Controversial La Salle artwork deaccession could set university museums back, experts say

And the timing of the deaccession, which came just over two years after Burke died, is also suspicious. “I think it would have put him in his grave,” Viljoen said. She adds that La Salle has brought in a lot of high-paying senior managers, who crafted a strategic plan that gives short shrift to the humanities.

The current university president, Colleen Hanycz, is the school’s first secular appointment. “I find it hypocritical,” Viljoen said. “It doesn’t seem right to be professing this ethical consciousness while doing something that I think is really heinous.”

La Salle declined several opportunities to comment.

The university has drawn the ire of alumni as well. A Change.org petition has drawn nearly 1,300 signatures. “Selling the university’s most valuable asset can’t be the only option,” it states.

Alex Palma, who holds both undergraduate and graduate degrees from La Salle, was “utterly devastated” when he heard about the deaccession. “The sale goes against everything I learned in graduate school about museum collections,” he said. “I really doubt that the public will ever regain access to all 46 of these works. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle.”

The sale, to Palma, undermines longstanding Catholic commitments to intellectual and artistic traditions. “Nationally, I think there are a lot of institutions that are keeping an eye on this sale, because if the La Salle administration can pull it off, weathering the controversy to make a quick buck, I’m sure that you’ll see more deaccessions like this from other universities and colleges popping up pretty quickly,” he said.

La Salle, and any others that follow, err in their assumption that art museums are liquid assets, said Vendelin, the New Mexico museum director. 

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