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An Update On That Rediscovered Picasso

Remember that mislabeled Picasso gemmaux portrait discovered in the basement of the Evansville Museum of Arts, Science and History?

The other day, USA Today caught up with the news and added two interesting tidbits, one of which shows the dynamics of some museum boards. One might explain the other, but not in a satisfactory way, to me at least. First, the reporter managed to get a price estimate for the work from Guernsey’s, the New York auction house that discovered it and will sell it: Femme Assise au Chapeau Rouge is estimated at $30- to $40 million, according to Arlan Ettinger. Some people think that’s high, however. (And so do I, from afar, but you never know.) At the time of the gift, in the late sixties, it was appraised for tax purposes at $20,000.

Second, the story quotes John Streetman, the museum director, saying: ”I wanted to show it, but the president of our board came up with a list of good reasons not to.”

The article says the board debated the picture’s fate internally before announcing the discovery, but it seems that the board, led by a president named Steve Krohn, a lawyer and businessman, had their eyes on the money — the museum’s endowment totals $6 million. He told the reporter: ”It would have cost too much money to insure and to adequately protect. We might have had to hire additional security and make changes to the physical plant that we couldn’t justify for one item. We made the only prudent decision.”

Call me skeptical,  but I think he’s exaggerating. I’m with the local who said,  ”Something that’s been there since ’68, to right away take it to where no one’s going to see it again? I’d say keep it and put it on display a year or two, then sell it. But that’s just me.”

With money from a sale — which will be private, not at auction, Guernsey’s has said — the trustees can rest on their fund-raising laurels, which is a pretty seductive reason to sell.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Evansville Museum

Comments

  1. Jim VanKirk says:

    The Credit Default Swap is alive and well and living in Evansville, IN

  2. I agree with the board’s decision. Create an exhibition that includes the painting and that would justify
    the additional expenditures.

  3. Steven Miller says:

    This is, unfortunately, a not uncommon way for trustees to act when it comes to museum governance. how sad that a community will lose an important painting because the museum’s board has dollar signs in its eyes. The additional costs to protect, insure and care for the painting would have probably, in the long run, been offset by increased attendance and other income producing results. But, in today’s museum world ultimately “cash is king” and if it can be gotten from any place but trustee wallets, so be it.

    Steve

    Steven Miller
    Executive Director Emeritus
    Morris Museum, Morristown, NJ
    Adjunct Professor, Seton Hall University MA Program in Museum Professions

  4. I have mixed feelings about this one and would feel MUCH better if there were a YES to this action rather than a NO. What I mean is that if the trustees had laid out a detailed plan to catapult the execution of their mission with this money (e.g. investment in Indiana art or expansion of the museum’s collections in a certain area or capital improvements, or youth programs, etc.), it would feel better to me. And, you’re right, this should not be used as a reason NOT to raise money–it should be used strategically to leverage more money and interest in the community and region.

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