Art | February 9, 2021 6:30 am

The Met May Sell Some of Its Permanent Collection to Cover Pandemic Losses

Is this the highest-profile example of deaccessioning yet?

The Metropolitan Museum of Art statues
Even the biggest museums in the world are dealing with the effects of COVID-19.
Matthieu Joannon/Unsplash

The debate over museums deaccessioning parts of their permanent collections is far from over, and it’s about to hit one of the country’s most prominent institutions. A new story at The New York Times notes that the Metropolitan Museum of Art is currently facing a sizable budget deficit — sizable, in this case, being in the neighborhood of $150 million.

When asked about the possibility of selling work from the collection, Max Hollein, the museum’s director, said, “It would be inappropriate for us not to consider it, when we’re still in this foggy situation.

The Association of Art Museum Directors has given museums more leeway on deaccessioning parts of their collections until April 10, 2022. Previously, existing works could only be sold to fund the purchase of new works; the temporary change allows museums to use the money raised from such sales for “expenses associated with the direct care of collections.”

A previous director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas P. Campbell, took to social media to express his displeasure with the announcement. Campbell’s choice of metaphor was not subtle. “Deaccessioning will be like crack cocaine to the addict — a rapid hit, that becomes a dependency,” he wrote on Instagram.

Campbell’s argument took a broader view as well. “Deaccessioning for operating costs will disincentivize future art donations,” he argued, going on to point out other areas in which the practice might adversely affect the operation of many museums. It’s not likely to be the last time this argument is made.

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