The Akron Art Museum has put one of the two prints it owns by significant contemporary photographer Cindy Sherman up for sale with Christie’s Auction House. The 1981 photo, “Untitled #96,” from her “Centerfolds,” series depicts a young girl — as usual, portrayed by Sherman herself — in an orange sweater and orange and white plaid skirt clutching a torn-out newspaper classified page.
Akron Art Museum director Mitchell Kahan said in a press release,
The Akron Art Museum is extremely happy to partner with Christie’s on this sale. The result will be a new acquisitions endowment that generates significant growth for our collection. I am especially looking forward to continuing a commitment to Cindy Sherman by acquiring works made after the famous Centerfolds images.
News of the auction, which takes place May 8, has provoked mixed reactions.
Writer Judith Dobrzynski asks whether the deaccession is “Brave Or Foolhardy?”
Most museums tend to clean out works from the past when they sell, even though many directors have told me privately that they should be weeding out what they’ve bought since the 1970s. That’s partly because of undiscriminating buying: some museums admit privately to purchasing ”one of each” — that is, one example of many artists that somehow got buzz and critical acclaim for a moment, but have since dropped into to the 90 percent of all artists who will be ignored by art history. ... But they fear selling for two reasons: they don’t want to offend a living artist and his/her dealer and they fear making a mistake, even if only a public-relations one.
On the other hand, she suggests,
Whatever you may think of Cindy Sherman, the current consensus is that she is an important artist. The Akron museum owns another Sherman work, also from 1981, officially Untitled #93 and nicknamed “The Black Sheets.” But is the one they’re selling better than the one they’re keeping? It is better known. And aren’t collections supposed to have depth? Even if Kahan finds a later work by Sherman, from a different series, might that be less enlightening than showing two from the same series?
Another copy of “Untitled #96” sold last year for nearly $4 million dollars, so the sale could provide an enormous boost to the museum’s $2 million acquisitions endowment. The Wall Street Journal suggests the price could exceed the $4.3 million record set for the sale of a single photograph. — Anastasia Pantsios