Like most museums around the country, the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey is grappling with a dwindling endowment (a 25 percent decline since July) and rising operating costs. It has already cut the staff’s hours, reduced the head count to 44 from 57 and slashed total operating expenses by around $500,000.

But what the institution is doing that few others would dare is starting a capital campaign drive in anticipation of its centennial in 2014. It has also decided to begin aggressively deaccessioning — or selling from its collection — artwork, costumes, rugs and books that have rarely been seen by the public or are no longer consistent with the institution’s mission.

Deaccessioning is a hot-button topic these days. There was harsh criticism over the National Academy Museum’s sale of two Hudson River School paintings in December to shore up its finances.

And there has been a continuing uproar since Brandeis University announced in January a proposal to close its Rose Art Museum and sell the collection because of the large drop in its endowment. (The university has since sent conflicting signals, and the museum’s fate is still not clear.) But officials at Montclair were quick to say that the proceeds from any sale of art would go only toward purchasing other works, a practice that is consistent with the Association of Art Museum Directors policy.

Lora Urbanelli, the museum’s director, said the museum was looking carefully at its future. “We’re not just being reactive but proactive,” she said.

The museum has been evaluating collections methodically to see what it should part with and what it won’t. Some works will be sold at Christie’s spring auctions.

Perhaps among the most valuable items going on the block is a 1951 drawing by Jackson Pollock. The classic drip image is delicate, as well as light-sensitive, and therefore cannot be shown often. Among the factors the museum considered, Ms. Urbanelli said, was whether “it really matters if we have a Pollock drip when you can take a bus and be in the city in 20 minutes, where you can see lots of work by Pollock.”

What the museum hopes to buy in its place has yet to be decided. “We have to think about the community,” Ms. Urbanelli said. “We also hope to grow our endowment.”

Carol Vogel
New York Times

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