The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is selling more than 200 prints and photographs from its collection in order to raise funds amid a budget shortfall caused by the pandemic.
Nearly 220 works will be offered across three sales at Christie’s beginning on September 24, when a tranche of Civil War–era photographs will be offered. Also set for auction are works by artists such as Robert Frank, Roy Lichtenstein, and Frank Stella. Together, the three sales are expected to generate between $900,000 and $1.4 million.
Met director Max Hollien told Artnet News that all of the works selected for the present sales are duplicates from its collection. According to Artnet News, Tobias Meyer, a private art dealer and ex-Sotheby’s executive, is one of its advisors for the deaccessioning plan.
The museum is taking advantage of a pandemic-era policy change issued by the Association of Art Museum Directors that is set in place until April 2022. The adjustment allows museums to sell art from their holdings to raise funds for collection care, rather than just solely to pave the way for future acquisitions, as the pre-pandemic policy stipulated.
Other museum deaccessions prompted by the AAMD’s temporary policy have drawn criticism. Last year, the Baltimore Museum of Art planned to sell works by Andy Warhol, Clyfford Still, and Brice Marden at Sotheby’s in New York. After a public outcry, the museum withdrew the works at the last minute. That museum had planned to use the money gained from the sale to diversify the its collection, rather than to balance its budget as a result of financial fallout from the pandemic. Also last year, the Brooklyn Museum of Art sold Old Masters works to raise funds for collection maintenance.
Although deaccessioning is a regular practice at museums, institutions typically do not part with works as major as ones sold as of late. The recent sale of works from institutions’ holdings spurred a tense debate both within and beyond the museum world. Opponents of the practice claim that museums are selling crucial pieces of art history, and possibly landing them in private hands. Proponents allege that doing so allows institutions to radically reshape their collections, possibly in ways that allow for greater diversity.
Annually, the Met typically deaccessions around $10 million worth of art. Hollein has said that the museum has “significant endowment funds” allocated for acquisitions. As a result, the museum decided to sell the current cache of editions to support the museum’s staff in charge with managing collection care. “It seems appropriate to use the proceeds of our regular deaccession program to support salaries for collection care staff in this exceptional year,” Hollein told Artnet News.
“The Museum approaches deaccessioning with the same degree of strategy and deliberation as we apply to acquisitions,” said Holstein in a statement published by the Met in February. The museum’s estimated revenue losses was $150 million. “It will take years until we can expect the full return of tourism revenue,” Hollein wrote.
This is not the only time in recent memory that a New York museum has brought a trove of multiples to auction. In 2017, after an appraisal of its photography collection, the Museum of Modern Art auctioned nearly 400 historical photographs for $2 million. Proceeds from the sale went to the museum’s acquisition fund.