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Time to Rethink: Court Extends Injunction Preventing Berkshire Museum Disposals

It's time for the Berkshire Museum to face reality: Its pursuit of easy money through art disposals has backfired, devolving into a litigation exhibition with no end date, costly to both its reputation and what's left of its financial wherewithal. In a two-sentence notice filed today, Massachusetts Appeals Court Judge Joseph Trainor disregarded the surprising request by the museum's lawyers that proceedings to determine the legality of the museum's planned art sales at Sotheby's be allowed continue in the lower court, even while the … [Read more...]

More “Mundi” Conundrums: Exactly Who Paid the Leonardo’s Princely Price (and why)?

In my Friday post about those said to have "acquired" the $450.3-million Leonardo da Vinci, I suggested that the convoluted "Salvator Mundi" story was still developing and hard to predict. Sure enough, a mere two hours after my post appeared, Kelly Crow and Summer Said of the Wall Street Journal added a new twist: The Leonardo da Vinci painting acquired for $450.3 million by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince [Mohammed bin Salman] will be displayed at the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum—a gift from Saudi Arabia to the United Arab Emirates [emphasis added] … [Read more...]

Deal Revealed: Berkshire Museum Makes Public Its Consignment Agreement with Sotheby’s UPDATED

In a court filing today that made public previously impounded documents, the Berkshire Museum provided an inside look at auction-house/consignor dealings that are usually confidential. The filing includes the text of the agreement wherein the museum consigned for auction 40 works from its collection that were to be sold in a series of (now postponed) sales. (The consignment agreement is slightly redacted "to protect a trade secret of...Sotheby's.") On Nov. 29, the Berkshire Eagle's lawyers had filed an emergency motion asking the … [Read more...]

“Mundi” Conundrum: Latest Head-Spinning Chapter in Tangled Trajectory of Leonardo’s “Salvator Mundi”

Another bizarre twist has been added the convoluted tale of the modern odyssey of Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi," bought anonymously at Christie's on Nov. 15 for $450.3 million. The latest news, posted today on Christie's website, is this: And here's this morning's tweet from the Louvre Abu Dhabi: Louvre Abu Dhabi is looking forward to displaying the Salvator Mundi by Leonardo Da Vinci. The work was acquired by the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi for the museum. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth/ AP … [Read more...]

Attorney General Asks to Extend Preliminary Injunction Preventing Berkshire Museum Sales

The legal jousting in the Berkshire Museum case continues: The State Attorney General's Office has filed a new motion in Massachusetts Appeals Court, seeking "to extend the current injunction and stay until Jan. 29, 2018." The AGO says it is still waiting for a complete response to its request for a wide variety of documents that are listed in two letters to the museum's lawyers (Exhibits 1 and 2 in the above-linked filing). Judge Joseph Trainor's preliminary injunction, issued Nov. 10, prohibited the museum from disposing of any of the … [Read more...]

“Essential Personnel”: My Q&A with Getty’s Communications VP on the Approaching Wildfires UPDATED

With the area's surrounding streets and nearby freeway closed to traffic due to rapidly spreading wildfires that are approaching (but so far have not reached) the Getty Center, the Getty today is staffed by only "essential personnel"---mainly its security staff. But Ron Hartwig, the J. Paul Getty Trust's veteran vice president for communications, intrepidly reported for duty against considerable odds, to respond to queries about an emergency situation that has already claimed nearby homes but has so far spared the Getty. (Patricia Woodworth, … [Read more...]

Playing with Wildfire: Getty Museum Closed Due to Smoke in the Region

I sometimes worry about housing some of the world's greatest cultural treasures (including those from major loan shows) in a building that's located on a fault line (prompting special precautions in how objects are installed), and in an area that has been prone to wildfires. Speaking of which, this just in from the Getty Museum's Twitter feed: Due to continuing smoke from fires in the region, the Getty Center and Getty Villa will remain closed to visitors tomorrow, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. — J. Paul Getty … [Read more...]

Unsettled at the Met: Breuer Building, Southwest Wing, Director’s Search

With the benefit of hindsight, it seems obvious that the Metropolitan Museum, under Tom Campbell's directorship, got way ahead of itself in making ambitious plans to undertake a $600,000 makeover of its Southwest Wing for modern and contemporary art and to assume (for at least eight years) the operation and programming of a large additional facility---the former home of the Whitney Museum (now "the Met Breuer"). The negative impact of these miscalculations could complicate the search for what the Met needs most of all---a highly … [Read more...]

Beggar Blogger: Please Support CultureGrrl UPDATED

UPDATE 11/30: For some reason, my "Donate" button stopped working earlier today, which I discovered after wondering why last night's flood of responses (thanks so much!) had stopped cold today. ArtsJournal's tech gurus have now vanquished the gremlins. If your attempt contribute was thwarted, please try again (after reloading my blog page). Since losing my decades-long Wall Street Journal freelance gig at the end of last year (after expressing my dismay over the WSJ's reduction in art coverage), I've been focusing on my CultureGrrl commentary … [Read more...]

Dan’s Plans, Redrafted: Revelations in Metropolitan Museum’s FY17 Annual Report CLARIFIED & CORRECTED

In her recent NY Times piece, Robin Pogrebin provided an upbeat assessment of the Metropolitan Museum's financial progress, as conveyed to her by president and CEO Daniel Weiss in a wide-ranging interview. Arriving as president in July 2015 with a mandate to clean up the Met Mess, Weiss expanded his portfolio after the departure of director Tom Campbell, who had left the place in financial disarray. But a close look at the financials in the Met's recently published Annual Report for fiscal 2017 (ended June 30) suggests that it's … [Read more...]

False Dichotomy: Boston Globe’s Deaccession-or-Die Editorial on the Berkshire Museum UPDATED

With surprising disregard for the facts, the Boston Globe's editorial writers yesterday flatly (and wrongly) asserted that the Berkshire Museum needs to sell "40 of the museum’s most valuable works" in order to "remain viable." There's no excuse for this ill-informed take on the controversy over the museum's deplorable deaccessions, given the exhaustive examination of the issues and options in the press and in the courts. (For additional information and perspective, see my 24-and-counting CultureGrrl posts, linked here.) The Globe's … [Read more...]

“Sotheby’s Drudgery”: My Storify on a Contemporary Art Sale Short on Excitement

Last night's Contemporary Art sale at Christie's, headlined by a certain very non-contemporary religious painting, was a hard act for Sotheby's to follow. It did interpose its own anomalous lot to jazz things up---a red Ferrari. For the most part, though, the offerings tonight were less than spectacular and the bidding was mostly slow. The action was more lively for the newer artists than for the same old auction stalwarts. Here's my Twitter account of the action (and inaction) at Sotheby's Contemporary sale: [View the story "Sotheby's … [Read more...]

Did Ken Griffin Buy the Leonardo (or provide $$$ for Art Institute of Chicago to acquire it)? UPDATED

While we're all still coming to terms with the fact that a damaged 26" x 18" oil-on-walnut painted panel has just sold for $450.3 million, here's a potential scoop that is based on some data, intuition, circumstantial evidence and my attempt to get confirmation: I have reason to believe that Kenneth Griffin, the Chicago hedge fund mogul, may have bankrolled yesterday's Leonardo purchase. Here's why: I noticed today that my blog post (linked at the top of this post) about last night's auction of Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi" … [Read more...]

“Ballsy Bidding”: My Storify on Leonardo’s (& Christie’s) $450-Million Jesus Superstar

That surely wasn't the Getty or any other public (as opposed to single-collector) museum who plunked down a jaw-dropping $450-million after a dramatic 19-minute bidding war, the likes of which I've never seen, to acquire Leonardo da Vinci's damaged but still mesmerizing "Salvator Mundi." The bidding lurched from steady, small increments to vertiginous jumps, as the vying gazillionaires tried to pummel each other into submission. We still don't know (if we ever will) who won. The wild ride finally stopped at a satisfyingly round $400 … [Read more...]

Apparition’s Condition: Will a Museum Buy Leonardo da Vinci’s Unsettling “Salvator Mundi”?

"It belongs in a museum, with all the other Leonardos." So said conservator Dianne Dwyer Modestini at the end of a Wall Street Journal video posted early this morning, in connection with tonight's much-anticipated and highly hyped auction at Christie's of "Salvator Mundi." Here's Christ at Christie's, as seen by me at the Nov. 3 press preview: The WSJ's video of Modestini appeared the day after I chatted with Getty Museum director Timothy Potts at his institution's New York press lunch, also attended by Richard Rand, associate … [Read more...]

Strange Interlude: Al Jazeera Interviews Me About the Berkshire Museum (with video)

I was as surprised as you probably are that Al Jazeera, with its focus on international news (particularly as it relates to the Arab world), was interested in talking to me for a segment about the Berkshire Museum's deaccession controversy. But a camera crew journeyed to my New Jersey apartment to get my views for their broadcast that aired yesterday---"U.S. Judge Halts Berkshire Museum's Sale of Rockwell Art." Our conversation occurred last Thursday---after the Berkshire Superior Court ruled that the art sales could proceed but before the … [Read more...]

Berkshire Museum’s Deaccession Debacle: Reactions of the Protagonists & Antagonists

In their initial responses to last night's Massachusetts Appeals Court preliminary injunction, neither the Berkshire Museum nor Sotheby's has explicitly vowed to continue what could be a self-defeating legal fight in the museum's misguided attempt to sell works from its collection to bankroll purposes other than acquisitions and preservation of the collection. A wiser course of action for both parties might be to throw in the towel, recognizing that the cloud of controversy could dampen the sales prospects, even if the disposals were … [Read more...]

News Flash: Massachusetts Appeals Court Delays Berkshire Museum Sales

Score one for Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. The Massachusetts Appeals Court tonight granted the preliminary injunction that she had sought in order to delay the controversial sales at Sotheby's of works from the Berkshire Museum's collection. The series of auctions containing the deaccessioned works was to have begun Monday with an American art sale that was to offer seven works (photos here) from the Pittsfield, MA, museum, including its two prize Norman Rockwells. Here's the full text of Judge Joseph Trainor's … [Read more...]

News Flash: Massachusetts Attorney General Files Appeals Court Motion to Enjoin Monday’s Berkshire Museum Sales

Major update here. Now it gets really interesting. The Massachusetts Attorney General's Office has just filed a motion for an injunction pending its appeal of the Superior Court decision to allow Berkshire Museum's art sales this Monday at Sotheby's. You can read the full Appeals Court filing here. The AGO says its investigation "is not yet complete, but cites "the court's abuse of discretion through clear errors of law." The museum, the AGO says, would "breach the charitable trusts pursuant to which the museum holds the artwork" if … [Read more...]

Trusty Rusty: Powell to Retire from Longtime Gig at National Gallery

It's entirely in keeping with Rusty Powell's self-effacing nature that the National Gallery's homepage today is all about the art, with no hint of its big news: The museum's longest-serving director, who assumed that post in 1992, has announced his plans to retire in early 2019, when he'll be 75. As did Philippe de Montebello at the Metropolitan Museum, he's giving his institution a long lead time to search for his successor. With the Met's directorship again open, these two preeminent institutions could be going head-to-head for top … [Read more...]

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