Once upon a time it was provocative, but today crowdsourcing in the art world is pretty much commonplace. There are crowd-curated exhibitions, crowdsourced prizes, volunteer transcription, and crowdsourced art/life. But the Georgia Museum of Art seems to be taking things to a new level: it’s asking visitors to vote on which paintings should be deaccessioned.
In a post on the museum’s blog, European art curator Lynn Boland explains that he has proposed the deaccessioning of four out of five paintings by 20th-century French artist Bernard Smol currently in the museum’s collection. “The paintings do not align with the collection goals as defined in the museum’s mission statement and acquisition policy, the paintings have not generated any scholarly interest or interest from the public in more than 50 years, and they have not been exhibited during this time,” he writes. So he’s organized a small exhibition, Deaccessioning Bernard Smol, which features the five paintings, explains the process of museum deaccessioning, and asks visitors to vote on which one they think the museum should keep. Artfix Daily points out that the idea actually came from Chicago’s DePaul University, which organized a similar show about deaccessioning, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, in 2010.
Boland and the Georgia Museum are careful about their language: visitors’ votes will be taken into consideration, but they won’t necessarily determine the final outcome. But that seems like less the point anyway than educating visitors about museum processes and encouraging them to think critically about what they see in official institutions. The Georgia Museum of Art is basically admitting that some of the works in its collection are less than stellar, which is something we all know at heart but that museums usually try to hide with quiet deaccessions and big exhibitions of “masterpieces” from their own collections. The experiment reminds me of Will Gompertz’s proposal in the Wall Street Journal last fall that museums exhibit bad art in the interest of sparking honest critical debate. I was intrigued then, and I am again now.