Deaccessioning Museums United Kingdom

Croydon to sell off Chinese collection

South London council approves controversial plan to auction ceramics to refurbish local theatre

Housed in Croydon's Clocktower (left), the Chinese ceramics collection was donated by the local businessman Raymond Riesco in 1964

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 As a result, access to Art Fund grants would be cut off and loans, including those from the British Museum, could be withdrawn.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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Comments

1 Aug 13
21:19 CET

STEPHEN CONRAD MA FRSA, SOUTH CROYDON

Croydon council should be execrated for the next 100 years if it goes ahead and sells part of the Riesco Collection. But the fact remains that the whole art collection has been shabbily treated by a philistine council for far too long, and the closure of the wholly inadequate Clocktower Museum (which rarely exhibited the 500 oils and 1500 watercolours in the collection) was but the first step. But the Riesco collection which was for years exhibited in the Fairfield Halls (where 1000s saw it - what irony!) has always been on display and Croydon's reputation as a cultural wilderness is only going to be enhanced by the sell off. The collection does not belong to the council but to the people of Croydon who deserve to be treated better. The Council has built itself new offices claiming the money will not come out of Council Tax, so why can't the Fairfield Halls' refurbishment be funded similarly? If Croydon Council goes against the MA's policy, then there's little hope for the town. Sad.

2 Aug 13
14:53 CET

IGAV, LONDON

This is a totally unacceptable use of items which were donated to the Museum for the enjoyment and benefit of the people. The number of people enjoying an exhibit should not have an impact on whether they are retained in the collection. Who profits by this sale? It is all very well to tout the sale being for the benefit of the theatre but I suspect that is just a way of trying to defuse the criticism. This should be stopped now.

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