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Tamayo, the First Maier Museum Deaccession, Offered Next Week

Rufino Tamayo, “Trovador,” 1945

The evening Latin American sale on May 28 at Christie’s includes one of the four lots from the collection of the Maier Museum, Randolph College, Lynchburg, VA, that were supposed to hit the block last NovemberRufino Tamayo‘s Trovador (above), estimated at $2-3 million. The sales were stalled by a lawsuit filed by opponents, including alumnae. The opponents have now “unsuited” that legal challenge, but maintain that a broader lawsuit still pending in Virginia Supreme Court, which challenges the college’s recent transformation from all-women to coed, could also protect the artworks.

Christie’s and the administration of the college clearly believe otherwise. In a recent e-mail, Christie’s spokesperson Toby Usnik told me:

It is our understanding that the college has clear right to sell the picture with Christie’s and we are honored to help them do so.

In an Op-Ed piece last week in the Lynchburg News & Advance, John Klein and Lucy Hooper, the school’s administrative president and board president, respectively, wrote:.

The auction date for the Tamayo has nothing to do with the timing of the Virginia Supreme Court decision. In fact, the appeals recently argued before the Virginia Supreme Court are not about our ability to sell artwork; they are about the college’s decision to become a coeducational institution.

The Tamayo and the other three paintings will be sold, not to fund coeducation, but to help a college that spent decades doing everything possible to remain single sex. Single-sex or coed, this artwork would still have to be sold.

The administration argues that the sales are both financially necessary and ethically correct. It still plans to sell, also at Christie’s, three American paintings, including a highly important George Bellows. But no date has yet been announced.

Perhaps an analogy might help them understand what’s really at stake. If someone were to suggest that funds be raised by selling important books from the library, that (one hopes) would be a non-starter: Books go to the core of the college’s educational mission. Artworks—particularly the highly important paintings that the college intends to sell—are the “books” for classes in art history, social and political history, and the fine arts. They too go to the heart of the educational mission and must be retained.

Then again, as sale opponent Anne Yastremski wrote in another Op-Ed in the same newspaper, maybe the administration is quite willing to cut into the heart of the mission:

Some may argue that college officials are choosing to fund running tracks and parties over education—as they abolished the American Studies, anthropology, German, Japanese and Russian departments this year. Clearly, they aren’t afraid to sell the college’s educational art collection, one of the cornerstones of R-MWC [the former acronym for the all-women’s college] for more than 100 years, to achieve their extra-curricular goals.

There are other ways for an institution to raise funds or cut costs without sacrificing things central to the core purpose. Maybe it’s the trustees and administrators who ought to be deaccessioned.

an ArtsJournal blog