The Changing Landscape: Deaccessioning and Future Trends in the Art Industry

Analyzing the Key Points

  • New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art will sell a Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington in an upcoming auction.
  • The painting depicts Washington toward the end of his presidency and is one of many portraits Stuart painted of him.
  • The Met owns another Stuart painting from 1795, which is more famous and high-profile.
  • The expected sale price for the Stuart painting is between .5 million and .5 million.
  • Stuart’s auction record was set in 2018 with the sale of another Washington portrait for .5 million.
  • The sale of the Stuart painting will support a fund for future acquisitions.
  • The practice of selling artworks from museum collections is known as deaccessioning.
  • Museums typically sell duplicates or artworks no longer relevant to their collection’s focus.
  • The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) guidelines allow deaccessioning to maintain collections.
  • During the pandemic, AAMD guidelines were loosened, but selling art at auction sparked scandals.
  • The Met has previously deaccessioned works, including a Pablo Picasso sculpture sold in 2022 for million.

Potential Future Trends in the Art Industry

The sale of the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington by the Metropolitan Museum of Art highlights an ongoing trend in the art industry: museums using deaccessioning to support their operations and future acquisitions. As seen with the AAMD guidelines and the Met’s previous sales, this practice is not new but has become more prominent during the pandemic. The current economic climate and challenges faced by museums have led to increased scrutiny and discussion around deaccessioning.

1. Increasing Financial Pressure on Museums

Museums, including prestigious institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, are facing financial challenges due to reduced visitor numbers, limited funding sources, and increased operational costs. The sale of artworks provides an opportunity for museums to generate much-needed revenue to support their ongoing operations. Deaccessioning allows for a more strategic approach to managing museum collections and acquiring new artworks.

2. Balancing Collection Stewardship and Financial Sustainability

The decision to deaccession artworks requires a delicate balance between collection stewardship and financial sustainability. Museums must carefully assess the significance and relevance of each artwork before considering its sale. The AAMD guidelines provide a framework for this evaluation, ensuring that deaccessioning is done in a responsible manner to maintain the integrity of museum collections.

3. Controversies and Pushback

While deaccessioning can help museums address financial challenges, it is not without controversy. Scandals, such as the Baltimore Museum of Art’s attempted sale of works by prominent artists, have highlighted concerns around the ethical implications of deaccessioning. The art community and the public scrutinize decisions to sell artworks, particularly when it affects the diversity and representation within museum collections. Museums must navigate these sensitivities and engage in transparent communication to avoid damaging their reputation.

4. Shifting Focus and Relevance

The assessment of an artwork’s relevance to a museum’s collection is an ongoing process. As societal values evolve, museums reconsider the narratives they present and the artists they represent. The pandemic has intensified these discussions, prompting museums to reassess their collections’ composition, particularly in the context of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington’s sale by the Met may signify a shift in focus toward other artworks that better align with the museum’s evolving vision.

Predictions for the Art Industry

In light of these trends, it is likely that deaccessioning will continue to be a debated and utilized practice in the art industry. Museums will increasingly face financial pressures and be compelled to explore new avenues for revenue generation. However, maintaining transparency, following ethical guidelines, and engaging in comprehensive stakeholder consultations will become paramount to prevent controversies and avoid damaging the reputation of institutions.

Museums may also reconsider the narratives they present and actively seek to diversify their collections. Artworks that were once considered core holdings may be evaluated with a fresh perspective, leading to potential sales and replacements with works that reflect the evolving values of society.

Additionally, technological advancements will play an important role in the future of the art industry. Virtual exhibitions, augmented reality experiences, and online auctions have gained prominence during the pandemic and are likely to become integral parts of museums’ strategies moving forward. These innovations can facilitate wider access to artworks, attract new audiences, and support fundraising efforts.

Recommendations for the Industry

Considering the potential future trends in the art industry, several recommendations can be made:

  1. Museums should proactively engage in comprehensive and transparent discussions with stakeholders when considering deaccessioning decisions. This includes involving art professionals, community members, and artists themselves to ensure diverse perspectives are considered.
  2. Art industry organizations and governing bodies should provide updated guidelines on deaccessioning practices to create a standardized and ethical framework for museums to follow. This will ensure that decision-making processes are clear and accountable.
  3. Museums should leverage technology to enhance accessibility to their collections. Investing in virtual exhibitions, digital archives, and online platforms can broaden public engagement and attract new audiences.
  4. Collaborative efforts between museums and private collectors can create mutually beneficial partnerships. Loans, exhibitions, and joint acquisitions can support financial sustainability while expanding the visibility and appreciation of artworks.


The sale of the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington by the Metropolitan Museum of Art reflects ongoing trends in the art industry, where museums are resorting to deaccessioning to address financial challenges and adapt to changing narratives. While controversies persist, careful evaluation, transparency, and adherence to ethical guidelines can mitigate potential backlash. Leveraging technology and fostering collaborative partnerships will be vital for museums to navigate the future landscape of the art industry.


  1. “Metropolitan Museum of Art to Sell a Newly Discovered Gilbert Stuart Portrait of George Washington,” The Art Newspaper,
  2. “Metropolitan Museum sells ‘priceless’ works amid criticism,” The Guardian,