Culture Vultures, or, One Person's Heartbreaking Deaccession Is Another's Impulse Purchase
So I try to give plenty of credit to others quoted in stories, but parts of the article in Today's New York Times on the bargains to be found among the items museums are being forced to deaccession at auction sound like they came straight from a bit in The Onion:
“An unsophisticated person, looking at the auction catalog, might say, ‘Oh, is the museum closing?’ ” said Linda Stamm, the owner of Winter Associates, auctioneers in Plainville, Conn. “But a sophisticated person knows it’s a good thing.” She has sold art and objects from the New Britain Museum, the Wadsworth Atheneum and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, among others.I can almost hear Monty Python in the background singing "Always look on the bright side of death...."
And it's not just the people quoted. It's hard to tell how tongue-in-cheek the NYT's writer Tracie Rozhon (whose specialty seems to be human interest stories geared toward readers who have more money than they know what to do with) intended this to come off, but it certainly sounds like it should have been meant to be snarky:
Important silver, once spotlighted in a museum’s burglar-proof glass case, is also deaccessioned and sold at auction, ready to grace the middle of your dining room table.Of course, it's easy for me to poke fun at the trials and tribulations of the nouveau riche culture vultures who view auctions of closing museums' treasures kind of how the rest of us view Filene's basement. I don't have all the McMansions they have to fill.
Mind you, it's not the desire to possess these things I object to. I totally get that. (My ultimate dream house...so long as I'm dreaming...would be to live at the Met.) It's the willingness to profit from a museum closure without any hint of recognition at all that the money being spent or the objects being purchased might be better used to keep help some other museum also in trouble during these times.
But what do you do with the antique Japanese chain mail helmet and matching gauntlets — woven metal basted to blue material — scheduled for sale on March 8 at Winter Associates? The items come from a Connecticut museum, said Ms. Stamm, whose arrangement with this particular museum precludes mention of its name in advertising. The chain mail has an accession number, which means the museum had formally accepted it into its collection; Ms. Stamm does not know if it has ever been exhibited.
“You know, museums specialized in having unusual things,” Ms. Stamm said, addressing the issue of what one would do with the helmet and gloves. “I can picture the helmet on a wig stand on top of a cabinet, surrounded by Oriental scrolls or woodblock prints.”
Then again, as I noted in the opening paragraph, just because they weren't quoted as saying so, doesn't mean the people interviewed for this article don't contribute vast sums of money or objects to museums. But now that I've read that article again, even though I'm fully dressed and ready for my day, a part of me would still like to go take another shower.