The Museums Association has warned Southampton City Council that plans to sell lucrative pieces from the City Art Gallery’s collection to fund a new museum are in breach of the Association’s Code of Ethics.
The Council is aiming to raise up to £5.5 million by selling early 20th century equestrian painter Alfred J Munning’s After the Race and one of two bronzes by Auguste Rodin to help pay for the £15 million Sea City Museum, which is scheduled to open as part of a new Cultural Quarter in 2012.
Munning's After the Race is worth between £2 million and £4 million. Picture Joseph Edward Tugwell
A narrow majority of 25 out of 45 councillors voted in favour of the controversial plans at a meeting last week, but the MA’s Ethics Committee said it was unconvinced organisers were selling the works as a “last resort”.
"The key requirement that they have not met at this time is that all other funding sources should be explored and any sale should be a last resort,” said Caitlin Griffiths, the MA’s Head of Professional Issues.
"Southampton is still at a relatively early stage in the process, and we have suggested that we revisit this particular requirement once they have had an opportunity to fully explore any available sources of funding.
"We know the sector is sensitive to this issue and will be watching the outcome closely. The MA is committed to working with Southampton to support them in working within the requirements of the code."
The plans split the council in a vote last week
The Association congratulated the Council on the Cultural Quarter proposals, calling them an “ambitious use of culture as a tool for regeneration”.
It also agreed that the sales were being considered due to “exceptional circumstances”, were aimed at boosting the plans rather than short-term profits and had been the subject of consultation with sector bodies, three of the conditions required before works are sold off.
The plans met wide derision earlier this month. Southampton Test MP Alan Whitehead labelled them “an outstandingly bad idea” and Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones called the news “a dark day for museums”, echoing an Art Fund statement suggesting the scheme could set a “dangerous precedent”.
Rodin's Eve is expected to earn between £1 million and £1.5 million. Picture Joseph Edward Tugwell
Campaigning group Save Our Collection has collected hundreds of signatures against the sales, manoeuvring protests via a Facebook group, but Council Leader Alec Samuels denied an opposition motion alleging “a betrayal of public trust”.
"If we don't sell some paintings, we don't get a heritage centre,” he retorted. “We've made our choice. No picture will be sold if it's unlawful to do so, and if it were to be sold it would go to an appropriate good home.
The Association has given the authority until mid-2010 to explore other forms of funding.