How ‘Deaccession’ Became the Museum Buzzword of 2020

This article was originally published on December 29, 2020 in the Los Angeles Times. Read the full article HERE.

The Everson Museum in Syracuse New York auctioned Jackson Pollock’s 1946 “Red Composition,” notable for being the abstract-expressionist’s second foray into the drip technique for which he is best known. Although it was estimated to sell for $18 million, the painting sold to an anonymous bidder for $12 million at an Oct. 6 Christie’s auction.

In an FAQ posted on the museum’s website, the Everson said proceeds from the sale would be used to “establish a fund for acquiring works created by artists of color, women artists, and other under-represented artists,” as well as for the direct care of the museum’s collection of more than 10,000 works.

Critics lambasted the museum for the decision to part with the historically important work, despite the stated intent. “The goal of diversifying white patriarchal patterns of museum art collecting is hugely important,” wrote Times art critic Christopher Knight. “This sort of quick fix belies the seriousness. The end not only doesn’t justify the means, these processes do real damage.”

In response to critics like Knight, Jessica Arb Danial, president of the Everson’s board of trustees, wrote an article in the Art Newspaper defending the sale. “We are slowly building a collection relevant to our community, with art that is representative, inspirational, and more current than ever before — an accomplishment, to me, that is greater than any single piece in the collection,” she said.

A museum representative told The Times via email that earnings from the fund would not be spent until late 2021; however, recent acquisitions reflect the museum’s commitment to expanding the scope of its collection. The list includes work by Sharif Bey, Ellen Blalock and Ellen Lesperance, as well as a totemic fabric piece by L.A. artist Shinique Smith, approved just last week.

“We hope the funds will generate approximately $450,000 to $500,000 annually to be split between acquisitions and direct care expenses, but this will need to be approved by our finance committee,” the representative said.