China sell off in Croydon museum
July 29 2013
Interesting news from Martin Bailey in The Art Newspaper from Croydon, in South London, where the Conservative Council has voted to deaccession and sell a collection of Chinese ceramics. The money will be used to refurbish a local theatre and music venue. The collection is worth nearly £13m apparently, and (get this) one of the justifications for selling the collection now is that it might be worth less in the future:
A Croydon Council report to the 24 July meeting argues that there are “very exceptional circumstances” that warrant the sale, although deaccessioning contravenes the council’s own policy. The report says, unless there is a sell-off, security for the Riesco display would need to be upgraded, at a time of spending cuts. It also says it is a good time to sell Chinese antiquities, since if delayed, “any decline in the economic climate in Asia could lead to a decrease in the prices achieved”.
The security factor is a valid one, given the recent spate of attacks targetting museums with Asian artefacts. I wonder, however, if someone should tell the good burghers of Croydon that the value might equally, er, go up. Still, I must admit to a smidgen of ceramic philistinism - if Croydon council were selling a Gainsborough, I'd be manning the baricades. But I can't get as excited about a pot.
The Council has apparently accepted that the sale will result in the loss of museum accreditation for its museum service, and hence future grants from bodies such as the HLF and the Art Fund.
Update - a reader writes:
It's more than a pot, I believe they want to sell the best of the collection, I think 13 pieces, they are very beautiful examples of Chinese art, bequeathed to the people of Croydon. I live in the neighbouring London borough of Bromley, & have a small collection of 18thC. art & antiques which I possibly might leave to the borough, but the actions of Croydon, have made me think twice about it, seeing how local councils treat cultural gifts.
Update II - Neil Jeffares alerts us to this petition against the sale.
Update III - a reader writes, crossly:
I was deeply surprised that you should not think the sale of the Riesco Collection in Croydon a huge disaster for Croydon, which has so few cultural amenities...and no proper museum or art gallery.
Are you aware not that Croydon owns 500 paintings and 1500 watercolours as well as the Riesco collection, but that the Council closed the really rather pathetically small Clocktower Museum and that nothing, except the Riesco collection, has been on display in recent years?
If the Conservative Council here starts selling things off, they may as well sell off the paintings and watercolours too...not that anybody in Central London cares much for Croydon, London's largest borough....but, you should know, it took 100 years to get the pictures out of storage at the top of the town hall tower in the first place - by a now retired librarian called Heather Kirby who found them filthy and unloved and who found that a large number of pictures had been stolen - and if a precedent is set with the Porcelains, the jewel of the otherwise unseen collection, the picture collection may well follow.
Please take back your comment about caring nothing for 'Pots'. They are all items of cultural value to the people of London, not just Croydon, and though I am no Oriental Ceramic specialist, I think we should fight the cause for everyone who values culture - which I find hard to believe you don't.
At no point in my post did I say that Croydon should sell the china, or any part of the collection. Merely, that I don't feel as protective about pots as I do about paintings. It is self-evidently the case that if, as I mentioned above, Croydon's disposal leads to a loss of accreditation, and the removal of further grants, it will be a disaster. The problem we have to face, however, is that not enough people in Croydon seem to care.