Amid Protests, Berkshire Museum Sales Bring Over $40M, and Trustees Want More

©2018 Photo by Timothy Cahill

Timothy Cahill, HYPERALLERGIC
May 31, 2018

So it has begun. The first 13  of the 40 works marked for deaccession by the Berkshire Museum have been sold. George Lucas has bought Norman Rockwell’s Shuffleton’s Barbershop (1950) for his new museum and a baker’s dozen more were sent to the block earlier this month at Sotheby’s spring sales. These were the first works sold at auction following the Pittsfield, Massachusetts, museum’s settlement with Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. In February, the sale designed to pad the museum’s endowment and radically reshape its mission, capping the spoils at a maximum of $55 million. The agreement, which to critics is a bit of a farce itself, has turned the sale into a three-act melodrama. The art is to be disposed of in three separate groups or “tranches,” until the total dollar amount is achieved. Tranche is a banking term derived from the Old French word for “slice”; the settlement, Healey’s office insists, was the best half-a-loaf compromise existing law allowed to mitigate the sell-off. Watching the auctions over the past two weeks, it felt more like death by a thousand cuts.

Sanctions Are Imposed on Berkshire Museum for Sale of Artworks

Colin Moynihan, The New York Times
May 27, 2018

One of the country’s professional museum organizations announced on Friday that its board of trustees had voted to impose sanctions on the Berkshire Museum, which recently sold artworks to support an expansion initiative.

“Selling art to support any need other than to build a museum’s collection fundamentally undermines the critically important relationships between museums, donors and the public. When museums violate the trust of their donors and the public, they diminish the opportunity and responsibility to make great works of art available to the public.”

Association of Art Museum Directors

AAMD Statement on Sanction of Berkshire Museum and La Salle University Art Museum

AMD Logo

For the Media / Press Releases & Statements
New York, NY
May 25, 2018

The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) announced today that its Board of Trustees has voted to impose sanctions on the Berkshire Museum and the La Salle University Art Museum. This follows the decision made by each institution to use the proceeds from recent art sales to support operating budgets or expansion initiatives, a decision that violates one of the core principles of art museums. These actions are in opposition to AAMD’s policy that such funds must be used only to support acquisitions of art.

AAMD has a long-standing policy that restricts the use of funds obtained through deaccessioning to the acquisition of works of art. Selling art to support any need other than to build a museum’s collection fundamentally undermines the critically important relationships between museums, donors and the public. When museums violate the trust of their donors and the public, they diminish the opportunity and responsibility to make great works of art available to the public. This hurts the individual institution and affects the museum field as a whole.

Rockwell’s ‘Blacksmith’s Boy’ Fetches $7 Million at Auction

Rockwell 'Blacksmith's Boy' fetches 7 million

Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle
May 23, 2018

Norman Rockwell’s painting of dueling blacksmiths sold Wednesday for $7 million, as the Berkshire Museum cashed out its gift from the artist with the more delicate rap of an auctioneer’s hammer.

The price paid for “Blacksmith’s Boy — Heel and Toe,” not including buyer’s fees, hit the presale low bid estimate of that amount set by Sotheby’s during a sale crowded with Rockwell works.

Protest of Berkshire Museum Art Sale to Return to Sotheby’s

Save the Art transport van used by Berkshire residents to attend the Upper East Side, NYC protest. The first two Berkshire Museums artworks were up for auction at Sotheby’s.

Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle
May 22, 2018

Opponents of Berkshire Museum art sales will again stake out a Manhattan sidewalk, determined to decry what they see as an unethical “monetizing” of the Pittsfield collection.

“We want the public to be aware of it and let other institutions know this is a cautionary tale, We just don’t have the protections we need,”

Hope Davis, spokeswoman for Save the Art

Save the Art to Hold Protest at Sotheby’s NYC Headquarters on Wed, May 23rd from 9 to 10am

Press Release – Save the Art
May 21, 2018

PITTSFIELD, Mass. (May 21, 2018) – The Berkshire-based citizens’ group Save the Art – Save the Museum will stage a protest outside Sotheby’s auction house at 1334 York Avenue in New York City, Wednesday, May 23, from 9 to 10 a.m. The group opposes the Berkshire Museum’s unethical deaccession of 40 artworks donated to the community and entrusted to the museum, now on the block at Sotheby’s. Save the Art will be calling attention to the impact this precedent will have on collections of art and artifacts in the public trust held by museums, libraries, and historical societies beyond Massachusetts.

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Two Berkshire Museum Works Fetch Combined $1.16 Million

Save the Art – Save the Museum protesters on the Upper East Side sidewalk next to Sotheby’s main entrance before the start of the first two publicly auctioned artworks from the Berkshire Museum.

Benjamin Cassidy, The Berkshire Eagle
May 14, 2018

NEW YORK — The first two publicly auctioned Berkshire Museum artworks since the announcement of the institution’s “New Vision” project last July have been sold for a combined $1.16 million.

Henry Moore’s “Three Seated Women” and Francis Picabia’s “Force Comique” fetched $240,000 and $920,000 hammer prices, respectively, at Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on Monday night. The winning bidders, both by phone, were not immediately known.

The Berkshire Museum is an Outlier in a Changing and Thriving Arts Economy

Paige Smith, Daily Hampshire Gazette
May 4, 2018

BOSTON — While Massachusetts cultural institutions are for the most part thriving, the struggles of outliers like the Berkshire Museum have initiated conversations about the right approach to preserving fixtures of the arts economy.

The fiscal chasm between different regional institutions — like the Pittsfield facility and the Fitchburg Art Museum — and an internationally renowned brand, like the Museum of Fine Arts, is vast and well-known. And it’s not likely to get better soon.

Attorney Quits Posts with New England Group in wake of Berkshire Museum Art Sale Controversy

Mark Gold Quits Group

Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle,
May 2, 2018

PITTSFIELD — The local attorney who coached the Berkshire Museum to sell art has quit posts with a regional group, amid fallout from the controversial move.

Mark S. Gold said he resigned as an officer and director with the New England Museum Association, for which he served as an officer and board member.

ABOUT

SAVE THE ART (STA)
A grassroots citizens group established in 2017 with the intent of stopping the sale of the Berkshire Museum’s treasured art collection in order to find an alternate solution to its continued financial shortfall.

MISSION

The mission of Save the Art is to advocate for and protect the Public Trust — the art and objects belonging to all of us that document humankind’s creative and social history through time.

PRESS

We thank the Berkshire Eagle for their extensive investigative coverage, the journalists, op-ed writers and our community for their hundreds of letters of concern and applaud Larry Parnass / Investigations Editor for his 2018 Outstanding Journalism award. See The Berkshire Eagle page located in Press menu.