Museums, values & deaccession

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7.5.1 Discourse Analysis

Which values dominate in the conversation with Jan Teeuwisse? What does the director of a private museum value?

A first interesting fact is that Jan Teeuwisse has an art historical background. This history is noticeable and I think that it has an influence on how Jan Teeuwisse looks at the museum and the collection. During the conversation he mentions numerous names of sculptors, sculptures and sculpture aligned organizations. You can feel that he talks about the museum and his collection with great love and devotion. He admires the collectors-couple Theo and Lida Scholten. He is proud of the special history of the museum and the special atmosphere that is formed by all the volunteers, the friends of the museum and the friendly contacts with private collectors. As a director with an art historical background he is mostly concerned with the cultural content and philosophy of the museum. The following phrases show how important it is for him to make this clear to the public: ‘sculptures only become more beautiful when they are touched a lot. [..] I do not mind if people touch our own sculptures. Everybody wants to, everybody does it. Sculptures are tactile. [..] Sculptures are not only their to be watched’.
The social and cultural values of the museum are definitely important for Jan Teeuwisse. The remark ‘art does not exist to be put into storage’, shows how important it is for Jan Teeuwisse that his collection is seen. The acquisitions that he makes are only made when the objects can be exhibited or used in another way. He does not acquire objects to end up in the depots. He also developed an open attitude towards giving his objects in deposit, because that way the sculptures, that would otherwise be laying in the depots, could be exhibited to the public. The fact that Jan Teeuwisse sees this as a responsibility of the museum shows his inclination to the social and cultural values of his museum and its collection.
Nevertheless, Jan Teeuwisse also refers multiple times to the museum as a ‘store’. As a private museum without subsidy from the government ‘Museum Beelden aan Zee’ has to attract as much public to the museum as possible to generate money. This is done by speeding up the ‘exhibition-machine’, but also by giving objects in deposit. These deposits make publicity for the museum, so there is a business goal behind the deposits too. It is a way to advertise and make money. ‘Museum Beelden aan Zee’ is therefore active in giving objects in deposit.

This more economic way of thinking seems to be important to Jan Teeuwisse, as it comes back several times during the conversation. The objects he acquires, for instance, are not only bought because they complete the collection, but also because they have pr-value for the museum. The 30 sculptures that were built on the boulevard-side form an investment to generate more visitors and more income. The solutions that are sought for possible depot-problems are well weighed out in terms of costs and benefits.

As the director of a private museum Jan Teeuwisse has to be economically minded, because otherwise the museum would not survive.
In the case of deaccession business aligned reasons made Jan Teeuwisse uninterested in the sale of his sculptures. He admits that there are certain objects which could be deaccessioned, because they have no good quality or take in too much space. Nevertheless, auctioning sculptures brings in too little. ‘There is no market for sculptures’, he says. The loss would be bigger when he sold the sculptures, then when he preserved them. By being creative he is able to use some of the less interesting objects from his collection and store some of the unhandy objects in cheaper depots, like containers in the port of Scheveningen. And by giving objects in deposit Jan Teeuwisse is deaccessioning and making publicity at the same time. So, his view on deaccession is formed by well weighed out economic arguments.
However, the works that were deaccessioned by Theo and Lida Scholten and the museum, were given back to the family. This non-economic behavior can be explained by the fact that Theo and Lida Scholten have given everything for the museum. They even had to disown their own children to realize the building of the museum. Therefore the fact that the museum is a private museum does make things different. The social values inside the museum are stronger than the economic values and director Jan Teeuwisse understands that.

  1. Conclusion

I have enjoyed interviewing the directors/employees of ‘Museum Het Valkhof’, ‘Zeeuws maritiem muZEEum’, ‘Frans Hals Museum’, ‘Naturalis - Nationaal Historisch Museum’ and ‘Museum Beelden aan Zee’. But what did I learn from these interviews? Which values dominate the conversation about deaccession inside the museum walls: economic values, social values or cultural values?

During the interviews it soon became clear that all museum directors emphasize different aspects concerning the deaccession of museum objects and therefore value different things. These different ways of valuing seem to be caused by the specific characteristics, functions, collections, financing structures and policies of the museums. In the case of ‘Museum Het Valkhof’, for instance, the particular kind of collection, namely archeology, seems to be influential for the way Marijke Brouwer perceives the deaccession of museum objects. On the contrary, for both the ‘Zeeuws maritiem muZEEum’ and ‘Naturalis’, it is the type of director that is important for the value discourse inside the museums. I have seen that it is of importance whether a director has an art historical background or a managerial background. The background of a museum director is influential for the way he thinks and talks about the museum and its collection and for which values dominate the conversation. Unfortunately no further general conclusions can be made about this. The time for this master thesis was too limited and only five museums could be researched in-depth. It is clear, however, that all museum directors have different opinions, visions and values.
In spite of these differences in values some interesting similarities appeared. At first in all cases not one value was dominating the vision on deaccession. Every conversation actually portrayed an interplay of social, cultural and economic values. In the second place during the interviews four out of five museum directors portrayed economic values. This means that my assumption that economic values do play a role concerning the deaccession of museum objects is confirmed by the conversations. The museum directors talked extensively about the surplus value of their museum and collection, the market value of museum objects, the opportunity costs of preservation, the influence of limited financial means, the sale of objects for the highest price, the use of auctions, the financial and managerial burdens of collecting, the efficient use of money, the efficient use of space and the efficiency of deaccession. Two out of five museum directors even mentioned that they see their museum as a company for which they need to take output, labour, efficiency and other economic variables into consideration.
The fact that economic values are important in the case of deaccession shows that more thought and discussion are required. Why is so little written within the museum field about the economic and managerial side of deaccession? How is it possible that museum directors talk about it, while in the LAMO nothing is mentioned about any of the more economic arguments that the interviewed museum directors used for deaccession? Why does the attention only go to the social and cultural side of deaccession?
Does this mean that Abbing could actually be right? Are economic values hidden to preserve the sacred character of the art world? I personally do not believe that to be totally true. All the museum directors were open in telling me about their economic values. Especially Wilbert Weber of the ‘Zeeuws maritiem muZEEum’ and René Dekker of ‘Naturalis’ were straightforward in their statements and not afraid to say what cannot be read in the ethical codes for museums or the LAMO. This last remark does indeed affirm my feeling that economic values are not mentioned and written about much in the overall museum field. I do not believe, however, that the reason for this is to preserve the sacred character of the museum field. It is more a lack of experience with the economic perspective, caused by a long period of being heavily subsidized as the preservers of our cultural heritage, and the fear and uncomfortableness of talking in economic terms, that makes economic values less visible. Many people still experience talking about a museum as just another company as weird and degrading.
During the analysis of the interviews it was also noticeable that the museum directors are in the end all concerned with the social values and the cultural values of their museum and their collection. Wilbert Weber, for instance, is mainly inclined to contributing to society. By enhancing an economic perspective he is able to give back more to society. René Dekker is mainly inclined to the collection of ‘Naturalis’. He sees deaccession as a tool to improve the efficiency concerning space, labour and costs, so eventually he has more resources available to let the collection flourish. The economic values are used as a means to reach the social and cultural ends.
So, do economic values only contribute to the generation of social values and cultural values? Is Klamer right in saying that it is all about social values and cultural values? It does seem to be that social values and cultural values are still prevailing in the museum field. This is a good thing; bút museums cannot be solely directed at social and cultural values as most directors showed me. Enhancing a more economic perspective and being aware of a museums economic values is necessary to improve the management of collections, to stop the inefficient use of public money and to be prepared for changes in a time of economic crisis. Economic values are of importance in the conversation about the deaccession of museum objects. But social and cultural values should always be respected, as in the end museums are definitely there to preserve our past, to teach us about ourselves right now and to shed light on our future…
8.1 Limitations and Further Suggestions

As with any research, this master thesis has certain limitations. These limitations are not necessarily negative, but lead to interesting suggestions for further research.

First of all, the theoretical part of this master thesis is based on a limited amount of books and theories. Both values and deaccession have been extensively discussed in the literature. Since the time for this master thesis was limited, the most interesting and relevant sources have been used. Much more can be read, however, about values and deaccessioning museum objects. Certain aspects of both subjects have not been discussed in this master thesis either. It would be interesting, for instance, to take a look at the legal restrictions on deaccession in a further research. Do legal restrictions influence the value discourse?
Second, as noted in the conclusion already, the results of the empirical research are hard to generalize. The results of the interviews exist of multiple collections of visions and opinions. These visions and opinions are subjective and so are the results of the total research. The same applies to the setting and circumstances of the interviews. The interviews take place at different locations and in different situations. This causes a lack in transparency and objectivity (Seale, 2004:180-192). Consequently the results cannot be generalized.

This is worsened by the fact that the number of selected museums and museum directors is limited and that the selected museums and museum directors are totally different from each other. It is interesting to see if location, size, function or directors’ personality have an influence on the values that are expressed, but none of this can be proven. In order to do that much more museums and museum directors need to be included in the research and a clearer division between the museums should be made. Unfortunately the time for this master thesis is restricted. Therefore this research is conducted only to explore some important opinions and thoughts of museums directors about deaccession.

Besides that it is disputable if an extensive categorisation of museums and museum directors would have been useful for this master thesis. As said before, this research is the first to explore which values actually dominate the conversation about deaccession. In that case clear expectations are absent and therefore it is more relevant to see first if interesting results can be found at all. Fortunately the results were interesting, so this research might be the starting point for a deeper and more extensive research into the conversation.
Third, this research has been directed at the value discourse inside the museum walls. Interviewing museum directors is, however, only one way to find out which values dominate the conversation about deaccession. What, for instance, do the other museum employees value concerning deaccession? The values from the museum director at the top of the organization might differ a lot from the values of the employee who is actually taking the paintings of the wall, wrapping them up and bringing them to the auction. It would therefore be interesting in a further research to talk to more people inside the museum walls than the directors only.

Limiting the research to the conversation inside the museum walls is a restriction of this master thesis too. As mentioned in the introduction deaccession is discussed by many parties. What do the media, the Dutch Museum Association, the government, the Dutch inhabitants and other caring people value? The conversation about deaccessioning museum objects is of importance in many parts of our society. Unfortunately this makes it hard to research and therefore limiting it to the conversation inside the museum walls was necessary for this master thesis. For further research, however, it is absolutely interesting to take a look outside the museum and see how other parties value deaccession.

Finally, director Wilbert Weber of the ‘Zeeuws maritiem muZEEum’ mentioned to me that the ideas about deaccession are much more developed in the archival field than in the museum field. Deaccession is already part of a special law, the archival law (Archiefwet), in which the efficiency and effectiveness of preservation and management play an important role. It would be interesting to compare the archival field with the museum field in order to see if the value discourse differs between both heritage fields and if the museum field can learn from the archival field concerning values and deaccession.

  1. References

9.1 On Economic, Social and Cultural Values
Abbing, Johannes Roscam. 2002. Why Are Artists Poor? – The Exceptional Economy of the Arts. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
Benzakour, Mohammed. 2008.


Bourdieu, P. 1986. The Forms of Capital. In: Richardson, J.C. The handbook of theory and research for the sociology of education. Greenwood Publishing Group, 241-258.
Bourdieu, P. 1998. The Economy of Symbolic Goods. In: Practical Reason. Cambridge: Polity Press, 92-123.
Braembussche, A.A. van den. 2006. Denken over kunst – een inleiding in de kunstfilosofie. Bussum: Uitgeverij Coutinho.
Hutter, Michael & Throsby, David. 2008. Beyond Price: value in Culture, Economics and the Arts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Hutter, Michael & Throsby, David. Value and Valuation in Art and Culture: Introduction and Overview, 1-23.

  • Wilde, Carolyn. The Intrinsic Value of a Work of Art: Masaccio and the Chapmans, 220-236

Klamer, Arjo. 1996. The Value of Culture – On the Relationship between Economics and Arts. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

  • Braembussche, Antoon van den. The Value of Art: A Philosophical Perspective, 31-43.

Klamer, Arjo & Zuidhof, Peter-Wim. 1998. The Role of the Third Sphere in the World of the Arts. Unpublished, Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Klamer, Arjo. 2002. Accounting for social and cultural values. De Economist 150 (4), 453-473.
Klamer, Arjo. 2002. Cultural goods are good for more than their economic value.
Klamer, Arjo. 2003. Gift Economy. In: Towse, R. Handbook of Cultural Economics. UK, Cheltham; US, Northampton: Edward Elgar Publishing, 243-247.
Klamer, Arjo. 2006. In hemelsnaam! – over de economie van overvloed en onbehagen. Kampen: Uitgeverij Ten Have.
Kopytoff, Igor. 1986. The cultural biography of things: commoditization as process. In: Appadurai (et al.) The social life of things, commodities in cultural perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Korteweg, Ariejan. 25 Februari 2009. Veiling kunst Yves Saint Laurent breekt alle records. Volkskrant.
Throsby, David. 2001. Economics and Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Walzer. 1985. Money and Commodities. In: Walzer. A Defence of Pluralism & Equality. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 95-128.
9.2 On Museums and Deaccession
Anderson, Gail. 2004. Reinventing the Museum: historical and contemporary perspectives on the paradigm shift. Walnut Creek: AltaMira.

  • Gardner, James B. & Merritt, Elizabeth. Collections Planning: Pinning Down a Strategy. 292-296.

  • Malaro, Marie C. Deaccessioning: The American Perspective. 331-340.

  • Weil, Stephen E. Collecting Then, Collecting Today: What’s the Difference? 284-291.

Bergevoet, F., Kok, A. & Wit, M de. (red.). 2006. Leidraad voor het afstoten van museale objecten. Amsterdam: Instituut Collectie Nederland.

Bevers, Antonius Maria & Halbertsma, Maria Elisabeth. 1991. Behouden is kiezen: over het verzamelen, selecteren en wijzigen van museale collecties: verslag van een onderzoek naar de opvattingen en ervaringen van museumdeskundigen. Rijswijk: Ministerie van Welzijn, Volksgezondheid en Cultuur, Directoraat-Generaal Culturele Zaken.
Bockma, Harmen. 16 February 2009. VSBfonds halveert kunstdonaties. In: Volkskrant: 11.
Dulken, Hans van. 2002. Sanering van de subsidiëring – Overheidsbemoeienis met monumentenzorg, film en toneel vanaf de jaren zestig. Amsterdam: Boekmanstudies.
Fortuin, Fiona. 27 February 2009. Crisis dwingt festivals tot creativiteit – Parkpop kwart minder inkomsten, ook andere festivals houden hart vast.
Frey, Bruno S. 1994. Cultural Economics and Museum Behaviour. Scottish Journal of Political Economy 41 (3), 325-335.
Frey, Bruno S. & Meier, Stephan. 2003. ‘The Economics of Museums’. Institute for Empirical Economic. Research Working Paper No.149.
Goldstein, J.R. 1997. Deaccession: Not Such a Dirty Word. Cardozo arts & entertainment law journal 15, 213-247.
Gollin, Rob. 21 August 2007. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen streeft naar spectaculair ontwerp – Depot in tafel, brug of paddestoel. Volkskrant: 16.
Gubbels, Truus. et al. (red.). 2004. Het museum van de toekomst: pretpark of pantheon? Boekman 61 (16).
Gubbels Truus, Kok Arjen, Timmer Petra. 2007. Niets gaat verloren: twintig jaar selectie en afstoting uit Nederlandse museale collecties. Amsterdam: Instituut Collectie Nederland, Boekmanstudies.
Hermans, R. (red.). 2008. Voor de eeuwigheid? : over collectiebeleid in Nederland. Rotterdam: NAi uitgevers, Erfgoed Nederland, Mondriaan stichting.
Kapteijns, M.W.J. et al. (red.). 2002. Hét museum bestaat niet: onderzoek ter ondersteuning van de sectoranalyse musea. Amersfoort: Twynstra Gudde.
Kok, Arjen. 19 March 2009. Studiemiddag Selectie. Notes (Appendix 3).
Laarse, R. van der. 2005. Bezeten van vroeger: erfgoed, identiteit en musealisering. Amsterdam: Spinhuis.

  • Bergvelt, Ellinoor. Nationale onverschilligheid? Schilderkunst als erfgoed in Nederland en Groot-Brittanie in de negentiende eeuw. 102-123.

Lingen, N. van. et al. (red.) 2006. Ethische Code voor Musea. Amsterdam: Nederlandse Museumvereniging.

Lowenthal, David. 2006. The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History. Cambridge: University Press.
Mensch, Peter van. 2003. Voor nu en voor later: het verzamelbeleid van musea in Nederland. Amsterdam: De Nederlandse Museumvereniging.
Mensch, P. van. 2008. Collectieontwikkeling of geld verdienen? : de dilemma's van het afstoten van museumvoorwerpen. Kunstlicht 29 (1/2), 56-59.
Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap. 1999. Cultuur als Confrontatie - Een Ondernemende Cultuur.
Ministerie van Welzijn, Volksgezondheid en Cultuur. 1990. Kiezen voor Kwaliteit – beleidsnota over de toegankelijkheid en het behoud van het museale erfgoed. Rijswijk.
Montias, J. M. 1995. ‘Are Museums Betraying the Public’s Trust. Journal of Cultural Economics 19, 71-80.
Museum Het Valkhof. 2009. Beleidsplan 2009-2012 – ‘Van Voorwerpenmuseum naar Verhalenmuseum’. Nijmegen.
Museum Het Valkhof. April 2004. Collectieplan 2005-2008. Nijmegen.
O’Hagan, John W. 1998. Art Museums: Collections, Deaccessioning and Donations. Journal of Cultural Economics 22, 197-207.
Ott, Antoon. 2007. Kritiek op afstotingsprotocol. Museumvisie 01, 40-43.
Schampers, Karel. 19 March 2009. Studiemiddag Selectie. Statement (Appendix 3).
Schubert, Karsten. 2000. The curator’s egg: the evolution of the museum concept from the French Revolution to the present day. London: One-off Press.
Sman, M. C. van der. 1991. Gedragslijn voor Museale Beroepsethiek. Amsterdam, 1-28.
Zeeuws maritiem muZEEum. 2007. Stichting Maritiem Museum Zeeland – Jaarverslag 2007. Vlissingen. 11-05-2009. 03-03-2009. 17-03-2009. 11-03-2009. 27-03-2009.

  • 13-03-2009. 03-03-2009. 02-04-2009. 27-03-2009. 03-03-2009. 03-03-2009.
9.3 On Research Methods
Seale, Clive. 2004. Researching Society and Culture. London: Sage Publications.

  1. Appendix 1 – The Interview

Main question:

  • Can you tell me about your personal vision on the museum collection, the management of this collection and the role of deaccession?

‘Reserve’ questions:

  • Which role does the collection fulfill?

  • How important is it to keep the collection sustainable and manageable?

  • What is the situation in the depots?

  • What is more important: exhibiting objects to the public or owning a certain object, even when there is no exhibition space and the object ends up in one of the depots?

  • How important is deaccession for the museum?

  • Which arguments are used for deaccession?

  • What kind of objects are deaccessioned?

  • Is deaccession a tool that is more important for the management and costs of the collection or above all for the quality of the collection?

  • Are the costs of preserving an object in a depot taken into account?

  • Do you prefer deaccession through deposit, gift, exchange or sale?

  • Is it acceptable to sell objects to other museums?

  • How important is the market value of a certain object for the decision-making process preceding the deaccession?

  • What does the museum do with the returns from sale?

  • How do you feel about the LAMO and the restrictions on the use of returns?

  • How important are the limited financial means for the way deaccession is thought about?

  • Do you think that the economic crisis will have an effect on deaccessioning museum objects?

  • What would be your ideal situation for the museum collection and the practice of deaccession?

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