WDEL Blog: Allan Loudell

What if the Delaware Art Museum can't sell its art?

The Delaware Art Museum this week created a new furor with the announcement it would auction off one of its Pre-Raphaelite paintings, "Isabella and the Pot of Basil", at Christie's in London, as the first part of the museum's campaign to pay off its debt and replenish its endowment.

A senior research fellow at the University of Delaware Library and expert/collector of Victorian literature and art, Mark Samuels Lasner, called the coming sale a "sacrilege." Lasner seems inclined to drop all support for the art museum.

But, this all assumes something else: The Delaware Art Museum succeeds in auctioning off three or four works for a total of 30 Million bucks. Otherwise, it indeed might not be worth all the aggravation, controversy, even ostracism.

No one in Delaware, to my knowledge, has even raised this question: Can the Delaware Art Museum just assume it'll be able to reach its target?

Fast-forward to an article in The NEW YORK TIMES: "MEDIOCRE NIGHT at SOTHEBY's, as ONE-THIRD of the ART DOES NOT SELL".


Posted at 10:24am on May 8, 2014 by Allan Loudell

<- Back to all Allan Loudell posts

Comments on this post:

Thu, May 8, 2014 2:24pm
Someone needs to explain to me how this is "sacrilegious". From what I've read, the alternative is that the museum would go under. Would Mr. Lasner really prefer that northern Delaware not have its own art museum?

I mean, hey, I don't visit the museum, so it really doesn't affect me. But it seems like something that's good for our state and community... for those who are into art. The museum has bills to pay, too, and if the museum can't raise funds via donations, what other choice do they have to bring in some cash? What is so inherently evil about selling some pieces, particularly if they stick with their promise to not sell ones that they received via endowment or gift?

Sounds like Mr. Lasner is in need of a stick-ectomy of the rectum.

Allan Loudell
Thu, May 8, 2014 2:47pm

As I understand it, it's a philosophical and practical "no no" for art museums, as if they were known to do this on a routine basis, would-be donors would be disinclined to ever donate a work to a museum. (That said, Delaware Art Museum promises not to try to sell ANY work that was donated rather than originally purchased, as you noted above.)

But you've hit on something. Because of both the economy and demographics, many museums are suffering these days. Perhaps it's outmoded and antiquated to apply such standards today.

(Just like acknowledgements of donors on public radio & TV have gotten more like commercials.)

That said, Delaware Art Museum incurred much of its debt from its costly construction / modernization project. Perhaps board members with a little more financial acumen and practical sense might have seen the financial and demographic storm clouds, and cautioned against embarking on such an ambitious and costly project. Perhaps (stereotypically), too many board members were & are from so-called 'Chateau Country', breathing rarified air, and just too insulated from the realities.

Our morning talk show host, Al Mascitti, has argued during his show that you have a corporate hack, a money man with no real expertise in art, making uninformed decisions.

Allan Loudell

Thu, May 8, 2014 2:53pm
Oh I've read the stories here on WDEL, so I have a basic grasp of what has lead them to this point. And sure, there's something to be said for poor management, decisions and foresight that put them in this financial hole in the first place. But hindsight doesn't solve problems. They're in the problem, and they need a way out. Bills must be paid. Does Mr. Lasner present an alternative solution, or is he just a voice saying "Don't do that" without suggesting something that would be acceptable to him?

Thu, May 8, 2014 3:00pm
Who, besides some school children visiting, frequents the museum? As Allan said above, the museum is suffering the same fate as public tv and also churches, and the main issue is those who valued those institutions are dying. We aren't talking the Met or the Louvre here. It doesn't house anything that is of international acclaim. Downsize, move the art museum to another location, and sell the land. The time is coming when you can tour a physical museum without going to a museum and when, in fact, that museum doesn't exist.

Mike from Delaware
Thu, May 8, 2014 3:25pm
My wife and I have been there a few times. However, I too wondered about that expansion of the museum building. Each time we've been there, it has NOT been crowded, unlike when we've been to the Philly Museum of Art. Obviously, comparing the Delaware Art Museum to the one in Philly is like comparing the Philadelphia Orchestra to the UofD Concert Band [no shot on the college concert band, but definitely in different leagues].

But the Delaware Art Museum is a pleasant place to visit and the museum has some really nice paintings. There's one with a violin and a piece of sheet music; that's so realistic, you'd think it's a photograph. You feel like you could pluck the strings on the painting, and they'd make sound. I have no knowledge of art, but enjoy that type of painting, where it looks real.

Arthur's thought of visiting an art museum via your computer /iPod is to miss a part of the experience. Some of the paintings are gigantic, and their size is part of seeing them.

However, his point is well taken and probably will become a reality, where ONLY the major art museums, such as Philly's, will survive, as they can attract enough visitors from the Tri-State area to pay the bills. The other art will probably find itself in rich people's homes for their private viewing. It's sad that the average person will not have the opportunity to see such things easily without a trip to Philly or Washington.

Jay Livingston-Nichols
Thu, May 8, 2014 8:24pm
In this present day and age of internet and big-screen TV, the art museum could go the way of the horse and buggy, considering you can google just about anything you want to see, and subscribe to cable channels that specialize in whatever tickles your fancy.

Thu, May 8, 2014 8:28pm
Well, we've had the taxpayers subsidizing NPR and PBS for their entire existence. I'm sure nobody would miss it if the U.S. Mint just printed up a few million and handed it to the Delaware Art Museum. With $17-trillion of debt, what difference does it make if it goes to $20 or $25-trillion!

Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we crash!

Mike from Delaware
Fri, May 9, 2014 8:19am
Mrpizza: NPR and PBS get 10% of their money from the taxpayers. I agree that they no longer need our help as many of the big honchos in public radio and TV make serious money, unlike in the early years, where working for an NPR or NET [National Educational Television} station was almost a calling, as it sure wasn't for the money.

So I agree with you, but just want no misunderstanding, the taxpayers are paying for 10% of their budgets. Which means both NPR and PBS would survive without that forced donation from the taxpayers. They'd just have to have more "Begathons" to pry more money from their listeners/viewers.

Fri, May 9, 2014 11:31am
MFD: You just made me think of another brilliant idea. Why can't the museum hold a similar "begathon" to raise money like NPR does? In fact, they may be able to get WDEL to work with them on something similar to what A.I. Dupont does every year.

Any thoughts, Allan Loudell?

Allan Loudell
Fri, May 9, 2014 11:39am
The art museum needs Millions of dollars relatively quickly.

Not a hundred thousand dollars or so (what a radiothon would reasonably raise!).

And presumably, the needs of an art museum are more elitist - less likely to strike an emotional chord with the "masses" - than a children's hospital.

Also, remember, we get ALL our Delaware stations - plus Northeast, Maryland - involved with A.I. duPont Children's Hospital. I just don't see that happening at multiple stations, even WDEL agreed to do it.

Furthermore, you have a timing issue. Can't do it over the summer, too many people away. You have a narrow window in the fall. Beyond that, we already do our two charitable fundraisers -- for A.I. duPont Children's Hospital, and later, for area food banks. Probably wouldn't want to dilute the impact of those with a third one for the arts.

Allan Loudell

Fri, May 9, 2014 4:23pm
Thanks, Allan.

Add your comment:
Attention: In an attempt to promote a level of civility and personal responsibility in blog discussions, we now require you to be a member of the WDEL Members Only Group in order to post a comment. Your Members Only Group username and password are required to process your post.

You can join the WDEL Members Only Group for free by clicking here.
If you are already a member but have forgotten your username or password, please click here.

Please register your post with your WDEL Members Only Group username and password below.

Copyright © 2014, Delmarva Broadcasting Company. All Rights Reserved.   Terms of Use.
WDEL Statement of Equal Employment Opportunity and Outreach