A controversy sparked after the Berkshire Museum intended to deaccession part of the collection to raise US$60m for its reinvention. The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and the Association of Art Museum Directors (AMMD) released a joint statement condemning the museum for treating its collection “as a disposable financial asset”.
Frederic Church’s Valley of the Santa Ysabel is one of the 40 pieces to be auctioned.
The 114-year-old museum announced a plan to sell 40 pieces through Sotheby’s auction and expected to fetch US$60m, in which US$40m for new endowment and the remaining US$20m for museum’s renovation.
Norman Rockwell’s Shuffleton Barbershop is one of the 40 pieces to be auctioned.
The works include paintings by notable American artists like Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) and Frederic Church (1836-1900). At Sotheby’s New York 2013, Rockwell’s Saying Grace estimated at US$15m – 20m, was auctioned off for US$46m (with buyer’s premium).
Saying Grace at Sotheby’s New York in 2013
The museum hoped to address its budget shortfalls (over US$1.15m) that had existed for more than 20 years. “That’s change, move or die,” says Executive Director of the museum, “We can’t care for our collection if we don’t exist.” Items to be sold are deemed to be no longer essential to the museum’s new incarnation.
Bierstadt’s Giant Redwood Trees of California is one of the 40 pieces to be auctioned.
The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), as written in their joint statement, were “deeply opposed” to the move since artwork should be sold only to add new works or care for existing work, not for the museum’s renovation. They expressed concern over existing and prospective donors being discouraged by the ideas that museums can raise money through selling parts of their precious artwork donated, which also makes financial donation seems unnecessary. Putting the museum’s collection for sale also diminishes the core of works available to the public.
Both organizations have been in communication with the Berkshire Museum and are ready to provide assistance in any form to dissuade it from selling the artworks.
Potential sanctions could be imposed to the Berkshire Museum.
AAM and AAMD have not said whether further actions will be taken. However, it is possible that they impose potential sanctions by asking members not to lend artwork to the museum or assist with its exhibitions, like how they handled similar cases in the past.