The Display of Art - A Fiduciary Duty of the Museum

Friday, August 20, 2010
Recently Eli Broad, art collector and philanthropist, told the American Association of Museums about its members' duty to take art out of storage and put it on display. “If 90% of your work is in storage you need to begin lending it to other institutions. Get art out of the basements,” The Art Newspaper reported.

The fiduciary duties of care, loyalty, and obedience obligate art museums to display their works. Museums are generally institutions legally formed for the public good. They hold works in trust for the viewing public. When works are accessioned and not displayed, museum boards of directors may be putting themselves at risk of violating their fiduciary duties.

While these duties have not been traditionally enforced by state attorneys general, the rise in deaccessions by institutions to raise revenue for operating costs could prompt greater scrutiny of these fiduciary duties. Taking works out of the basement makes good legal sense.