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COUNTERPUNCH LETTERS

Ex-Museum Director Differs With Account

March 04, 1996

I've kept quiet for two years now, but Naomi Vine's suggestion ("The Mission of Laguna Museum Is to Serve the Community," Counterpunch, Feb. 19) that I am responsible for the piecemeal sale at auction of the Laguna Art Museum's most significant works of art cannot go unanswered.

It is true that I was the first to raise the issue of the Paul Outerbridge photographs and their relevance to the museum's collection. I thought at the time, and still think, that careful collections management must include the possibility of de-accession--and sale--of certain works of art under certain circumstances.

Beyond those basic facts, Vine is mistaken about several things. In particular, her characterization of the decision to sell the collection as the result of "deliberations" by "knowledgeable art historians, collectors," etc. is startling. Anyone close to the governance of the Laguna Art Museum can tell you that it is not art historians who are running things on the board.

The simple fact is that certain trustees smelled money at the mention of possible sale of the Outerbridge works and applied a steady pressure to get those works sold at the first opportunity. Right up until my last days at the museum, I insisted that the collection stay together, preferably in Southern California, and that a very specific plan for the future of the museum's permanent collection be in place before any decision was made to sell a part of it. If this decision were based upon my "recommendation," as Vine claims, those concerns would have been addressed.

What current Laguna Art Museum managers decide to do with the collections is their own affair, and that of the community that supports the museum. If they are proud of their decision, why do they not argue its merits, rather than blame the guy who left two years ago?

CHARLES DESMARAIS

The writer, director of the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, was director of the Laguna Art Museum from 1988 to 1994.

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