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Berkshire Museum Disposables: Bierstadts, Bouguereaus, Calders, Church, Inness, “George Washington”

More on this here.

The hit list is out. The Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, MA, today identified all 40 works that it intends to sell through Sotheby’s to bankroll its $60-million reinvention plan.

Based on this report in the Berkshire Eagle, I had previously written that the museum’s Calder mobiles were “not being sold.” In fact, two landmark 1932 Calders—“Dancing Torpedo Shape” and “Double Arc and Sphere”—are headed for auction unless opposition derails them.

Other highlights leaving the building include Church‘s “Valley of the Santa Ysabel,” 1875, and Bierstadt‘s “Connecticut River Valley, Claremont, New Hampshire,” 1868:

Albert Bierstadt, “Connecticut River Value, Claremont, New Hampshire,” 1868

The museum also plans to monetize its “George Washington” by Rembrandt Peale, notwithstanding its self-description as a history museum (one of its three focuses).

Deaccession opposition is mounting: The Eagle reported today that 22 artists, educators and arts professionals will send a letter to the museum’s board tomorrow (Tuesday) calling for it to rescind its deaccession decision. Laurie Norton Moffatt, director of the Rockwell Museum in nearby Stockbridge, weighed in last week in an Eagle op-ed that forcefully argued against the sales. Sale opponents have started a Facebook page—SAVE THE ART at the Berkshire Museum of Natural History AND Art—to “encourage the community to rally support for the art collection, invite the museum to pause its decision, and find a way to retain art as central to the mission of the museum.”

Also likely to exert some pushback are the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors, which replied identically to my query last week about whether they intended to take any action regarding the museum’s defiance of their professional guidelines regarding the use of art-sale proceeds (as detailed in my previous post).

Both AAM and AAMD told me this:

We’re in contact with the museum’s leadership to better understand their plans, before taking any further action.

This Eagle article suggests that money is needed for more than the vaunted “reinvention.” Carrie Saldo reports:

Over the past 10 years, the museum’s structural deficit, including depreciation, has averaged $1.15 million each year.

The museum’s attorney, Mark Gold, has argued that the sales are legal, notwithstanding their violation of professional guidelines: “The board put its fiduciary duty ahead of these guidelines, which is frankly what [it] should do,” Gold told Saldo.

“Frankly,” the “fiduciary duty” of the museum’s board and its administration is to raise funds and generate earned income sufficient to insure the preservation, study and display of the collection, not to exploit the art as a cash cow to compensate for their deficient leadership.

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