Museum Mismanagement On Trial: The Berkshire Museum Taken to Court.

Ruth Osborne

2017-11-13 - Thomas Wilmer Dewing The White Dress

Thomas Wilmer Dewing, The White Dress, 1901. Courtesy: Berkshire Fine Arts.

The story of the Berkshire Museum’s massive deaccession sale and change of mission over the past 5 months has been one that mirrors a rapidly tottering see-saw.

 

We reported a few months back on the Berkshire Museum’s planned sale of 40 masterworks in its collection due to failed finances and a decision to “rebrand” their institution. First, the Board of the Museum had decided to sell the works with Sotheby’s before it actually cast votes in June and the public became aware. According to Keating, attorney for the sons of Norman Rockwell (two of whose works were deaccessioned and slated for auction), the Museum “could have avoided [the sale] if they perhaps…had been willing to discuss this two and a half years ago when they decided to sell the art”. Keating has also told reporters that the Museum in fact engaged in talks with auction houses as early as 2015 in light of a failed capital campaign.

Then, two lawsuits were brought by several important members of the national arts community as well as the Museum’s local community have taken a stand against the sale. These included the Massachusets State Attorney General, the family of Norman Rockwell, and current and former Museum members. On Wednesday, Nov. 1st, the Superior Court began hearing arguments.

Just 7 days later, on Nov. 8th, the AG’s office submitted an emergency motion late in the day in order to try and halt the sale, which had been announced for November 13th. However, despite these measures, the judge proceeded to the decision that the Museum was acting within its rights.

AND THEN, after the AG launched yet another motion in an attempt to halt the sale on Friday morning Nov. 10th, Friday evening the judge agreed that the AG should in fact receive more time to complete the investigation into the sale. Due to this decision, works slated for auction this week have been removed from their sales at Sotheby’s. The AG has reportedly been granted until December 11th to consider the legality of the sales.

 

2017-11-13 - Normal Rockwell Shuffleton's Barbershop

Normal Rockwell, Shuffleton’s Barbershop, 1959. Courtesy: Berkshire Fine Arts.

As of this moment, the American Art sale at Sotheby’s New York is ongoing, BUT there are several lots missing. Those being nos. 10-16:

10. Normal Rockwell, Shuffleton’s Barbershop, est. $20,000,000-30,000,000

11. George Henry Durrie, Hunter in Winter Wood, est. $400,000-600,000

12. John La Farge, Magnolia, est. $200,000-300,000

13. Thomas Wilmer Dewing, The White Dress, est. $600,000-800,000

14. Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Diana of the Tower, est. $250,000-300,000

15. Albert Bierstadt, Connecticut River Valley Claremont, New Hampshire, est. $600,000-800,000

16. Normal Rockwell, Blacksmith’s Boy – Hell and Toe, est. $7,000,000-10,000,000

Click here for more lots listed as “upcoming” in other sales at Sotheby’s, particularly for this week’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale (tomorrow @7pm) and Day Sale (Wednesday @10am). All these works are still to remain at Sotheby’s until future decisions from the court.

2017-11-13 - Sotheby's auction site

The Museum has also been issued a “Modern Concern Advisory” from Charity Navigator, an organization that evaluates non-profits based on financial documents and, in particular to the Berkshire case,  any “allegations of illegal activity, improper conduct, or organizational mismanagement”.

2017-11 - Saadiyat Island

Satellite Museum Dreams and Misgivings in Abu Dhabi

Ruth Osborne

The long-awaited opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum is actually happening. On November 11th, the site is set to open to fan-fare: “workshops, tours, music, and international performances and a few surprises along the way”.

 

2017-11 - Louvre Abu Dhabi

Courtesy: Christopher Pike / The National

This is all thanks to generous loans from the Musée du Louvre in Paris, a lending relationship we’ve covered previously. But it seems this Abu Dhabi satellite museum may not be joined by its loan-heavy partners – Guggenheim and Zayed National Museum – for another several years. These three museums, along with a Performing Arts Centre and Maritime Museum are all part of the world-class leisure destination and cultural center that developers hope Saadiyat Island will be.

News broke this week that the British Museum has prematurely ended their 2009 agreement to loan objects valuing up to £1bn to the ZNM. But this isn’t the full picture. A communications personnel from BM has told ArtWatch that the contract was actually “to deliver consultancy services” to ZNM in its development phase. Furthermore, “The Museum had never agreed a loan list with ZNM…To clarify the relationship hasn’t been terminated, but the development phase concluded in spring this year. The contract runs until 2019.”

Reports that the contract ended are, according to this representative, misguided, and “the ongoing development of the collection will be undertaken by a dedicated in-house team at TCA” [Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority]. But the ZNM is still experiencing construction delays. It was scheduled to open its doors in 2013, but now Foster + Partners, the architects responsible for executing the ZNM building, estimate completion in 2020.

And it was earlier this year that Thomas Krens, former Director of the Guggenheim Foundation, betrayed his own misgivings about the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi site (scheduled to open 2012).  In an interview in March, Krens emphasized the naïvety to plan construction of so many huge museums all at once in Abu Dhabi: “we don’t need all five of them up and running at the same time”.

2017-11 - Saadiyat Island

Saadiyat Island rendering, with the Louvre (left), ZNM (center), and Guggenheim (right). Courtesy: Saadiyat Cultural District website.

So why is it that these seemingly beneficent plans for public museums in Abu Dhabi are fraught with mishaps and delays? Amidst the media excitement for shining new museum buildings and the optimistic promises of a center where global culture and art to intermingle, one thing that has been left out is the actual physical risk of transporting all these loan objects from London to Abu Dhabi. Art is fragile. It becomes accustomed to a climate and is open to risk of destabilization once it is shocked out of that climate. Once a work is removed from a gallery or from storage, it would be boxed or crated, would make its way to a large truck, be driven over roads and highways and loaded onto a plane, then raised thousands of feet in elevation for over 3,000 miles, touch down in Abu Dhabi, and then be trucked again and finally installed in a completely new climate. Works have been easily torn, broken, and warped in transit by major museums in the past. Increasingly so with the opening of international traveling exhibitions and satellite museums in different countries.

Those objects at risk in the Louvre’s loan agreement include:

Leonardo da Vinci, La Belle Ferronniere (Musee du Louvre)

Vincent van Gogh, Self Portrait (Musee d’Orsay)

Balthasar and Gaspard Marsy, Horses of the Sun (Palace of Versailles)

Paul Gauguin, Children Wrestling

Piet Mondrian, Composition with Blue, Red, Yellow and Black

We encourage our readers to remember the implications of transporting these – and future – works of art. And also to ask – who is really benefiting from these initiatives?