an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me

Deaccession Deception: Baltimore Museum’s Castoffs Leave Holes in Its Collection

Christopher Bedford, director of the Baltimore Museum of Art, said all the right things in explaining his decision to deaccession seven of the museum's works in order to purchase works "created from 1943 or later, allowing the museum to strengthen and fill gaps within its collection [emphasis added]." In the recent press release announcing the planned disposals, Bedford expressed the museum's desire to build "a collection that is more relevant to the community it serves" (i.e., women and artists of color). The problem is that in … [Read more...]

Berkshire Museum’s Murky “Transparency”: Parsing the Half-Truths in Its “Open Letter”

If this is transparency, we can only wonder what opacity looks like. The Berkshire Museum today posted an open letter to its community that is intended to show its "commitment to transparency, cooperation, outreach," according to an email from its spokesperson that hit my inbox late this afternoon. But the "open letter" was less than transparent in describing what happened to the priciest of the museum's deaccessions: "Shuffleton’s Barbershop" by Norman Rockwell is on its way back to the Berkshires, to the Norman Rockwell Museum, … [Read more...]

AAMD Sanctions Berkshire Museum and La Salle University Art Museum (& what it should do next)

We knew this was coming (for what it's worth). The Association of Art Museum Directors today issued this statement: The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) announced today that its Board of Trustees has voted to impose sanctions on the Berkshire Museum and the La Salle University Art Museum. This follows the decision made by each institution to use the proceeds from recent art sales to support operating budgets or expansion initiatives, a decision that violates one of the core principles of art museums. These actions are in … [Read more...]

“Shaftsbury” Shafted; Church Besmirched: The Berkshire Museum’s Lose-Lose Auctions

The Berkshire Museum's deplorable disposals have not gone well. Even its board president, in a statement issued yesterday (see below), conceded that the museum was "disappointed" with the results for the 13 works offered at Sotheby's auctions this month. The museum's board and administrators should consider holding onto their remaining chips from this bad gamble, rather than doubling down on their folly by selling more works. I was in Sotheby's salesroom yesterday morning  when four of the 40 works that had been approved for sale by … [Read more...]

Gloom at the Top: Why Megabucks Auctions Are Broken (and how to fix them)

The thrill is gone. For several of the highest-estimated properties in the recent series of Impressionist, modern and contemporary sales at Sotheby's and Christie's, the "auction fever" of yesteryear has given way to single-bid transfers of artworks (after a few feigned "chandelier" bids, lobbed by the auctioneers). Bargains are struck in advance with third-party guarantors who ensure (for a fee and/or a share of the proceeds) that high-priced works will sell, either to them or to someone who steps in at a level where the guarantor can … [Read more...]

Picasso Fiasco: CultureGrrl Q&A with Mike Kosnitzky, Lawyer for Steve Wynn’s New Company UPDATED & CORRECTED

In my previous post about the astonishing news that unspecified damage was done at Christie's on Friday to Picasso's “Le Marin,” 1943 (which had been estimated to bring around $70 million in Tuesday's Impressionist/Modern Art auction), I had suggested that the auction house's reticence might have been related to the situation's being "in the hands of the lawyers (as happened with Steve Wynn's previous Picasso fiasco)." That apparently is the case. Although Christie's has failed to respond to my repeated requests for more detailed … [Read more...]

Barker Lark: Oliver Makes Auctions Fun Again at Sotheby’s Revival Meeting (aka Contemporary Sale)

At last, someone knows how to play this game: It's Oliver Barker, the Sotheby's auctioneer who succeeded in whipping up a spirited $284.54-million Contemporary Art sale tonight (preceded by the Mandel Collection's $107.8-million opening act), playing the crowd with cheery exhortations, while moving things briskly along. The hammer total for the Contemporary sale was $246.3 million, within the presale estimate of $207.7-285.6 million. The Mandel hammer total was $91.95 million, within the $72.9-105.3 million presale estimate. Here's my … [Read more...]

Ballyhooed Nude, Picasso Fiasco: Misadventures at Impressionist/Modern Sales at Sotheby’s & Christie’s

How did Sotheby's manage to be deprecated on Monday for achieving a price of $157.2-million for a Modigliani reclining nude---the highest amount ever paid at that firm for a single artwork? The auction house was seen as under-achieving, because this indolent lady's $139-million hammer price was on the backside of her presale estimate---"in excess of $150 million." As such, she had a "Me-Too" moment with another ballyhooed nude---Picasso's “Fillette à la Corbeille Fleurie” in last week's Rockefeller sale of Impressionist and modern works, … [Read more...]

American Success Story: Rockefeller’s & George Washington’s Conquest of Christie’s

For the second night in a row, bidding on the Rockefeller Collection at Christie's handily outstripped the low presale estimate. In a livelier session (thanks to the verve of auctioneer Tash Perrin, said to be taking her first evening sale), 41 lots of David Rockefeller's American art fetched a hammer total of $90.5m, doubling the low estimate of hammer total. Is there still time for me to buy these cufflinks in the online sale? The initial works for me! (Wait. I'd need to buy a shirt that requires cufflinks.) Enough of this idle … [Read more...]

“Are We All Done?” Christie’s Delivers a Dull (but effective) “Sale of the Century” Debut

Maybe I'm getting jaded, but tonight's first installment of the "Sale of the Century"---the David Rockefeller estate disposals at Christie's---seemed to me as exciting as a wet blanket. (I suppose that would be me.) I have to admit, though, that I was probably wrong in believing that the billion-dollar sales predictions for the entire Rockefeller series were merely wishful thinking. Tonight's sale has already rung up $648.38-million (including buyer's premium), and the $564.55-million hammer-price total handily beat the $490-million low … [Read more...]

Rocky Rockefeller Predictions: Estimated “in Excess of $500,000,” But Hyped as “a Billion-Dollar Sale”

With a lot riding on this week's results of the David Rockefeller estate's purported "Sale(s) of the Century," several news publications have upped the ante, impetuously recasting the series of auctions, estimated by Christie's to bring "in excess of $500,000," as potentially a "billion-dollar sale." That's a whole lot of "excess" over the $500,000, and a high hurdle to surmount. But it makes for a juicy headline (or subhead), as in today's Wall Street Journal: The first mention that I saw of a possible billion-dollar sale was Kelly … [Read more...]

Two Takes on How Christie’s Won the Rockefeller Consignment (plus: CultureGrrl’s Video Tour)

How did Christie's manage to best Sotheby's in landing the hotly contested, monumental David Rockefeller consignment? That trove goes on the block next week, led by this waif, who carries the sales' heftiest presale estimate on her fragile shoulders. Ask why she's gone to Christie's, and you'll get two different answers, depending on which auction house you speak to. Marc Porter, chairman of Christie's Americas, told me his firm had won the prize on the strength of its expertise and success in marketing large collections … [Read more...]

Hearts for Hartwig: My Appreciation for Getty’s Soon-to-Retire Communications Head UPDATED

It's not like me to sing the praises of museum communications officials, even though I constantly rely on them for help (and they often are extremely helpful). As a critic and investigative journalist intent on clarifying what's been blurred by PR spin, my relationship with spokespersons is often more adversarial than collegial. Not so with Ron Hartwig, who today announced his retirement this summer after 13 years as the Getty Trust’s vice president of communications. He has always patiently, promptly, cordially and (best of all) … [Read more...]

Barnes Foundation to Subdivide (& monetize?) 137 Acres; Offloads Costs of Lower Merion Properties

Some six years after it controversially moved to Philadelphia, the Barnes Foundation appears to have decided to monetize the original properties of its founder, the legendary collector Albert Barnes, in both Lower Merion and Chester County. In a 2004 NY Times op-ed piece---Destroying the Museum to Save It---I had argued that the Barnes should have considered selling Ker-Feal, its little used 137-acre country estate in Chester County, PA, to help raise sufficient money to sustain its main facility in Lower Merion, PA. Instead, the Barnes … [Read more...]

An Educated Guess: What Did the Lucas Museum Pay for Rockwell’s “Shuffleton’s Barbershop”?

In the two weeks since the announcement of the Berkshire Museum's widely deplored sale of Norman Rockwell's "Shuffleton's Barbershop" to the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, Los Angeles, none of the parties to the transaction have revealed the price paid for the privilege of spiriting away this Massachusetts masterpiece: But by analyzing what we do know, it's not hard to come up with a ballpark figure. In announcing the planned disposals next month of 13 of the 39 works that Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has permitted it to sell … [Read more...]

La Salle Art Museum’s Promo Video Highlights Deaccessioned Works

"Wander through six permanent galleries [emphasis added]," the caption for the video walk-through on the La Salle University Art Museum's homepage exhorts potential visitors. But while the galleries may be "permanent," the installation shown on the homepage isn't. Some of the works featured in the video have left this building... ...and were last seen publicly here (a gallery at Christie's): As you will see below (unless La Salle has updated its homepage by the time you read this), two of the three works accorded starring roles … [Read more...]

Deaccession Dejection: La Salle’s Sales Slide at Christie’s UPDATED

This is an I-told-you-so post. Some six of 16 old masters deaccessioned by the La Salle University Art Museum were left stranded on the auction block at Christie's this afternoon. Of the 10 that did sell, only four equaled or exceeded their presale estimates. Br. Daniel Burke, the museum’s late founder and university's president emeritus, might have derived grim satisfaction knowing that the work behind him in the photo below would remain with the museum, despite the university's efforts to unload it (unless Christie's and/or La Salle … [Read more...]

La Salle Sales Shortfall: Two of Five 19th-Century Offerings Fail to Sell

More on this here. Today's auction at Christie's of the first five of 46 deaccessions from the La Salle University Art Museum got off to an inauspicious start when the auction house's earlier sales ran late, causing an hour's delay in start time for the 19th-century European sale. "All registered clients for either sale were notified via email," a Christie's spokesperson assured me. Also inauspicious, in an auction that has been widely criticized within the university and by museum professionals, was the failure of two of the five La Salle … [Read more...]

Fixing the Actual “Glass Ceiling” at the Metropolitan Museum: My Q&A with Keith Christiansen

With all the recent pushback against the supposed "glass ceiling" at the Metropolitan Museum (occasioned by the naming of an eminently qualified male, Max Hollein, to assume its directorship), let's take a look at another glass-ceiling problem there, which is unambiguous and needs immediate remediation: Keith Christiansen, the Met's chairman of European paintings, ended the museum's December press breakfast with a preview of the sweeping changes that have begun this month in the galleries under his purview. In a $150-million project that … [Read more...]

What Obstacles Will Max Hollein Need to Surmount as Metropolitan Museum’s New Director?

Max Hollein will have two strikes against him---one insignificant, one potentially serious---when he walks in the door this summer as the Metropolitan Museum's new director. The first liability is irremediable, unless he's planning a sex-change: He is not a woman. In this identity-politics era, that's a lamentable deficiency for some, notably Lisa Oliver, an assistant professor of art history at Wellesley College and former Met fellow (2014 to 2015). The NY Times saw fit to give this minor player a major platform, with two op-ed … [Read more...]

an ArtsJournal blog