We believed that art works, at least major ones, were safe in public galleries, in perfect conservation conditions, on their walls as well as in their reserves, protected by rigorous rules from speculators appetite. We new that UNESCO had enacted strict standards of ethic to make sure that countries, even the poorest ones, and their population would be able to enjoy and cherish their national treasures from generations to generation for ever, thus maintaining their culture in its break up as well as in its continuity. Protected internationally as nationally by their status of heritage national cultural properties, they were deemed to be inalienable. Forget about it. Since about two weeks, we know that in Canada, even major art works from our national art collections, even those belonging to our National Gallery, are at risk and my easily be sold and exported without the citizens, the art lovers and the experts the media and the House of Common being informed about such an unusual situation. The Chagall is no more at rikk to be exported. The Chagall is no longer in danger of being sequestered in the shadow of a safe. But it is still possible to get rid of other works from our national collections for financial purposes.
In order to prevent another such a disgraceful situation
- The National Gallery of Canada should abolish its June 17 regulation recognizing deaccession of art works from its collection, particularly for financial reasons;
- In the longer term, a bill should be presented to house of Commons to return to better regulations and law protecting our public collections by formally prohibiting the alienation of heritage works of art or other cultural properties from all our public collections, inspired by those that prevails and are enforced in Great Britain, in France and other European countries;
- Exportation and exhibition of artworks from our public collections in a commercial context should be forbidden;
- The only decession that could be allowed would be the cession, by exchange or donation of some art works from a public collection to another Canadian public gallery, in order to improve both collections making them more coherent and significant or for other scientific or aesthetic reasons, considering ultimate public cultural interest.
5- Of course, the sale of art works given to Canadian institutions with income tax benefit should be absolutely prohibited, for it is contrary to the philosophy of Law on exportation od cultural properties that was precisely adopted to protect Canadian heritage from exportation and spoliation.
It is the role of all true Canadian democrats to get involved to prevent the exodus and lost, for private interests, of major art works belonging to Canadian public collections that still belongs to all of us Canadians who paid for it with our taxes in 1956.
The National Gallery is not a bank; our national heritage is not for sale.
Dr Ninon Gauthier, PhD art historian, museologist, sociologist, specialized in the study of the art market.
Ninon Gauthier, departing president of AICA Canada,
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