Art has always been seen very much as a commodity, like other commodities its value can change dramatically over time and much like the Labour gold reserve sell off, it can become very controversial when state run authorities come to sell it on.
Perhaps the most publicly noted case of deaccessioning came only last year when Hamlet Towers borough council announced that it wanted to sell a Henry Moore sculpture that had been gifted to the authority for the benefit of its residence. The councils cited several reasons for its decision to sell including its cost to upkeep and that due to consistent vandalism its home is now a sculpture park in Yorkshire.
This sale was met on the whole with indignation and the sale was lambasted by the national press. Attitudes do seem to be changing though, it is becoming more and more widely accepted that in times of financial strain institutions should not just rely on government funding and as a result selling art could become a lucrative way of securing new art and keeping galleries open, especially given that one good sale could secure some institutions for years to come.
The Museums Association has historically taken a hard line on the issue of deaccessioning. Sanctions have always been threatened on museums selling without official permission risk loosing accreditation from the arts council and loosing funding/grants. This harsh line does not however seem to be working as more and more institutes seems to be going down the line of selling works. By denying these institutes funding the arts council could actually be exacerbating this problem further.
This line does seem to be softening though and the association has become willing to judge each case on its merits. Allowing works to be sold when absolutely necessary to secure the future of troubled galleries.
The issue raises pros and cons on both sides of the argument, art represents a huge amount of capital that is stored up and down the country, which could be used to acquire fresh new works and plug deficits in government spending in keeping with these austere times. This capital should be not be measured solely by its monetary value though, it’s cultural and social value is perhaps even greater and with this there is undoubtedly an argument to protect and preserve as much as is rationally possible.