Petersen Selling a Third of the Collection

Do the rules of deaccessioning apply to a car museum? The L.A. Times reports that the Petersen Automotive Museum is in the midst of selling off “nearly a third of its cache of about 400 classic cars,” including a 2006 Bugatti Veyron and a 1963 VW Beetle used in the 1968 Disney film The Love Bug.

It’s your call whether a “new” Bugatti, reviving the classic marque that went out of production in 1952, is museum-worthy. Maybe it’s too soon to tell. As to Love Bug “Herbie,” no one under 50 remembers the movie and no one over 50 cares. Otherwise, “Herbie” is pretty much your basic 1963 Beetle.

The sale is part of a strategy to place more emphasis on motorcycles and French art deco cars, the respective collecting interests of the Petersen’s executive director Terry Karges and board Chairman Peter Mullin. As the Times‘ Jerry Hirsch points out, museum founder Robert E. Petersen has no close living relatives to complain about changes.

There’s nothing wrong with upgrading a collection through well-considered sales. But the Petersen isn’t doing that. Sale proceeds are intended primarily to “fund improvements to the museum, including new exhibits and interactive displays.” Selling the collection to buy iPads—or cover other operating expenses—is proscribed by the Association of Art Museums Directors. I can’t see why the same logic wouldn’t apply to a collection-based car museum.

Indeed, “the auctions were kept low-profile because of worries about how the news might affect future automobile donations,” according to Karges.

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