Tuesday night, the Akron Art Museum sold off Cindy Sherman's Untitled #96 (1981) at Christie's. Continuing the solid sales at New York spring auctions, the “orange” Cindy Sherman sold for $2,882,500, including tax and commission. That's more than the Akron Art Museum's total revenue from 2010. While this makes a strong case for museums to garner revenue through deaccessioning, museums rarely sell off works from their collections for such a large sum.
From a money-making standpoint, the Akron Art Museum was smart to auction off this work. With her MoMA solo show still up, Cindy Sherman's works are hot sellers: In 2011, Christie's sold a different print of Untitled #96 for $3,890,500. Last weekend, Metro Pictures sold a 1977 Cindy Sherman for $950,000 during Frieze New York.
By doubling its yearly revenue through the sale of one artwork, the Akron Art Museum plans to build an endowment in order to grow its permanent collection. Although infrequent, museums do sell works at auction. In November 2011, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston fetched over $9 million at auction for a single Monet, directing the revenue into an acquisition fund. The American Association of Museums' (AAM) ethical guidelines allow for such collection sales, with the requirement that “in no event shall they be used for anything other than acquisition or direct care of collections.”
Even if the Akron Art Museum's move is ethically sound, there's still something icky about it. I mean, what if they go buy a ton of Dale Chihulys with the money? So far, the Akron Art Museum Director and CEO Mitchell Kahan has no plans for that.
“Now we can look forward to acquiring other Cindy Sherman works from later in her career,” Kahan said after the sale. I sure hope so.