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Breaking (& heartbreaking): Sotheby’s Releases Checklist & Price Estimates of Berkshire Museum Disposals UPDATED

Read ’em and weep.

Sotheby’s has just released the checklist (with presale estimates and sale dates) for the Berkshire Museum 40. Apparently the seller and its agent don’t believe that the Massachusetts Attorney General’s interest in the deaccessions will pose any impediment.

The two top lots (no surprise) are the Rockwells, to be sold along with 12 other Berkshire Museum works at the Nov. 13 American art sale:

Norman Rockwell, “Shuffleton’s Barbershop,” 1950
Presale estimate: $20-30 million

Norman Rockwell, “Blacksmith’s Boy,” 1940
Presale estimate: $7-10 million

Here are the two next highest-estimated lots in the American art sale:

Frederic Edwin Church, “Valley of Santa Isabel, New Granada, 1875
Presale estimate: $5-7 million

Thomas Moran, “The Last Arrow,” 1867
Presale estimate: $2-3 million

The rest of the works, scattered among at least five later sales extending into next March, are led by two Bouguereaus selling at the Nov. 21 European art sale, estimated at $2-2.5 million and $2.5-3.5 million. The sale dates and estimates for four sculptures, including two Calders, have yet to be announced.

Sotheby’s has not yet released the total presale estimates for the Berkshire Museum 40. I’ll update here if and when I know more.

UPDATE: The low-high totals of the presale estimates that were announced for 36 of the 40 Berkshire Museum consignments are $46.55-68.08 million.

One person at Sotheby’s who ought to feel at least some slight queasiness about abetting the Berkshire Museum’s violation of professional standards on deaccessioning is Lisa Dennison, the Guggenheim Museum’s former director, who is now Sotheby’s chairman for North and South America.

Lisa Dennison, right, at last May’s Frieze Art Fair preview in New York
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

When I emailed Dennison back in July, asking how she felt about the Berkshire Museum’s planned use of art proceeds to “pay down existing debt and establish reserve funds for long-term capital maintenance and to mitigate unforeseen events” (in the words of the museum’s press release), she replied:

I don’t have much to say beyond the fact that we are very happy to partner with the Berkshire Museum to help them achieve their goals and fulfill their vision for the future.

Lisa and others at Sotheby’s should ask themselves whether they should be “very happy to partner” in a frowned-upon transaction and whether doing so may adversely affect their firm’s artworld reputation and relationships. Might museum officials and donors balk, on principle, at doing future business there?

Time (and upcoming auctions) may tell.

an ArtsJournal blog