2014-06-05 - NEH Funding Chart

Museum Budgets & an Anxious Arts Community: What does this say about the next 15 years?

Ruth Osborne

Last month, we received update on a historically significant painting by Pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt set to be sold at Christie’s to pay of a portion the Delaware Art Museum’s $30 million debt.

In the ensuing weeks, ArtWatch has picked up on an increasing degree of anxiety from art historians and journalists keeping abreast of the story as it unfolds. Even more unease has appeared in the arts world from updates on the status of the Corcoran Gallery’s demise, also from lack of funds.

From The Ruskin Society comes the following comment on the W.H. Hunt sale, to take place later this month:

“I am deeply concerned about the forthcoming sale of Isabella and the Pot of Basil.

It is my belief that museums and galleries should be the custodians of paintings and other items in their care. these things are not assets to dispose of at will, but important cultural capital.

Museums and galleries should have good management and be able to balance their books without having to sell ‘the family silver’ to pay off debts.

This particular Pre-Raphaelite painting Isabella and the Pot of Basil is a historic work of art, to be compared to its ‘sister’ in the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK.”

Dr Cynthia Gamble


The Ruskin Society


From an updated estimated lot on behalf of Christie’s (that the Hunt painting could go for upwards of $13.4 mil.), Delaware journalist Margie Fishman has just hinted at the Delaware board’s possible selling strategy: parting with fewer but more valuable works is better than parting with more works at lower individual figures. Independent journalist Judith Dobrzynski has further suggested that the Hunt painting, alongside the possible sale of Winslow Homer’s Milking Time (1875), could be all that is required to take care of the $30 mil in need. But if this is to be Delaware’s strategy, will they not be risking parting with two of their most treasured works? Just how much will these unfortunate sales depreciate the overall value and integrity of the collection?

Museum professionals nationwide remain deeply concerned with what these sales imply for the future health of the Delaware Art Museum, stating their anxieties about current happenings and “misplaced” art works and loans in the past: “With their history of mismanagement, it wouldn’t surprise me if they were in this position 20 years from now.” (Richard J. Kelly, secretary of the national Museum Trustee Association).[1] Issues pertaining to museum funding, board management, and (inevitable?) deaccessions all lend themselves to a reconsideration of whether or not American collections are appropriately valued and supported by wider society.

Lee Rosenbaum’s coverage of the New York National Academy’s recurrent budget crisis relates yet one more story of serious museum staff restructuring in the face of lagging financial support. The Director’s recent statement insisted that this move was not due to budget cuts, but also referred to the staff as “streamlined” and confirmed it would help save the Academy funds “in the mid-six figures,” as they had been experiencing operating budget issues since 2008. No surprise there. The Academy undertook “stealth” deaccessions that fateful year to help with budget deficit, causing it to be ostracized from the AAMD and placed on probation.

2014-06-05 - NEH Funding Chart

NEH Funding Chart. Courtesy:

All institutions will make their own decisions, it seems, when a budget crisis places them between a rock and a hard place. What the past ten years has showed us is that these decisions are only increasing in this troubled financial environment. The startling proposal to slash the NEH budget in half for the upcoming fiscal year is just one more obvious sign that priorities towards the arts are slipping and responsibilities the government took up fifty years ago are falling through the cracks.



[1]Margie Fishman, “First painting auctioned by museum could bring $13.4 million,” The News Journal. 20 May 2014. (last accessed 22 May 2014).

2014-05-22 - Sotheby's auction house

Art Law Focus on : Art Forgery

Angelea Selleck
2014-05-22 - Christie's New York Rockefeller Center

Christie’s New York. Courtesy: Christie’s.

Art forgery has existed for centuries. However, in recent years it seems more prevalent in the art world and its presence is unsettling. In such a litigious society as that of the USA, it is crucial that experts, dealers, auctioneers, curators and gallery owners all play by the rules when purchasing a new work of art.

It is integral that a work has proper provenance documentation, that there has been an application of connoisseurship to the work’s visual and physical aspects and in some cases, scientifically tested to determine the works physical properties. In other words, the piece should be authentic and be submitted to the authentication process in order for it to be offered for sale. Nonetheless, art forgery persists and despite the art market’s best efforts, fakes are being sold for millions of dollars around the world. In 2013, Christies and Sotheby’s earned over an estimated $3 billion in auction sales combined.[1] Even if the proportion of forged or misattributed works are small, the number of cases could be large.


While some high-profile cases of forgery have gone to trial and a culprit has been determined, it is important to recognize that there is never one person responsible for a forged work on the market. There is a long assembly line that brings the faux work from the forger’s hands to an auction house or gallery. In addition, the number of cases that have come to light makes one question the ethics by which the industry operates. In many forgery cases, the ones accused of fraud or negligence by selling the works under false labels are quick to protest their innocence but, nota bene, these are the professionals in charge of our artistic heritage. These are the persons who have, wittingly or unwittingly passed on false goods when their professional standing depends on the soundness of their judgements and the reliability of their claims.


Art Forgery: the Issues

While the trade’s ethics may seem questionable it is important to point out that detecting a forged work can be very difficult. Pinpointing a culprit is very difficult in forgery cases; it all depends what the facts are, what the art is, how many works are involved and how expensive they are.[2] Today, fakes can pass off as genuine and even get a stamp of approval by art experts. In addition, there is also reluctance from art experts to speak out if they suspect a fake. In fact, institutions such as the Andy Warhol Foundation and Lichtenstein Foundation have stopped authenticating artwork and pointing out suspected fakes for fear of lawsuits from the owners of works they reject.[3] Because art has become such a lucrative business and the prices of pieces are exponentially rising there is much more at stake for experts to give their opinions on pieces. At the end of the day, the work has to sell and some who harbor doubts or suspicions choose to keep mum in order to protect their jobs. On the other hand, turning a blind eye to a fake is irresponsible and detrimental to the art market. If confidence in the art market is to be maintained, all works of art must be thoroughly examined and rigorously appraised before being authenticated. Dealers and auctioneers serve to a considerable degree as stewards of our artistic heritage. If they do not live up to their professionally claimed competence and probity the consequences for confidence in the wider art market could prove dire.

2014-05-22 - Sotheby's auction house

Sotheby’s Helena Newman, Philip Hook, Melanie Clore. Courtesy: Sotheby’s.

As things stand, it is very difficult to regulate the art trade and there is little legal power over the market. In the United States, there is no legislation that deters forged art works from entering the market. There are other modes that create standards for professionals such as the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA) and the Association of Museum Directors (AAMD). Both bodies demand professionals practice due diligence in verifying the accuracy of information supplied to a buyer.They are not required to guarantee the accuracy of certain information such as the date of a work, its provenance, or exhibition history. Thus, it would seem evident that there is an overall lack of liability and accountability in the workings of gallery owners.


Even when fakes have been exposed it is difficult to prevent them from re-entering the market. In Europe, where there are stricter rights for the arts, droit morale, fakes can be destroyed as directed by the artists or relative of a deceased artist. This in turn combats fakes from being re-circulated back onto the market and the possibility of it ending up in a gallery that believes it genuine. Nothing of this sort exists in the United States. Some have suggested that when a fake is determined the piece should be stamped in order to deter it from being sold as genuine years later. This has yet to be implemented or practiced.


So what does this mean?

2014-05-22 - Getty Warehouse

Marion True inside Getty warehouse, 1988. Courtesy: The Art Newspaper.

All things considered, art is a business. The art market is a principal medium through which the artist’s work is distributed and bought by art consumers. Furthermore, art works are treated as articles of commerce or commodities. And it is perhaps due to this business-minded perspective that the codes of ethics and standards held to museum professionals are not met when they are presented with a work of art with questionable provenance. However, recent court cases have taught dealers, curators, auction houses, museums and gallery owners to pay exceptional attention to what they are buying and from whom (i.e., the cases of Marion True at the Getty Museum and the demise of Knoedler & Company). The point made here is that, while art forgeries can be difficult to detect and regulate, it is still of utmost importance that galleries, museums and auction houses uphold a code of ethics. They need to properly authenticate the work they are buying and demand all documentation. After all, it is their responsibility and duty as guardians of our artistic heritage. While there are some initiatives and agreements that museums and galleries abide by, such as the AAMD and ICOM, there still seems to be a lack of accountability. It seems in many cases that the money and prestige involved in acquiring a work of art can cloud the judgement of those involved in dubious acquisition.


In sum, art forgers and dealers of questionable morality will always be present in the art world. But what can change is how private buyers as well as museums and galleries acquire works of art. There is great necessity to enforce higher standards if they do not want to be victims of scandal. And until this is done, cases of art forgery will persist.


[1] “A Record-Breaking Year at Auction: A Look Back at 2013,” MutualArt. 2 January 2014. (last accessed 13 May 2014).

[2] Cohen, Patricia, “Fake Art May Keep Popping Up for Sale,” New York Times. 5 November 2012. (last accessed 14 May 2014).

[3] Kinsella, Eileen, “A Matter of Opinion,” ARTnews. 28 February 2012. (last accessed 14 May 2014).

2014-04-18 - Delaware Art Museum

The Future of the Museum: In the war between Directors and Boards, it’s the Art that Pays.

Ruth Osborne
2014-04-18 - Delaware Art Museum

Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, DE.

To the long list of stripped gallery walls will now unfortunately be added those of the Delaware Art Museum. Though the state it represents is small, its collection boasts one of the largest selections of Pre-Raphaelite art (outside of the U.K.), important pieces from Brandywine River School artists Howard Pyle and N.C. Wyeth, and a large number of paintings of the New York Ashcan School.

In short, this collection offers visitors a window onto influential American and English artists and illustrators of the nineteenth and early twentieth century that is both varied and focused in its depth. Those donors who gave to the Museum after it opened in 1912 were committed to their own individual collecting practices as well as to promoting the well-being of arts education and appreciation in their state. However, as has been the case with many large and small cultural institutions in recent years, boards of trustees are less and less willing to sacrifice new construction to protect the original collection.


The Delaware Art Museum announced March 26 that it intends to repay its $19.8 million in bond debt by the sale of four (as yet unnamed) works from its permanent collection. This sale, projected at $30 million, is also aimed at “[replenishing] the Museum’s endowment, which will place the Museum on a firm financial basis for the future.” The Museum also states in its press release that: “No works of art acquired through gift or bequest will be part of the sale.” How is it, may we ask, that the Museum came to acquire $19.8 million in debt? Beyond stock market woes from the 2008 crash are lingering bond debts exacerbated from its 2005 building expansion.[1]


This was, according to new CEO Mike Miller, the only other option beyond completely shuttering the Museum’s doors.[2] The decision to sell four works from the collection has brought on scolding from the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), though Miller seems to have acknowledged this was worth it. Miller, to be clear, has no background in the arts. He came in, as a replacement for the Museum’s former director Danielle Rice, with a background as CFO of a pharmaceutical company. President of AAMD Timothy Rub (Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art) has conveyed a good deal of criticism towards the Delaware Board’s decision.  They failed to take his advice to go public with their debt and approve the sale after their director had left for a better opportunity:  “Who was the advocate at the museum now from the curatorial or directorial side to make the case for maintaining the integrity of the collection?”  The professional staff at the Delaware Art Museum will now be the ones to bear the brunt of the consequences from this unsanctioned sale. It must also be noted that only one sale in the past 10 years has been sanctioned for the sake of financial crisis. Exhibition loans and other types of collaboration between Delaware’s collection and the several hundred museums that are members of AAMD can be halted all because of their Board’s decision. [3]


Rub has also conveyed disappointment that the Board failed to look into other options for recovering their finances: “The stewardship of a collection is one of our paramount responsibilities and when we begin to look at pieces of a collection as fungible resources that can be monetized we are starting down a very slippery slope.” [4] Both the AAM and AAMD have issued strong statements against the Delaware Art Museum’s Board for their actions. President Ford Bell (of AAM) has not revoked their accreditation, but the finger wagging they received still has a good deal of potency:

“The Delaware Art Museum’s announcement that it will sell four works from the collection in order to pay its debts and support its endowment is a flagrant violation of the AAM standard for U.S. museums, succinctly embodied in this enduring principle of our field: the museum is there to save the collection; the collection is not there to save the museum.” [5]


Winslow Homer, Milking Time (1875). Courtesy: Delaware Art Museum.

CEO Miller has remained silent to recent accusations that a painting by landscape artist Winslow Homer, Milking Time (1875), might be one of the four to be sold. This piece is known to be one of the masterpieces of the collection. When it was noticed that the painting had been removed from the Museum’s wall as well as its online collection database, Miller told the press “You can make your own speculations.”[6]


Lee Rosenbaum’s interview with the Museum’s former director Danielle Rice is quite eye-opening. Essentially, Rice reveals what a jaded museum professional would unfortunately learn to expect from a board of trustees feeling the financial pinch.[7]

ROSENBAUM: Did you know this was coming?

RICE: Of course I did! Every single trustee of every single museum board always thinks, “We can always sell art.” So from the minute I stepped into the place, I was saying to them, “No, you can’t do that.

RICE: What I think happened was that my leaving opened up the door for them to take this path, which was to say: “We won’t get a new director. We’ll do this in this interim period, and when a new director comes in, they won’t have the financial problem. They’ll have an image issue and a sanction issue to deal with, but at least we will have done the deed, in between professional directors. Any professional director worth his salt could not have embarked on this kind of thing…I think selling art is one of those magic bullets that all trustees fantasize about. They don’t understand the more abstract and difficult concept of public trust.


According to last month’s press release from the Museum: “This is a singular event.”[8] And yet, once an unsanctioned sale of artworks to cover a Museum’s debt  occurs, it sets a terrifying precedent. The Delaware Board’s action can open the floodgates for boards of other museums facing similar financial crises that do not see any other options in sight. Beyond neglecting to protect the artworks that do go off to auction, one must consider how this will impact the care given to the pieces that remain (for now) in the collection. Will a board’s responsibility to safeguard artistic heritage all too easily succumb to financial pressures when funds from other donors dry up? Does money come first, and art second? Is a museum no longer a cultural institution, but now a business to develop and streamline for efficiency? What will now be expected of the Delaware Board since the lines have been crossed? Even the giant Metropolitan Museum of Art allowed itself to recently balance out its $4.4 million deficit from 2013 with the sale of 3,290 artworks this very month.[9]

As has been expressed in the Times‘ coverage of Delaware’s situation, the sale of collection items to make up for capital or operational expenses is seriously considered as an “ethical violation, a betrayal of a museum’s role of holding art in public trust.” [10] One member of the Museum’s collections committee, but not a trustee, recently spoke out with disdain: “A lot of us in the community, myself included, were blindsided by this.” This same committee member has also brought to light the fact that other Delaware cultural institutions (Delaware Theatre Company, Delaware Symphony Orchestra) had gone through similar post-recession crisis, but still came out on the other side without such great losses on the horizon.[11]


2014-04-18 - Dante Gabriele Rosetti Veronica Veronese

Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Veronica Veronese, 1872. Collection: Delaware Art Museum.

Donn Zaretsky, of the UK-based art law blog, brings Delaware’s situation into wider context by comparing it to lack of fuss given when the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art’s recent deaccession and sale of a masterpiece Hopper painting in order to purchase pieces of contemporary art in August 2013. [12]  An unfortunate reaction from a major Delaware news source demonstrates the lack of conviction held by some members of the local public impacted by this sale:

“Let’s be realistic though. No one likes the idea. But the suggestion from the association and other critics that museum distribute its collection to other museums to keep the art out of private hands is foolish. The sale of the four pieces would keep the museum open here. More than 60,000 people visit the museum each year. They would be deprived of a Delaware treasure if that were to happen.” [13] Is there not a more respectful, diligent way for the Board to responsibly protect their “Delaware treasure”?

What is this disconnect happening between museums and the public where failure to see a collection’s broader cultural value leads to a disavowal of these great resources? When boards fluster under the weight of crippling debt, and the public seems to have not seen this coming, where do we start rebuild the bridges between the modern public and the artistic heritage of the past?




[1] “Press Statement: Delaware Art Museum Board of Trustees Vote to Retire Debt,” 26 March 2014. Delaware Art Museum. (last accessed 4 April 2014).

[2] Randy Kennedy, “Delaware Art Museum Will Sell Works to Pay Off Debt,” 26 March 2014. New York Times.   (last accessed 4 April 2014).

[3]”Museum to sell art to pay debt,” 27 March 2014. Delaware Online. The News Journal. (last accessed 4 April 2014).


[5] Lee Rosenbaum, “AAM Condemns Delaware Art Museum’s Deaccessions,” 27 March 2014. CultureGrrl. (last accessed 17 April 2014).

[6] Margie Fishman, “Is Winsow Homer painting headed for sale?,” Delaware Online. The News Journal. (last accessed 16 April 2014).

[7] Lee Rosenbaum, “Delaware Art Museum’s Deaccession Debacle: My Q&A with Its Former Director, Danielle Rice,” 2 April 2014. CultureGrrl. Arts Journal. (last accessed 4 April 2014).

[8]”Q&A,” November 2013. Delaware Art Museum. (last accessed 4 April 2014).

[9] “Museums: Balance,” in AMA Newsletter. No. 146 (3 April 2014). Art Media Agency, 7.

[10] Kennedy.

[11] Fishman.

[12] Donn Zaretsky, “How to be ethical in the art world,” 27 March 2014. The Art Law Blog.

[13] “Preserving art in a changing world,” 29 March 2014. Delaware Online. The News Journal. (last accessed 4 April 2014).