Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Friday, January 28, 2011

In the last three fiscal years the Met has sold close to $3.7 million worth of objects from its collection, including a statue of the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet, a first edition of Vitruvius’s “Ten Books on Architecture,” and Albert Bierstadt’s oil on canvas “Rocky Mountain Goats.” The museum used some of the proceeds from the Sekhmet to purchase other Egyptian pieces: a vizier statuette, a canopic jar and a sculpture of a king’s head; the Vitruvius, sold with 26 other works, enabled the purchase of 19 objects, 8 of them leaves from an unpublished Italian manuscript copy of the “Ten Books on Architecture”; the Bierstadt proceeds have yet to be used.
 That paragraph is taken from a recent article in the New York Times which covers the whole topic of museums selling items from their "permanent collections".  It is called deaccessioning.  We often talk confidently here that such an such an item is in the collection of this or that museum.  As the churn of museum collections increases, that might no longer be the case.

My personal views are mixed.  In some cases crates and crates of potsherds which are never on display might be academically important for comparative study.  On the other hand, if items are going to sit and crates, never go on display and never be studied, maybe they should be deaccessioned.

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