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Deaccession Obsession: AG Enters the Fray; Compendium of My Berkshire Museum Commentary

As I reported Monday on my Twitter feed (while I was traveling and off-blog), the Massachusetts Attorney General has officially entered the fray in the legal battle over the Berkshire Museum’s planned art sales.

As I’ve previously suggested, the AG is the only player in this case with the power to pry loose the background information necessary to determine whether the Berkshire Museum was acting in accordance with donor intent and due diligence when it decided to jettison the cream of its collection to get it out of a financial hole and bankroll its New Vision.

Having read the AG’s filing, I gather that even her office had to struggle to obtain the documents that it sought.

Berkshire Museum director Van Shields, now on medical leave, at the door where the museum’s board meeting was letting out, who declined to answer my questions when I came upon him during my on-site visit
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

I’ll parse the AG’s arguments in an upcoming post. For now, we eagerly await the results of the court hearing later today (Wednesday), when the state’s representatives will join others in arguing for a temporary restraining order that would pause the planned Sotheby’s sales, giving the AG time to continue her investigation.

Here are the official reactions of those who plans would be deterred by a temporary restraining order:

William Lee of the WilmerHale law firm, representing the Berkshire Museum—“We respectfully disagree there is any further inquiry for the Attorney General to conduct before these long-scheduled sales can proceed.  For more than four months, the museum has cooperated fully in providing documents and information to the Attorney General’s Office.  While the museum appreciates the time and attention given this matter by the Attorney General’s Office, we look forward to presenting the museum’s legal arguments to the court without further delay.  We continue to believe that there is no legal barrier to the museum proceeding with the deaccession and its plans for a sustainable future which are critical to the region. We look forward to presenting those arguments in court.”

Elizabeth McGraw, president of the Berkshire Museum’s board“We respect the role of the Attorney General in this process, but continue to believe we have strong legal grounds to move forward and secure the future of the Berkshire Museum as an invaluable asset to the educational, cultural and economic life of our community.  We have made clear that the board of trustees acted consistent with its mission and the founding principles of this museum and our fiduciary responsibility. Our plan is to proceed, but these are now issues for the court to decide.”

Sotheby’s, selected to auction the museum’s deaccessioned works—“Sotheby’s is fully committed to the museum’s success and, unless a court rules otherwise, will proceed with the auctions beginning on November 13th.”

On the eve of the court hearing, the Berkshire Eagle‘s editorial writers, who originally supported the Berkshire Museum’s misbegotten plans, have recanted—Our Opinion: Berkshire Museum, halt the art auction.

Although it’s a relatively minor museum (on the verge of perhaps becoming even more so), the Berkshire Museum’s negative impact on professional practice and on the public’s trust in museums could be enormous, should its planned art sales be allowed to go through. That’s why I’ve given it my obsessive attention.

The Berkshire Eagle, with its dedicated webpage linking to its Berkshire Museum deaccession stories, is your prime source for breaking news on this hot-button subject. I’d like to be your go-to person for informed analysis—16 posts, so far; more to come.

Below is a three-month rundown of my coverage and commentary:

“Public Trust” Bust: Berkshire Museum to Jettison 40 Works (including 2 artist-donated Rockwells) UPDATED

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

“Deeply Opposed”: Joint Statement by AAMD & AAM Blasts Berkshire Museum’s Planned Art Sales UPDATED TWICE

Memo to Berkshire Museum: Homeless National Academy Suspends Its School, Slashes Price for Its Posh Digs

Save the Forsaken 40! Protest March Tomorrow by Opponents of Berkshire Museum’s Art Sales UPDATED

Berkshire Bumble: Director’s Letter Reveals Focus Groups Kept in the Dark About Planned Art Sales

How to Save the Berkshire Museum: A Roadmap Provided by the Endangered Danforth Art Museum

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

Berserk in the Berkshires: Museum’s Perverse Plan Underscores Need for Government Regulations

CultureGrrl Video: My Opinionated Tour of the Embattled Berkshire Museum

BlogBack: Timothy Cahill, Regional Art Writer, on Berkshire Museum’s Decline (& how it should regroup)

New Yorker’s Bad Role Model for Berkshire Museum: NY Historical Society’s “Responsible” Sales

Dandy Danforth: Framingham Approves Win-Win University Partnership to Rescue Museum & Its Collection

Berserk in the Berkshires: Lawsuit Filed Against Berkshire Museum Sales UPDATED TWICE

News Flash: Berkshire Museum’s Head on Medical Leave; 21 of 40 Consignments Pulled from Sotheby’s Auctions

Parsing the Arguments: Second Lawsuit and Reply Brief in Berkshire Museum Case

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