Delaware Art Museum sanctioned by AAMD

One day after “Isabella and the Pot of Basil” was auctioned off by Christie’s, the ruling body of the art museum community dropped the hammer on the Delaware Art Museum.

The Pre-Raphaelite painting by William Holman Hunt sold for approximately $4.8 million Tuesday. Consequently, the Association of Art Museum Directors sanctioned the museum. 

“Consistent with AAMD’s Code of Ethics, we ask our members to suspend any loans of works of art to, and any collaborations on exhibitions with, the Delaware Art Museum, until notified by us that the sanctions have been suspended or removed,” read a statement posted on AAMD’s website today.

“We are disappointed that the AAMD chose to sanction the museum,” said Delaware Art Museum CEO Mike Miller, who, along with the museum’s Board of Trustees, expected the reproval. “The Trustees take very seriously their obligation to hold art for the benefit of the public, but they felt that their ultimate obligation was to keep the museum open and thriving.”

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In late March, the museum announced its controversial decision to sell up to four works of art to prevent the museum’s closure. Proceeds from the sales would settle the museum’s outstanding debt and add to its endowment.

The AAMD believes the museum had other options. The association said it even reached out to the museum on multiple occasions to help the museum campaign for private funding. 

“With this sale, the museum is treating works from its collection as disposable assets,” the association said. “It is also sending a clear signal to its audiences that private support is unnecessary, since it can always sell additional items from its collection to cover its costs.”

According to AAMD’s principles, works of art can be sold only to acquire works of art and to improve a museum’s collection.

“While the decision to sell art continues to be one that is very hard to bear, deciding to write the final chapter of a museum with a century-long cultural heritage was, in comparison, unbearable,” Miller said.

The AAMD represents 242 art museum directors in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Past president, Philadelphia Museum of Art CEO Timothy Rub, said the Delaware Art Museum withdrew its membership shortly before announcing its decision to sell art from its collection.

The museum also lost its accreditation with the American Alliance of Museums. The AAM Accreditation Commission unanimously voted to remove the museum’s accredited status on the day of the auction.

“The action of the Delaware Art Museum is in direct violation of museum standards and ethics,” said Dewey Blanton, spokesperson for the AAM. Accreditation from the alliance is like a stamp of approval for museums and “designates a museum’s credibility to donors, funders and the public.”

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