Monday, September 01, 2008

Sellers market

A response from Te Papa to our Goncharova post as followed up by the Sunday Star Times. (You can read it here on OTN STUFF along with a couple of follow up letters to the editor) Although OTN didn’t exactly make the headlined “call for Te Papa to sell off” the Goncharovas, we did introduce the possibility as something worth discussion. Te Papa’s response, inevitably all about why they should not sell Goncharova's work rather than why they should keep it, makes three main points.

“The potential to lend Goncharovas to other international museums would enhance our borrowing power.” True in principle if Te Papa did curate its own shows drawing on international loans. The international exhibitions shown at Te Papa over the last ten years have been package shows. Institutions buy the package making loan brownie points irrelevant. Price, exclusivity and marketing pull are what matter.

“There was likely to be tremendous public disquiet if not opposition to selling the family silver.” Not so much in New Zealand, if history is our guide. Museums who have sold from their collections in order to purchase more relevant material, like the Govett-Brewster, were able to explain the decision to the public’s satisfaction. The discussion is part of the job. We’d certainly be interested to understand how Te Papa sees the contribution of the Goncharova to its collection development and programmes.

“The institution could legally sell the paintings but ‘ethically’, we’d consider it a poor choice.” Here is the American Association of Museums' Code of Ethics on the subject.

"disposal of collections through sale, trade, or research activities is solely for the advancement of the museum's mission. Proceeds from the sale of nonliving collections are to be used consistent with the established standards of the museum's discipline, but in no event shall they be used for anything other than acquisition or direct care of collections."

Selling the Goncharovas has nothing to do with ethics. It’s about making professional choices. Most museums, and we are sure Te Papa is among them, now refuse to accept gifts that have any restrictions on how the institution can dispose of them. Now why do you think they do that?