I just emailed a client regarding an upcoming auction. They have a lot of items in their collection with no provenance (prizes from past dumpster dives), are in very poor condition, and/or are duplicates.
While I helped sort through these potential auction items and feel confident about our decisions, I did want to make sure that they were very familiar with the American Association of Museum‘s Code of Ethics.
Museums collect artifacts in the public trust, that is, a collecting institution receives items and holds them not as financial assets or personal collections, but for the public good. As collections manager at the Iowa Jewish Historical Society, for example, I can’t just walk in and give away something or sell it to a friend to pay for office supplies, willy-nilly. Instead, museum ethics dictate what I can and cannot do with the collection.
From AAM’s Code of Ethics:
The distinctive character of museum ethics derives from the ownership, care, and use of objects, specimens, and living collections representing the world’s natural and cultural common wealth. This stewardship of collections entails the highest public trust and carries with it the presumption of rightful ownership, permanence, care, documentation, accessibility, and responsible disposal.
In addition, when selling or otherwise disposing of accessioned (i.e. cataloged) items, the Code of Ethics also states that:
Disposal of collections through sale, trade, or research activities is solely for the advancement of the museum’s mission. Proceeds from the sale of nonliving collections are to be used consistent with the established standards of the museum’s discipline, but in no event shall they be used for anything other than acquisition or direct care of collections.
Not Iowa’s Pollock; at MOMA
Whether we work at a local history museum or with an internationally known work of art, ethical standards hold us all accountable for our actions.
What are your thoughts about the Pollock issue?