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.”
The board of trustees of the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, has announced that two works will be auctioned at Sotheby’s American art auction set to take place in New York on November 16. The pieces—Hunter in the Winter Wood by George Henry Durrie and The Last Arrow by Thomas Moran—are part of the second group of works that will be sold as part of the institution’s controversial deaccessioning plan, which was approved by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on April 5, 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.
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.
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.
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.”