Deja Vu – for those of us who worked so hard on Save the Art – Save the Museum in behalf of the art collection at the Berkshire Museum, the news that Di Rosa Foundation has decided to sell art as the only solution to financial woes comes as no surprise. The Berkshire Museum executed a precedent setting sale in 2018 and while there are obvious differences between the two institutions and their collections, the choice to sell to save an institution is the common ground. Museums that adhere to selling art and accepted professional standards typically reinvest in the collection. These institutions are likewise under increased pressure to use sales to reinvigorate or shift the collections, however the two types of sales should not be conflated. The Berkshire Museum’s chosen path of exchanging a collection for financial stability is a slippery slope and one that the Berkshires are still sliding down. Two years later, despite wide international attention and outcry, expensive and protracted legal battles, Sotheby’s succeeded in its sale of important regional treasures and opened pandora’s box. The Berkshire Museum’s name now appears as a cautionary tale every time the word “deacession” appears regardless of where or why. Two years later, our museum is no closer to being a vibrant viable and sustainable museum, despite the influx of cash, our community remains divided with former leadership and staff dispersed. As we’ve all seen, it is leadership that matters when problems become insurmountable. Those of us who came together asSave the Art – Save the Museum express solidarity with our colleagues in CA and sincerely hope they succeed in slowing down the march to market of this important regional collection.
The board of the di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art, located in Napa, California, has made a big decision, and in the process angered a number of artists. Specifically, the board of the Rene and Veronica di Rosa Foundation, has decided to sell the bulk of its collection. The board says that its budget cannot support the costs of caring for the collection. In a letter reprinted in the Chronicle, director Robert Sain writes that the museum intends to use revenues from deaccessioning to “grow the endowment to provide a sustainable future of the organization, including the proper care of the arts that will remain in the collection, which has now, at great expense, been safely housed in climate controlled storage.” The alternative, Sain claims, is to “close our doors forever.”
But many in the arts community are unpersuaded by such explanations. Nearly 150 artists, galleries, and other art world stakeholders have signed a letter communicating their opposition to the sale of art works. They claim the di Rosa collection is “the only collection in the world dedicated exclusively to the history of post-World War II art in Northern California in all its diversity of media, gender, race, and philosophy.”
The di Rosa museum does not actively collect work anymore; it contains about 1,600 works collected by Rene and Veronica di Rosa before Rene’s death in 2010. The mission stated on its Form 990 calls the collection “the most significant holding of [San Francisco] Bay Area art in the world.”
Laurie Norton Moffatt was majoring in art history at Connecticut College in 1977 when she did a summer internship at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. She didn’t know much about one of America’s most iconic illustrators back then.
But that summer proved to be an eye-opening experience. Norton Moffatt, who grew up in Pittsfield after moving to the Berkshires from suburban New York City, joined the museum full-time after graduating from college the following year and has never looked back.
“I knew what a lot of other people of my age knew,” said, Norton Moffatt, who was 19 at the time. “That my parents had a big coffee table book of his pictures.”
In 1986, Norton Moffatt became the director and CEO of the Rockwell Museum, which is marking its 50th anniversary this year.
Norton Moffatt made headlines in 2017 when she was one of the first local advocates to speak out against the Berkshire Museum’s plans to sell 40 of its pieces at auction — including two Rockwell paintings — to raise funds for an endowment and renovations. That helped ignite a groundswell against the project and a vetting of the plan by the State Attorney General’s Office. The museum eventually decided to retain 18 of the 40 artworks slated for the auction block. “Shuffleton’s Barbershop” — an evening-time peak through the window of a barbershop where men have gathered to play music in the backroom — was still sold. New owner, filmmaker George Lucas, has loaned it to the Rockwell Museum, where it will be on display through next year.