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Istanbul University Responds to Deaccession Controversy with Press Release

by Jillian Steinhauer on February 14, 2013

An installation inside the Santralinstabul Museum of Contemporary Art in 2007 (image via Flickr/skinnydiver)

An installation inside the Santralinstabul Museum of Contemporary Art in 2007 (image via Flickr/skinnydiver)

The latest news coming out of Istanbul in the story of the impending museum deaccession auction is that the focal point of the controversy, Istanbul Bilgi University, has issued a press release and agreed to a meeting with activists. The university administers the recently closed Santralistanbul Museum of Contemporary Art, and two weeks ago, the news broke that the school was planning to sell off a good chunk of the museum’s collection — some 150 artworks that were purchased by the institution. A group of activists started a petition in response and has been working hard to protest and publicize the issue.

Hyperallergic has now learned that the group succeeded in getting a response from the school — albeit a fairly small one. As any other institution in a time of crisis would do, the university sent out a press release, likely in response to the outcry. Apparently, it attempts to couch the university’s action in common museum practice by explaining that deaccessioning is a regular procedure practiced by “important museums” like the Guggenheim and Museum of Modern Art.

The school’s board of directors has also agreed to meet this week with the activists, who, in the meantime, issued a response to the press release. Their statement reiterates the deaccession principles outlined by CIMAM (International Committee of ICOM [International Council of Museums] for Museums and Collections of Modern Art), of which Santralistanbul is not a member, although the Guggenheim and MoMA are. CIMAM rules emphasize that deaccessioning is “only justified to improve the quality or composition of the collection” and that “the same deliberation and rigor applied to acquiring should be applied to deaccessioning.”

As they described it to Hyperallergic, the Istanbul activists wrote:

Also, it’s the responsibility of the museum and us, the concerned people, to revise and better the protection laws for modern and contemporary art works in the country, if the legal system doesn’t provide enough protection for works that is less than 100 years old. We emphasized that this is an ethical debate, not a legal one.

Although the board of directors’ agreement to meet with the activists is encouraging, some people are feeling quite pessimistic about the prospects for stopping the auction. Many artists, whose works are slated to be sold, are angry that the museum is taking advantage of their generosity, since many sold their works to Santralistanbul for severe discounts as a sign of support for the fledgling institution.

Currently, two floors of the former museum building have reputedly been given to the university’s faculty of architecture for their use, while the rest of the structure will be rented out to various firms for events. It remains to be seen if Santralistanbul will follow in the Rose Art Museum’s (at Brandeis) footsteps and be saved last minute, but with the Istanbul institution already closed, the prospects don’t look great.

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