Katie and Steve update listeners on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s decision approving the settlement reached between the Attorney General and the Berkshire Museum, which allows the Museum to sell 40 of its most valuable works of art through Sotheby’s with some (minor) conditions. Katie and Steve go over the terms of the settlement and discuss their reservations about the form (if not substance) of this resolution. Since the recording of this bonus episode, it has been reported that the yet to open Lucas Museum in Los Angeles will purchase the painting Shuffleton’s Barbershop, Norman Rockwell’s iconic masterpiece. The rest of the works will be sold gradually at auction until a total of $55 million in proceeds is reached.
The goal of strengthening the Berkshire Museum could have united the community as a source of local pride, if the Board of Trustees had transparently and actively sought support and alternative ideas from the public. By promoting its great art collection, the museum could have become a valuable engine for Pittsfield’s revitalization and the city’s identity as a vibrant regional arts center.
PITTSFIELD — Trustees of the Berkshire Museum say they hope to retain two-thirds of the works they can legally sell, acknowledging the “strong feelings” of those who oppose their financial rescue plan.
The museum Tuesday identified 13 works that will be offered at four May auctions at Sotheby’s in New York City. The move came five days after the Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County granted the museum’s petition to lift any restrictions and allow it to seek up to $55 million in proceeds under terms worked out with the state Attorney General’s Office.
One of the more depressing and distressing aspects of the ongoing saga of the Berkshire Museum’s recalcitrant march to auction, is that the board appears to be wholly ignorant of the significant headwinds they might face in the current marketplace. As such, not only are they sacrificing their greatest treasures on a barely defensible and dubious mandate, but they may well find that the proceeds fall short of their lofty expectations.
Of course, no one can say for certain how the market will react to these works until the ultimate fall of the auctioneer’s gavel, but the history of deaccessions we recount in our forthcoming book illustrates that almost every prior sale that occurred under a similar cloud of controversy yielded either pretty dismal results to outright spectacular failures.
Lynn Villency Cohen, The Berkshire Eagle April 8, 2018
STOCKBRIDGE – When Justice Lowy peered down from his high court seat at the hearing to address briefs filed by plaintiffs’ attorneys opposed to deaccessioning the art at the Berkshire Museum, his skepticism over management of the museum could not go unnoticed. “Why is there a $1.2 million (yearly) deficit? What’s been going on here?”, a seemingly dismayed Justice Lowy asked.
After a 10-month legal drama, it has been his job to render final judgment on whether an agreement to sell in excess of $55 million worth of art should move forward, put forth by the Massachusetts attorney general and the Berkshire Museum. He issued that decision in a terse five page judgment with a full blessing of the agreement and sale of the entire cache of publicly held art works. To those who hoped he would modify this very lopsided agreement that had been hashed out by the attorney general in a head-spinning 11th hour turn around from strong legal adversary to united ally, it is a time of great disappointment.
Save the Art – Save the Museum continues to oppose the sale and the unrestricted use of the resulting funds. We deeply regret the the judge’s decision to disregard the public trust and the importance of future consequences from this sale on public collections. As a group, we will make a more detailed statement after meeting in person to consider the loss to our community, the impact from the results of this decision and future actions.
PITTSFIELD – The Berkshire Museum can sell works of art and raise up to $55 million to keep its doors open and to pursue a new approach to the use of its collection, a justice with the state’s top court ruled Thursday morning.
Justice David A. Lowy of the Supreme Judicial Court of Suffolk County approved the petition submitted in February by the museum and backed by Attorney General Maura Healey.
The sales can now proceed without any of the additional independent oversight sought by one group of sale opponents.
“Based on the Attorney General’s investigation into the sale and her assent to the requested relief, the Museum has satisfied its burden of establishing that it has become impossible or impracticable to administer the Museum strictly in accordance with its charitable purpose,” Lowy wrote, “thus entitling the Museum to relief.”