New vocabulary word for the month, guaranteed to be perfect for cocktail party chitchat and teatime gabbing: “Deaccession,” is the removal of a work of art from a museum collection preparatory to selling it. Usage for the month: The Dallas Museum of Fine Arts (DMFA) is deac-cessioning a number of pieces from its collection before moving to its new location downtown in the Arts District.
In plain talk, it’s a garage sale of sorts. As Chief Curator Steven Nash explains it, DMFA curators will probably spend the better part of the summer and fall “houseclean-ing.” He says that there are several justifications for de-accessioning, including duplication by another artist, badly damaged art, forgery and “no inherent art value.”
The deaccessioning process is quite detailed. First, there are legal matters to consider, such as securing City Council approval (which they did in May) and submitting a formal proposal to the director of parks, who will later act as director of the sales and legal recipient of the funds. Secondly, there are the in-house chores of deciding which items must go, notifying the donors of the selected artwork and submitting a list of the items to the acquisition committee and the board of trustees.
Historically, deaccessions have caused many a ruckus. Several years ago, for instance, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York faced public outrage when deaccessioning proceedings began; citizens were concerned that pieces being sold might have more art value than the museum curators were claiming.
The situation can become especially touchy when the items being deaccessioned were donated by patrons of the museum.
After the Dallas procedure is completed this fall, a date will be set for some form of sale, probably an auction. Nash says he has no way of speculating the amount of the proceeds from the sale. He does say, however, that there will be a range of objects offered. But, he adds, “There will no masterpieces, that’s for sure.”