Deja Vu

The di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art. 
Courtesy of the di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art.

by Leslie Ferrin

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 as Save 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.

Napa Museum Plan to Deaccession Art Works Raises Art Community’s Ire

The di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art, Napa, California

August 20, 2019; The San Francisco Chronicle

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.”

Berkshire Museum to Auction More Works

Artforum, October 1, 2018

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.

Berkshire Museum plans to sell 9 more works, bringing total to 22

Albert Bierstadt’s Giant Redwood Trees of California – 1874. A gift to museum from founder Zenas Crane III.

Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle
June 25, 2018

PITTSFIELD — Nine more Berkshire Museum works will be sold in coming months, the institution said Monday, in a drive to reach the full $55 million in proceeds allowed by an April court ruling. 

Seven of the works will be sold in private transactions rather than auctions in an attempt to place them with new owners who will preserve public access. 

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.

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

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.

Berkshire Museum Lists 13 Works, Including 2nd Rockwell, for May Auction

Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle
April 11, 2018

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.

SJC ruling clears Berkshire Museum to sell artworks

36 of the 40 artworks sent to Sotheby’s for auction.

Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle

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.”