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15 Past Presidents of AAMD Sign Letter Calling for Baltimore Museum to “Reconsider” Planned Sales–2 UPDATES

Can you stop a speeding freight train before it crashes?

UPDATE: The “speeding freight train” has just screeched to a halt! The Baltimore Museum of Art has just issued a statement that the board and leadership “decided to pause on the upcoming sale of works by Brice Marden, Clyfford Still and Andy Warhol.”

Here’s a link to the Baltimore Museum’s full statement on its withdrawal (or sale “pause”) of 3 works consigned to Sothebys’s.

Some 15 (and counting?) former presidents of the Association of Art Museum Directors are giving it a try: In an 11th-hour letter to Clair Zamoiski Segal, board chair of the Baltimore Museum of Art, they have urged the museum to “reconsider its planned sale of artworks [my link, not theirs] this evening.”

On the block, if all goes according to plan, will be the BMA’s Brice Marden and Clyfford Still—Lots 5 and 6 in a Sotheby’s sale scheduled to start today at 6 p.m.:

Screenshot of Sotheby’s lot list

The (unidentified) person behind the urgent letter was Maxwell Anderson, former director of five museums, whom I got to know well when he headed the Whitney Museum in New York. By sheer luck, he was one of three signatories whom I tried to contact to confirm that the letter was indeed authentic. It had been sent to me, with no attribution of authorship, by Laurence Eisenstein, the lawyer and former BMA trustee who has been spearheading opposition to the sale. (I had correctly guessed that Larry hadn’t composed the letter nor recruited its endorsers.)

In response to my emailed query, Max affirmed that “the letter was composed and sent by me, and I received confirmation from each of the signatories.” (Another of the signers whom I contacted verified this to me.)

Also by sheer luck, alphabetical order made Anderson the lead signatory:

James Cuno of the Getty Trust was a late-breaking addition to the above list.

As it happened, Max recently posted on his Art Scoping podcast a conversation with James Duff, past chair of AAMD’s Professional Issues Committee, critically analyzing the impact of the association’s relaxed deaccession guidelines.

Segal, the BMA board chair to whom the directors’ letter was addressed, is a fundraising consultant by trade. If only she had used her professional skills to raise money for the museum the old-fashioned way!

And this just in (at 6 p.m.) from Brent Benjamin, AAMD’s current president, who had previously been ambiguous at best on the question of whether the BMA had complied with professional standards under the relaxed guidelines:

On behalf of AAMD, I am gratified to learn that the Baltimore Museum of Art has decided to reverse course. As we have said consistently, our April 2020 resolutions were not intended to address needs beyond current, pandemic-related financial challenges. We understand that this was a difficult decision, but believe strongly that it was the right one, based on our view that art collections should not be monetized except in very narrow and limited circumstances.

All credit goes to the Forceful Fifteen who, at the last minute, applied the brakes to that runaway train.

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