Art Law Report

My column in Apollo Magazine on museums and deaccessioning in crisis

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on April 27, 2020 at 11:59 AM

Continuing our ongoing tracking of the effect of the Covid-19 lockdown on museums and arts organizations, I penned a column in Apollo magazine today. You can read the full article here (subscription required for more than three articles), the first paragraph is reprinted here as a teaser:

One key question for museums boards, management, and their supporters to ask right now is this: what do they actually want to accomplish when the Covid-19 crisis subsides and the lockdowns end? Is a museum its collection, its location, its staff or its visitors? Until recently we had the comparative luxury of asking these questions one museum crisis at a time. Should a small museum (for example, the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts) survive at all costs without the collection that created its very importance? Should it seek a better home for its collection but perhaps lose some of its unique character or even its individual existence (see the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s merger with the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.)? Or should it evolve in a way that is perhaps contrary to its founders’ specific desires (the Barnes Foundation’s move to Philadelphia from the truly sui generis yet remote home in Lower Merion created by Dr Barnes)?

Now, with [read more here]

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Topics: National Academy Museum, National Gallery of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, ICOM, American Alliance of Museums, Philadelphia, AAM, Association of Art Museum Directors, International Council of Museums, Corcoran Gallery of Art, AAMD, Barnes Foundation, Pittsfield, Berkshire Museum, Apollo Magazine, UPMIFA, endowment, Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds

Detroit Institute of Arts and Motor City Bankruptcy: Deaccessioning Fact and Fiction, Hope and Reality

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on August 1, 2013 at 12:27 PM

The recent filing by the City of Detroit for bankruptcy—the largest such municipal filing in history—has brought with it an unexpected art law twist. Namely: to what extent can, or should the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts be used to satisfy the city’s creditors. As one might expect, the differences between what the city can do, what it should do, and what others can do to influence that decision have become hard to distinguish as the volume is raised. A review of some of the issues involved and the governing principles is in order. As rumors of the city’s bankruptcy circulated, speculation began about what would happen to the collection of DIA. And thus the dreaded “deaccession” debate began. This debate is essentially as follows: is art a fungible commodity that can and/or should be used in whatever way advances the mission of the institution (including selling it and using the proceeds to finance the museum’s operations), or do museums hold art in a public trust that must prioritize the collection and display of art? The latter view certainly holds sway among many in the museum community as an aspirational mattter, but its enforceability is often far less than they think.

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Topics: National Academy Museum, Brandeis, Deaccession, American Alliance of Museums, Rose Art Museum, AAM, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Detroit Institute of Arts, Collections, Association of Art Museum Directors, Motor City, and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Cleveland Museum of Art, Detroit Bankruptcy, AAMD, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

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About the Blog


The Art Law Report provides timely updates and commentary on legal issues in the museum and visual arts communities. It is authored by Nicholas M. O'Donnell, partner in our Art & Museum Law Practice.

The material on this site is for general information only and is not legal advice. No liability is accepted for any loss or damage which may result from reliance on it. Always consult a qualified lawyer about a specific legal problem.

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