, says there can't be a deaccession if there's no accession first. As Kyle MacMillan reports, Still's widow Patricia had previously sold a handful of the 400 works Still had left to her personally (separate from 2,000 other works he had left to create a museum of his ouvre), and since those works she owned personally and also left to Denver haven't been formally accessioned into the nascent museum's collection, Denver figures it has an ethical opportunity to sell another handful to create an endowment... or at least a not unethical opportunity. Kyle calls its ethicality a technicality on AAM/AAMD strictures, and reports that Janet Marstine agrees it's a loophole that nonetheless passes muster, both for the transparency of the sale and the intention to keep the works together in the public domain by selling them as a group to a museum. Judith Dobrzynski is for the sale, and Sergio Munoz Sarmiento isn't against it, and Donn Zaretsky wouldn't be either, if he got around to commenting on it.

That leaves me as odd man out, or perhaps James Maroney and me as odd men out. As I commented at JD's blog:

As long as Denver has decided to sell, it makes far more sense for them to sell partial titles than full titles. James Maroney's tenancy-in-common plan would get the four works back at the demise of their life estate purchasers (this would be problematic if corporations or other perpetual institutions bought them, of course), while my own equitable servitude Coaccession℠ method would let Denver get them back whenever the Still Museum had an exhibition, a research or conservation project, or some other active cultural use. In the meantime, the partial title buyers could enjoy the paintings whenever they would otherwise be in storage at the Still. If other museums bought them, instead of private parties, the paintings might always be on display or in active cultural use, either at the Still or at the other museum. Actually, artists like Clyfford Still who want to keep their ouvre together could do that culturally with Coaccession, rather than having to keep full title to every painting. His widow might have felt much better about her actions if she'd kept the ouvre intact by retaining Cultural Titles℠ to those works, selling off only the conditional possession of Collector Titles℠.

Coaccession makes far more sense than deaccession, and that's true even when the artwork in question hasn't technically been accessioned. Museums that need current income can let collectors have future capital gains on Collector Titles while still maintaining cultural control with Cultural Titles. They don't need to give up all rights to the artwork.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Have your Picasso and peonies, too...

The Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Gardens surely* wanted to bring Frances Brody's Picasso, “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust,” into the public domain at their own institution. Francie, a board member, had other ideas. Her greatest love at the Huntington was for the gardens, and she wanted especially to endow their care. Gifting the Picasso to the Huntington would leave the painting's $106.5 million dollar value stranded, contributing art appreciation and capital appreciation to that institution's art collection, but not a penny of income to support its gardens. To cultivate income, her estate sold the Picasso to an anonymous buyer on the open market and gifted the cash to the Huntington. So no Picasso for the public to ponder, but plenty of pesetas for peonies, posies, pansies and petunias.

Poor Frances apparently knew nothing about Coaccession, which would have let the Picasso join the Huntington's art collection while also providing cash income dedicated (ostensibly, at least**) to the gardens. Sharing wisely allows many mutual benefits, while an institution's solipsistic greed can isolate and diminish it. Here's hoping the Huntington and other institutions ready better plans for expanding the public domain when similar opportunities arise again.

*Marion Maneker does question: "So which would the Huntington rather have had: the art or the money?"

** Jori Finkel does report Huntington president Steven Koblick saying that "using the Brody money for botanical purposes frees up existing funds to address other needs..." Diligent donors don't forget fungibility!