How the Met Killed The New York Senate’s De-accessioning Bill

It was the last straw, when, in 2008, the National Academy Museum sold two Hudson River School paintings in order to cover operating costs.

Public art institutions, feeling the recession and finding no recourse, had already begun to whisper about a sale here and there: Fort Ticondergoa had proposed to sell some artifacts and then withdrew the idea, and The Metropolitan Opera had put up its Chagall murals as collateral for a loan. By 2009,  Brandeis University was working with Sotheby’s on a lending program designed to avoid having to sell its entire Rose Art Museum collection.

With such threats to public art coming in ever increasing waves, a sense of urgency took over and the New York Senate, working with the Museum Association of New York and the New York Board of Regents, drafted a bill to prohibit cultural institutions from selling pieces of their collections to cover operating costs.

Now that bill is hopelessly stalled due to pressure from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other powerful art institutions. Arguing that the bill was too broad and would place unnecessary restrictions on their already transparent de-accessioning process, the Met also pointed out that its sales are overseen by trustees and are subject to review by the State Attorney General and that they are only used to acquire other works of art.

Joining the Met in its opposition to the bill, The Hispanic Society of America balked at the requirement that arts groups compile complete lists of what is in their collections.

“With the present economic environment it could have been disastrous for some institutions,” Mitchell Codding, the society’s executive director, told the NYT. “It would have entailed hiring a number of individuals to input the data and been a very slow process. We had a rough calculation it was going to cost us millions of dollars.”

Faced with these sorts of protests, and with a muddied view of just what institutions would be effected (the Wildlife Conservation Society claimed that it would unfairly effected) the bill’s Senate sponsor, José M. Serrano, withdrew his support.

“We all saw that a one-size-fits-all approach was not going to work,”  Serrano told the NYT.

Michael Botwinich, director of the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers and board member of the Museum Association, told Robin Pogrebin of the New York Times that the bill was probably “ lost for this session and for the foreseeable future.”


The New York Times
Bill to Halt Certain Sales of Artwork May Be Dead
Bill to Halt Museums from Certain Sales of Artwork Stalls

Brodsky De-accessioning Bill Dies in NY Senate
by Marion Maneker

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