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DePaul Exhibition Explores Process of Pairing Down Museum Collections
Ludwig Sohler (German, 1907-1998), "Landscape: Lake and Spruces", date unknown. Oil on canvas.

CHICAGO, IL.- The public is invited to explore the fascinating process of how an art museum decides what works to remove from its collection in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Museum Collections and 'Deaccessioning'" which opens Jan. 14 at the DePaul University Art Museum.

The exhibition, which runs through March 19, examines the process of deaccessioning, or removing objects from a collection, an important but seldom discussed part of forming a well-focused museum. As DePaul’s collection grows and develops, efforts are made to shape it so it best fits the character of the university and its educational mission, while removing a small number of objects of no conceivable use. Deaccessioning works of poor quality or in bad condition is vastly different from selling valuable works to raise revenue, a process that has landed several museums in the headlines recently.

“Most museums are very discreet when deaccessioning works from their collection, but we chose to make the process public because it raises so many fundamental questions: what makes art ‘good’ or ‘bad?’ How do museums, reviewers and markets judge the value of art? Is innovation a necessary part of artistic success?” asked Museum Director Louise Lincoln, curator of the exhibition. “It’s an ideal subject for a teaching museum like DePaul.”

The show, which is free and open to the public, debuts with an opening reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Jan. 14 at the museum. The exhibition features 25 paintings that will be deaccessioned after the exhibit ends. The works may be sold at auction, donated for resale, or, in the case of severely damaged items, destroyed.

“In the past, some museums deaccessioned out-of-fashion works by artists such as Titian or Monet without due consideration, only to see them return to favor and increase in value,” Lincoln said. “As a result, deaccessioning is an intentionally slow and cumbersome process that requires a clear idea of the focus and use of the collection and a justification for each decision.

“The current deacessioning process began more than two years ago and has included research, case-by-case review and signoff by advisory board members, and outside appraisal,” Lincoln said. “We invite visitors to react to the works, to the process and to the larger questions of what makes art good or bad, beautiful or powerful, successful or unnoticed.”

DePaul University Art Museum | The Good the Bad and the Ugly | Louise Lincoln |

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