A mere hours before their sale, the Baltimore Museum of Art removed three paintings from Sotheby’s auction. The Museum had come under fire after announcing that it was planning to sell three paintings from its collection based on the new guidance from the American Alliance of Museum Directors. The Museum stated that the money would be used to fund several initiatives, including increasing the diversity of the collection to include works by women and people of color. The announcement caused an outcry in the community. Two current board members stepped down in protest. Two former board members rescinded a financial pledge totaling $50 million. Eleven former board members signed a letter asking the Maryland Attorney General’s office to investigate the sale.
While diversity initiatives in museums are extremely important, AAMD released a statement clarifying their guidance. AAMD stated that all proceeds from the sale of a deaccessioned work was to go directly to collections care that had been directly impacted as a result of COVID-19 and not long-term initiatives. While AAMD did not name the Baltimore Museum of Art specifically, many in the museum world felt that the clarification was a direct result of the Museum’s announcement and subsequent public fallout.
The current economic climate is bleak. Individuals and businesses are suffering. The short-term goal is to keep our cultural institutions alive, which is why AAMD lifted its sanctions against deaccessioning that under normal times would be considered unethical. AAMD recognized that these are not normal times. They put a moratorium on their April 2020 statement with the hopes that by that point some semblance of normal would have returned. Every cultural institution should be looking at how to improve itself and become more inclusive. However, those same cultural institutions can only do this if they survive.