• 30 Jan 2018

La Salle University in Philadelphia intends to implement new development strategies with new cost items. To finance it, the American university decided to sell 50 Artworks from its collection. Indeed, the goal is to raise between 4 and 7 million dollars. What is the burning issue that hides behind it?

This picture taken by Audrey represents La Salle University campus.

La Salle University campus © Audrey

An exceptional collection

Upon its opening in 1976, the La Salle University Museum stood out of crowd thanks to a significant collection. Indeed, the museum possesses paintings, drawings and sculptures from the Renaissance period until now. In fact, Artists like Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, George Rouault, Thomas Eakins or Henri Matisse made the museum its name. As a result, several Artworks are worth millions of dollars. The recent decision of the university which consists in selling out almost 50 Artworks through Christie’s resulted in a general outcry from Art world personalities.

This is an oil on canvas painted by Hubert Robert in 1784 and entitled "The Tomb of Virgil at Posilipo, near Naples".

The Tomb of Virgil at Posilipo, near Naples by Hubert Robert, 1784, oil on canvas © Hubert Robert

A decision based on shady motivations

The announcement of the Artworks’ sale by La Salle University did not go unnoticed. Indeed, Caroline Wistar, a former curator at the museum, told The Philadelphia Inquirer: “We’re all in the dark and shocked, just absolutely shocked (…). We don’t understand the reason for it.” In fact, the university’s motivations remain unclear. According to Jaine Lucas, the university’s spoke person, “the artworks are not going to plug a deficit”. However, Susan Snyder and Stephen Salisbury, both journalists at the Philadelphia Inquirer, disagree with the University’s decision. In fact, they recently stated that in 2015, the university’s budget suffered a 12 million dollars drop while students applications lost 18% and 23 staff members were fired.

Is Art a currency like any other?

The case of the university’s Artworks’ sale raised the question of the Art’s role in a capitalistic system. In fact, it is commonly implied in the Fine Arts market that Artworks that belong to museums can only be sold to avoid a shut down. Nonetheless, in the matter under discussion, the university claims it is in no financial trouble. Consequently, can we consider Art as a financial asset like any other to cope with expenses? It is a question to which most of the artistic and cultural personalities already answered no. However, on the other side of the controversy, the museum’s reputation could suffer a great deal from it. Indeed, the impact on the museum’s attendance could be potentially significant and affects the museum’s operations as well as the university’s reputation.

This image represents Virgil Reading the Aeneid to Augustus, engraved by Charles Simon Pradier after Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres in 1832.

Virgil Reading the Aeneid to Augustus, engraving by Charles Simon Pradier after Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1832

Read our article about the first British retrospective of Dorothea Lange here.

Sources: The New York Times, et Artnet