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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 Appeals Court granted a preliminary injunction to delay the dispersal (at least temporarily).

Screenshot from my Al Jazeera interview

As expected, the Al Jazeera English segment (which you can watch here) used only a brief soundbite from our conversation—the part in which I noted that the Metropolitan Museum’s officials didn’t decide to sell its Rembrandts when they realized that they didn’t have sufficient funds to proceed, as scheduled, with their planned capital project. The only other soundbite came from Geoffrey Rockwell, Norman‘s grandson, who said that in trying to dispose of the works donated to it by the artist, the museum was “losing its soul.”

Although my 20 seconds of fame in a two-minute segment were less than the Warholian, my interviewer, Kawala Xie, granted me permission to use a longer version of our chat on CultureGrrl. You can watch it at the end of this post. (I never met Kristen Saloomey, who does the voiceover on Al Jazeera’s clip.)

I’ve been intending to write a think piece on the broader implications for museum and auction professionals and for the general public of the Berkshire Museum’s misadventures—why this is important not just locally, but nationally. Now I can convey those thoughts in a professionally produced video clip.

You’ll hear me explain why the museum’s planned disposals were “the most egregious case I’ve ever seen of this kind of activity” and why the museum’s two Rockwells exemplify “exactly what the Berkshire Museum is supposed to be about.” More importantly, I tell why the losses from the museum’s misguided actions could extend far beyond Rockwells and Pittsfield, MA, and why both the museum and Sotheby’s could sustain reputation hits, even if the sales were deemed to be entirely legal (as is still to be determined by the courts).

You’ll also see me (in the clip that aired, not the longer clip, below) obligingly obeying my visitors’ instructions to sit on my couch riffling through my copy of the auction catalogue in which Rockwell’s “Shuffleton’s Barbershop” has now morphed from star offering to an auction-house nightmare—a cover lot withdrawn from sale at the last minute.

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