Croydon to sell off Chinese collection
South London council approves controversial plan to auction ceramics to refurbish local theatre
By Martin Bailey. Web only
Published online: 27 July 2013
Croydon Council, in south London, is to sell 24 important pieces of Chinese ceramics, worth nearly £13m. A final decision was made by the Conservative-run council during a committee meeting on 24 July. The proceeds will help refurbish the Fairfield Halls, a theatre and music venue (The Art Newspaper, July-August 2013, p14).
The ceramics are part of a collection donated by the local businessman Raymond Riesco in 1964. The planned sale contravenes the Museums Association’s code of ethics. It is now considering disciplinary action and expelling Croydon from the association. The remaining 200 pieces, of lesser value, will remain on display in a gallery in the council’s Clocktower building.
A Croydon Council report to the 24 July meeting argues that there are “very exceptional circumstances” that warrant the sale, although deaccessioning contravenes the council’s own policy. The report says, unless there is a sell-off, security for the Riesco display would need to be upgraded, at a time of spending cuts. It also says it is a good time to sell Chinese antiquities, since if delayed, “any decline in the economic climate in Asia could lead to a decrease in the prices achieved”. And the Riesco gallery attracts only 10,000 visitors a year, compared to 300,000 at the Fairfield Halls.
The report admits, however, that its museum service is “likely to lose its status as an accredited museum” with Art Council England. As a result, access to Art Fund grants would be cut off and loans, including those from the British Museum, could be withdrawn. According to the council report, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has “advised that if the sale resulted in the loss of accreditation they may consider attempting to claw back some or all of their 1995 investment of £934,000 in the museum service”. An HLF spokeswoman said that, although she is unwilling to speculate, it is “incorrect” that there has been any threat to recoup money so far.
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