Faculty of Law, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
In May 2009, the Art Institute of Chicago raised admission prices by 50% in order to pay for operating expenses. When Chicagoans threatened to stop visiting the museum, the person in charge explained that the increase was essential for the museum to continue sustaining its mission, unless losses could be reduced by selling the collection. In 2019, the increasingly severe financial crisis hit museum operations harder due to the global outbreak of Covid-19, Stephane Destinquin, founder of the French creative consultancy (Fabernovel), suggested that the French government could help eliminate the huge debt France had accumulated during the covid-19 epidemic by selling the Mona Lisa. Both of these examples reflect a question, that is whether museums can subsidize their operating costs by disposing of their collections in a profitable way during a difficult economic climate. Although the public and the media are generally resistant to and critical of this issue, there are many successful cases of market-based disposal of collections in practice. This article will therefore provide a legal analysis on the feasibility of museums selling their collections so as to provide some insights and direction of research for museums to better deal with their collections.
Transferability of museum collections, Protection of museum collections, the public trust doctrine
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