What is deaccessioning?
The permanent removal of an object or work of art from a museum’s collection by sale, gift to another institution, or destruction. Preferred methods deaccessioning works are the sale or transfer to, or exchange with, another public institutions; sale through publicly advertised auction; and sale to or exchange with a reputable dealer. In the case of a work of art by a living artist, consideration may be given to an exchange with the artist.
The collections of art museums are like gardens. Their cultivation requires periodic pruning to improve overall quality and thoughtful long–term growth. As good stewards of the collections in their trust, art museums periodically deaccession works of art based on redundancy, poor condition or limited service to the institution’s mission.
The thoughtful and considered decision to deaccession is made solely to improve the quality, scope, and appropriateness of the collection, and to support the mission and long-term goals of the museum. It is a museum best practice to review existing works in the collection to ensure relevancy. When works are no longer consistent with the museum’s collecting goals, or if the quality of work has been compromised, it may then be considered for deaccession.
Deaccessioning works also helps alleviate long-term care and storage of those items, which helps reduce cost to the museum. The donor’s gift to the museum will continue to be recognized by ensuring their name remains connected with the museum and future art purchases.
Who decides what to deaccession?
Working with the museum curators and outside specialists, the Director recommends objects for deaccessioning to the Collection Committee. The Collection Committee advises the Board of Trustees who have final approval on deaccessioning as well as accessioning.
Where do the newly acquired funds go?
Proceeds from a deaccessioned work are used only to acquire other works of art. At Tacoma Art Museum, per the museum’s collection policy and standard museum professional practices, proceeds from art sales are never used as operating funds, to build a general endowment, or for any other expenses. Funds from deaccessioning are either used immediately to purchase other works or are invested in an acquisitions endowment earmarked to support the long-term growth of a museum’s collection.
How does the public know what was deaccessioned?
The museum’s deaccessioning process is public and transparent. No action pertaining to deaccessioning would be taken if it compromised the integrity and good standing of the institution and its community at large and within the profession. The process includes Tacoma Art Museum’s director and curators, in consultation with trustees, collection committee, and scholars to weigh all considerations by way of the policy when determining whether to deaccession an object or not.
Tacoma Art Museum has deaccessioned a total of 553 objects.
- 2017: Deaccessioned 17 objects that are no longer in the collection but were still listed in collection records.
- 2012–2013: Deaccessioned 222 Chinese and Japanese objects. To read the press release, click here.
- 2001–03: Deaccessioned 28 works not directly related to the mission in preparation for move to its new building.
- 2001: Transferred works on paper by Susan Rothenberg and Robert Rauschenberg to the Washington Arts Consortium collection.
- 1999: Deacessioned 84 Japanese woodblocks prints with recommendation from Dr. Roger Keyes.
- 1994: Deaccessioned 200 works from the early American room. Funds from the sale of these items were used to acquire important works by Jacob Lawrence, The Street Orator’s Audience and The Brooklyn Stoop.