The two museums plan to sell works from their collections at an Sotheby’s auction on Wednesday night.
A continuous advancement, with the Brooklyn Museum raking in nearly $ 20 million for seven works by artists including Henri Matisse, Joan Miró and Claude Monet.
Another agency, the Baltimore Museum of Art, decided to draw its paintings – by Clyfford Still and Brice Marden – two hours before the sale was heavily criticized after discussions with the Association of Art Museum Directors, a nest Professional organizations promote best practices in the field.
If the different reactions to the two sales are a little confusing, welcome to the world of revocation, the process often happens in which museums remove items that are no longer in service. their long-term interests, be it sales or donation.
It is customary for museums to sell secondary or redundant works waiting in the archives to raise money for new acquisitions. But museums may violate the association’s ethical standards – and risk sanctions that prohibit loans from member museums – when decommissioned funds are introduced. operating costs.
But the association relaxed its rules in April when it realized the extraordinary financial pressures the pandemic had placed on museums. It says that in two years museums will be able to use the franchise funds not only to pay for repurchases but also to secure direct care of their collections. And, significantly, the organization provided a brief streak in how each organization defines that care internally.
Brooklyn and Baltimore quickly took advantage.
For Brooklyn, which has staffed 7% of the staff since the start of the pandemic, demand is critical. Its director, Anne Pasternak, said the organization is “extremely cautious” in choosing its audience. A Carlo Mollino desk, valued at $ 6.2 million at Sotheby’s, has been considered ceded for decades, as the museum houses more works by artists. Mrs. Pasternak said: “The Monet is lovely, but it is not one of his great works and it is not the best in our collection.
Likewise, the museum has been cautious in how money is distributed in its collection care fund. “We’re not just saying, ‘These are all salaries for conservators’; We estimate the time they actually spend taking care of an object, ”she said.
Baltimore, however, has a well-balanced budget and no layoffs or layoffs. Instead, its director, Christopher Bedford, who purchased seven blue-chip paintings in 2018 to buy works by women and artists of color, seized the opportunity to raise funds for many initiatives. Based on equity than at his museum – in a city with 68 percent of the Black population.
With his managers and board, he appointed Still and the Marden, as well as a monumental painting from Andy Warhol’s “The Last Supper” series, which is slated to collect. about 65 million dollars. The museum says the proceeds will be used to buy more works by artists who are not represented, and creating support for collection care will free up about $ 2.5 million in funding. policies for employee pay and other equity orientation measures. With the late Warhol’s profound grasp, Marden’s paper works, and the Abstract Expressionism movement in general, the leadership feels they can still recount those histories richly. there is no need to skip files.
“This is done especially in recognition of a demonstration led by museum staff being paid a fair living wage to perform core work for an organization with a mission of social justice,” he said. Bedford said in early October, after a summer of protests when museums across the country settled internal complaints about structural inequality and racism in the workplace.
At first, the museum director association did not express concern. “They are consistent with how AAMD identified this solution around this time,” its chief executive, Christine Anagnos, said at the time of the announcement.
But the response was quick from art critics, historians and museum experts. Arnold Lehman, former director of both the Baltimore (1979-97) and Brooklyn (1997-2015) museums, said the paintings sold were hardly second-class.
“I have absolutely no objections to de-licensing,” said Mr Lehman, “but Baltimore is selling masterpieces – as good as you’re about to buy the late Warhol, as well as you’re going to get Marden and one still great. He was personally involved in the acquisition of Warhol and Marden. The Still, a gift from a late Maryland artist, is also the only work in his collection.
A group of former Baltimore members led by Laurence Eisenstein petitioned the state of Maryland in an open letter to intervene.
The current Baltimore board chairman, Clair Zamoiski Segal, was fighting back. She said in a statement: “To show that the absence of these three works would disrupt public trust, ignoring the fact of many individuals for whom we have yet to gain trust.
Well-known sponsors say they have rescinded commitments. “I certainly don’t believe people sell masterpieces to finance diversity,” Charles Newhall III, former chairman of the board, wrote in his resignation letter as trustee. participant on October 15th. “In my mind, Chris Bedford is piling up the artists he promotes and the BMA has been buying from there. “
Two prominent Black artists on the board, Amy Sherald and Adam Pendleton, then resigned without direct consideration of canceling access to the subway. But Ms. Sherald, who spent her formative years as a young artist in Baltimore and best known for Michelle Obama’s portrait, was puzzled by his claim. Newhall. “This is a highly bold sign to suggest that I am nominated for gesture to be used as a pawn for the good of Christopher Bedford,” she wrote in her public statement.
In an interview this week, Mr. Eisenstein said that sales critics agree to promoting diversity and pay fairness but oppose “seeing what appears to be a short-term approach to making money. Money from art instead of making fundraising more difficult and growing. “
Lori Johnson, professor of art history at Morgan State University in Baltimore, said the attitude the critics expressed was merely maintaining the status quo. “Saying that we can raise funds through traditional means is basically how we get to where we are – we still have few underrepresented and still have people waiting to make a career. which they deserve, ”she said. “There is more at stake than these three works.”
Pastor Dr. Alvin C. Hathaway Sr., of the Union Baptist Church in Baltimore, said he hopes the dispute will foster a healthy conversation in America about the structural obstacles to equality. “Is value in art or value in the ability of others to access art and their art is also valuable,” he set out.
State officials have never publicly intervened in the matter, but the association clarified its stance this week in a statement from its president, Brent Benjamin. Funds for “long-term needs – or ambitious goals,” he wrote, “must not come from the sale of used art.”
Then, 14 current directors and former museum directors signed a letter to Baltimore’s board chairman asking the museum to reconsider the sale.
Eventually the museum decided to “halt” plans to sell the works after Wednesday afternoon phone calls between association leaders with Mr. Bedford and Ms. Zamoiski Segal.
But Mr Bedford made it clear in an interview on Thursday that the larger conversation was not over yet.
“As an organization, we take our colleagues’ perspectives seriously and understand the importance of following the professional guidelines that govern our field,” says Mr Bedford. “However, I believe it is time to look more deeply at the standards by which museums operate. The chaos we are experiencing is not simply financial; it is the result of entrenched systems that cannot sustain the moment or the future. Our community is calling us to action, beyond words and symbols. “