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Vision Transfusion? Berkshire Museum Stops Hemorrhaging Art

Closing the barn door after its finest steeds have vanished, the Berkshire Museum today announced that “there will be no further sales” from its collection beyond the 22 works already sold through Sotheby’s:

American art from the Berkshire Museum on in November 2017 view at Sotheby’s
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

In his Berkshire Eagle report, Larry Parnass today suggested that the museum’s woefully belated decision to curtail its widely condemned deaccessioning spree was influenced by advice from Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey‘s office. The AGO, according to Parnass, recently opined that the beleaguered museum should now “discontinue sales and attend to repairing its relations with a community split over the decision to sell its master works, including two paintings by Norman Rockwell, to solve budget problems.”

Great advice, Maura. But why didn’t you impart it when it actually would have made a difference?

Protesters demonstrating against Berkshire Museum’s art disposals

The museum’s deplorable deaccessions raised some $53.25 million—just shy of the $55 million that the museum’s leaders had said was needed to defray debt, beef up endowment and implement a “New Vision” envisioning interactive multimedia exhibits like this:

Berkshire Museum’s 2017 rendering of what the New Vision’s multimedia galleries might look like

Van Shields, the director who promoted the new plans, has now left the building, opening the way for a possible “New Vision” revision, once there’s a permanent replacement for interim director David Ellis.

The museum’s latest announcement refers to “plans for improved and enhanced exhibition and programming spaces, including an expanded and upgraded aquarium.” But such initiatives are now said to be “still in planning stages.”

In a lame attempt to put lipstick on this pig, the museum today noted that “additional sales [18 more objects] were permitted under an agreement between the Museum and the Office of the Attorney General (AGO) and approved by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court….There are more than 40,000 pieces in the museum’s collection.”

Maybe so, but the skimmed works represented the cream of the collection. They were of greater educational and art historical (not to mention financial) value than most of what remains.

Norman Rockwell, “Shuffleton’s Barbershop,” 1950
Sold for an undisclosed price to Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, after having been estimated to sell at auction for $20-30 million

Chances are that final decisions about how to apply the museum’s ill-gotten nest egg will have to await the arrival of a new director.

Will anyone meeting the search firm’s detailed, exacting criteria crave the top spot at a museum that eviscerated its art collection to raise money for debt reduction and capital projects?

Time (and Washington, DC-based headhunter Brent Glass) will tell…

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