Lucas Cranach the Elders Lucretia is one of twelve works from the Brooklyn Museum being deaccessioned.
Lucas Cranach the Elder's "Lucretia" is one of twelve works from the Brooklyn Museum being deaccessioned. Christie's Images Ltd.
Deaccessioning—the practice of museums selling off objects from their collection—has long been a controversial but highly controlled system. That was until the pandemic hit, with museums suffering severe losses in revenue due to reduced attendance and the costs of keeping up extensive collections.

So in April, the Association of Art Museum Directors announced that they would loosen regulations around deaccessioning until April 2022 to allow more financial flexibility for cultural institutions during this time. They are permitting member museums to "use the proceeds from deaccessioned art to pay for expenses associated with the direct care of collections."

Last week, the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse announced they would hawk off an early drip painting by Jackson Pollock to make room for a more diverse collection (estimated to sell for a cool $12-$18 million). That move received criticism, particularly from 2020 Pulitzer Prize winner Christopher Knight at the LA Times.

Echoing a frightening prediction I made on Tuesday, today a much larger cultural institution, the Brooklyn Museum, announced that they would be auctioning off not one, but twelve works next month at Christie's. More from Robin Pogrebin at the New York Times:

The Brooklyn Museum is the first major U.S. institution to take advantage of this two-year window. With an encyclopedic collection and a large building that is far from Manhattan’s Museum Mile, the organization has long struggled financially. Ms. Pasternak said it is aiming to establish a $40 million fund that can generate $2 million a year, to pay for the collection’s care.

Ms. Pasternak added that the museum was being “conservative” in its cost estimates to make sure the money would go only to direct care, like cleaning or transporting an artwork. It would also help cover a percentage of the salaries of those involved in such care, like registrars, curators, conservators and collection managers.

The money raised will not cover utilities, exhibitions or public programs. And the works to be sold represent a small fraction of the museum’s collection, which consists of more than 160,000 objects.

Read the whole piece here.

If the art world keeps this up, we're likely to see more and more works by old masters and contemporary artists alike end up in private collectors' hands. I'll be keeping an eye out.