La Salle University in Philadelphia sent out word on Tuesday that it plans to sell more than 40 works from its art museum, including pieces by Ingres, Thomas Eakins, Matisse, and Alex Katz. The sell-off through Christie’s—which is estimated to raise between $4.8 million and $7.3 million for use in educational programs, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, which first reported the news—marks a break with professional guidelines that typically allow museums to deaccession work only to benefit its collection.
Not surprisingly, the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors today released a joint statement saying that they “are strongly opposed” to the plan by the school, which has faced financial hardship in recent years.
“College and university art museums have a long and rich history of collecting, curating, and educating in a financially and ethically responsible manner on par with the world’s most prestigious institutions,” the statement says. “A different governance structure does not exempt a university museum from acting ethically, nor permit them to ignore issues of public trust and use collections as disposable financial assets.”
The move comes as a messy legal battle continues in Massachusetts over whether the Berkshire Museum, in Pittsfield, is allowed sell off 40 works, including two prime Norman Rockwell paintings, in the hopes of raising upwards of $50 million to bolster its finances, renovate its home, and refocus its mission. The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, which has voiced concerns about that initiative, has said that it will complete its investigation of the matter by the end of the month.
La Salle’s proposal recalls Brandeis University’s attempt in 2009 to sell off works from its Rose Art Museum in an effort to raise money for the school’s operations and endowment in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. That plan faced stiff opposition from the arts community and accompanying legal challenges, and was later scrapped.
Today’s statement from the AAM and the AAMD comes a day after the Association of Art Museum Curators voiced its opposition to the move, writing, “This decision goes against fundamental best practices of museums, the very standards that have built and shaped the country’s tradition of establishing and preserving art collections for the public trust.”
“We are in conversation with La Salle University about their plans,” the statement continues, “and we remain hopeful that the university leadership will reconsider their decision.”