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Deaccessioning is not a dirty word

March 14, 2009 |  4:31 pm


Four years ago, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art started to get serious about developing its meager collection of Latin American art -- Colonial, Modernist and contemporary. Since then 43 superlative works have been acquired, beginning with a remarkable four-panel screen painted in Mexico around 1690 and showing an elaborate Indian wedding festival (above).

Where did the money come from to buy it and other paintings, sculptures and decorative arts? Mostly it has come from selective pruning of LACMA's existing collection. This process of curatorial evaluation, winnowing and sale to buy more art is known as deaccessioning.

Lately the practice has gotten a lot of bad press, most of it for good reason. Museum deaccessioning is not all that uncommon, however, and when done with care, it can benefit everyone. On Sunday I'll have a story about how, with its ongoing Latin American sales and purchases, LACMA seems to have done things right. The collection is being transformed.

--Christopher Knight

Photo: Anonymous (Mexico), “Folding Screen With Indian Wedding and Flying Pole,” circa 1690; Credit: Christopher Knight/Los Angeles Times