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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 eventually allowed by the courts.

As we await further developments, below are the official statements, so far, of the principals in the Berkshire Museum court case, regarding the decision by Judge Joseph Trainor to grant the Attorney General’s request for a preliminary injunction delaying the planned sales of works from the museum’s collection. Those disposals had been scheduled to begin Monday at Sotheby’s.

Elizabeth McGraw, board president, Berkshire Museum:

Today’s temporary order is a disappointment for all of us at the Berkshire Museum, and it is a setback for our members, our neighbors, and the citizens of Berkshire County.  The auction that held the promise of addressing our museum’s serious financial difficulties will have to proceed without our works, and our plans for the future will be delayed pending the next steps in the legal process.  Until that process resolves, we will continue to do what we do every day: bring our passion for art, science and discovery to our community, in keeping with Zenas Crane’s [founder of the Berkshire Museum’s] vision.”

Elizabeth McGraw, President, Berkshire Museum

Sotheby’s:

We are disappointed in today’s decision, which prevents the sales from going forward despite the carefully reasoned opinion [my link, not theirs] issued by Judge Agostini earlier this week.  We have never doubted that the board of trustees acted in good faith and was well within their legal rights, and we remain confident that they will prevail in their plans to ensure a bright future for the Berkshire Museum in support of the community of Pittsfield and Western Massachusetts.

Michael Keating, attorney for several plaintiffs objecting to the sales, including Norman Rockwell‘s descendants:

We join our clients, the Rockwell family and citizens of Berkshire County, in fully supporting this decision. The irreparable harm that would occur if these paintings were to be sold, coupled with the significant unresolved legal issues surrounding the legality of this sale clearly compel this injunction.

Nicholas O’Donnell, lawyer for three of the plaintiffs:

In our view, the Attorney General’s petition explains well the important components of the Superior Court’s ruling that warrant reversal on appeal, which support an injunction against the sale until that appeal is resolved. My clients support the Attorney General’s petition and are hopeful that the Appeals Court will enjoin Monday’s sale. We continue to review our own options with respect to appealing the Nov. 7 ruling.

Meanwhile, the Berkshire Museum consignments to Monday’s American art sale (which I had photographed at the Nov. 3 press preview) have already come down, as documented this morning in tweets by Andrew Russeth, executive editor of ARTnews magazine. In the foreground of the photo on the left, you can see Rockwell’s “Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop,” with “Shuffleton’s Barbershop” visible in the far distance, to the left of the doorway where people have congregated:

an ArtsJournal blog