Robin Pogrebin at the New York Times has written an excellent piece on the news that the Brooklyn Museum intends to sell several works from its collection to raise money. The museum explicitly relies on the pandemic-inspired announcement in April by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) relaxing its industry guidance (and pausing sanctions) with regard to the proceeds of the sale of art and how the resulting proceeds should or should not be used. The parallel announcement by Syracuse University that it intends to sell a Jackson Pollock painting in a manner more consistent with the old rules provides an instructive moment to consider what has really changed in six months of a new era.
Topics: The Art Newspaper, Jackson Pollock, Deaccessioning, Boston Globe, Association of Art Museum Directors, Lucas Cranach the Elder, New York Times, AAMD, Berkshire Museum, Apollo Magazine, Brooklyn Museum, Robin Pogrebin, Syracuse University, Anne Pasternak, Lucretia, Courbet, Corot, Red Composition, Lisa Simpson, Donato de’ Bardi, NY Board of Regents, Jeff Jacoby, C. Montgomery Burns, Royal Academy of Arts
Continuing our ongoing tracking of the effect of the Covid-19 lockdown on museums and arts organizations, I penned a column in Apollo magazine today. You can read the full article here (subscription required for more than three articles), the first paragraph is reprinted here as a teaser:
One key question for museums boards, management, and their supporters to ask right now is this: what do they actually want to accomplish when the Covid-19 crisis subsides and the lockdowns end? Is a museum its collection, its location, its staff or its visitors? Until recently we had the comparative luxury of asking these questions one museum crisis at a time. Should a small museum (for example, the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts) survive at all costs without the collection that created its very importance? Should it seek a better home for its collection but perhaps lose some of its unique character or even its individual existence (see the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s merger with the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.)? Or should it evolve in a way that is perhaps contrary to its founders’ specific desires (the Barnes Foundation’s move to Philadelphia from the truly sui generis yet remote home in Lower Merion created by Dr Barnes)?
Now, with [read more here]
Topics: National Academy Museum, National Gallery of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, ICOM, American Alliance of Museums, Philadelphia, AAM, Association of Art Museum Directors, International Council of Museums, Corcoran Gallery of Art, AAMD, Barnes Foundation, Pittsfield, Berkshire Museum, Apollo Magazine, UPMIFA, endowment, Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds
Since analyzing the likely consequence of gallery and auctioneer insolvencies last month, we have been keeping an eye on how the economic crisis borne of the COVID19 pandemic is affecting the art world. Essentially every museum in the world has had to close its doors in the last month, with the previously unimaginable effect of a 100% drop in attendance revenue. Every museum, from the largest and best-endowed to the smallest and cash-strapped, is grappling with how to sustain its people, its mission, and its future. There are no easy answers, but the Association of Art Museum Directors issued yesterday an interesting update to its longstanding ethical guidelines concerning deaccessioning and restricted assets. As I remarked in a conversation with ArtNews yesterday on the topic, the question of what—and who—an endowment and an art collection is for have never been more relevant, or more difficult to answer. When Brandeis proposed to close the Rose Art Museum in 2009 in the midst of the last financial crisis, the effects were long-lasting. I have negotiated considerable specific requirements to gifts on behalf of museums and donors to account for what, before that event, many had not considered. What will this catastrophe, which is already far worse, bring?
Topics: Brandeis, Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Alliance of Museums, Rose Art Museum, Association of Art Museum Directors, International Council of Museums, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, AAMD, Berkshire Museum, North Adams, Mass MoCA, COVID19, Board of Regents, Brian Allen, CARES Act, Financial Accounting Standards Board, Clark Art Institute, National Review
After four months of silence, the Berkshire Museum suddenly demanded last week that my clients dismiss their still-pending lawsuit over the governance of the museum by claiming that the April decision by the Single Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court that lifted the binding restrictions that the sales of its art collection would have violated somehow put an end to my clients’ case (which has been scheduled for oral argument on September 4, 2018 in Boston). By letter on Tuesday, I explained that the museum was quite mistaken indeed. Yesterday, the museum escalated and filed a request that Appeals Court simply dismiss the appeal, and actually accused my clients of acting in bad faith. The museum also saw fit to put the text of the letter into a press release that it circulated widely through its public relations team.
This afternoon we filed our response, the text of which is reproduced below. Put simply, while the lawsuit quite explicitly sought to stop the sale of the museum’s art collection, the fact that some of the works have already been sold does not begin to answer the questions that the lawsuit raised.
My clients look forward to the argument after Labor Day.
I will be speaking to the Copyright Society of the USA on Thursday May 10, 2018 at 5:30 pm at Northeastern University Law School at 250 Dockser Hall – 65 Forsythe Street in Boston. The presentation will discuss the legal and ethical implications of recent sales or proposed sales by museums of works of art in their collections, including the Barnes Foundation, the Corcoran, and the Berkshire Museum. The event is free of charge and open to the public. RSVP is preferred but not required, see attached flyer for details. the event is co-sponsored by the New England Chapter of the Copyright Society of the U.S.A. and Northeastern’s Center for Law, Innovation and Creativity.
(Boston, MA, February 26, 2018) Sullivan & Worcester LLP clients and Berkshire Museum members James Hatt, Kristin Hatt, and Elizabeth Weinberg filed today a brief with the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts asking the state’s highest court not to permit the sale of 40 works of art by the Berkshire Museum. The Berkshire Museum filed a petition on February 9, 2018 asking the SJC to permit deviation from the historical restrictions that would prevent such sale. Today the museum member filed a brief as amicus curiae, or “friend of the court.”
Partner Nicholas M. O’Donnell, attorney for the members, said, “My clients are optimistic that the SJC will see through the Berkshire Museum’s petition to deviate from its historical restrictions as unnecessary, and harmful. Such a petition must show that the current state of affairs is impossible or impracticable, and that the requested change is ‘as near as possible’ to the original purpose of the institution. This petition fails to meet either criterion.”
(Boston, MA, February 13, 2018) Sullivan & Worcester LLP clients and Berkshire Museum members James Hatt, Kristin Hatt, and Elizabeth Weinberg sharply denounced today the agreement that was announced Friday evening between the Berkshire Museum and Attorney General Maura Healey’s office to permit the sale of every one of 40 works of art that the members—and AG Healey—sued last year to prevent. Only two weeks after filing a 50-page brief in the Massachusetts Appeals Court that detailed numerous violations of the Trustees’ fiduciary duties and specific restrictions on the 40 works of art, the Attorney General’s office has filed its assent to the Museum’s request to modify its governing charter to permit the immediate sale of Norman Rockwell’s Shuffleton’s Barbershop to an unnamed buyer, and to allow the sale of the 39 remaining works thereafter without any further oversight of the governance of the Museum.
(Boston, MA, January 16, 2018) Sullivan & Worcester LLP has filed its papers in the appeal by its clients, the members of the Berkshire Museum who sued to enjoin the museum’s sale of 40 works of art and sculpture. The appeal was brought as a result of the Berkshire County Superior Court’s November 7, 2017 denial of their request for an injunction, and dismissal of the case. That order denied not only the members’ request, but also a motion by another group that includes Norman Rockwell’s sons and the motion by Attorney General Maura Healey to pause the sale originally scheduled for November 13, 2017 at Sotheby’s in New York—a sale that would have included Rockwell’s Shuffleton’s Barbershop and other masterpieces.
Topics: Norman Rockwell, Sullivan & Worcester LLP, Sotheby's, Nicholas M. O'Donnell, Pittsfield, Berkshire Museum, Zenas Crane, Hudson River School, Frederic Edwin Church, Shuffleton’s Barbershop, Maura Healey, Massachusetts Appeals Court
The Single Justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court (Joseph A. Trainor) has extended the injunction against the Berkshire Museum's proposed sale of 40 works of art in its collection until at least January 29, 2018. In its order today in response to the Attorney General's status report, the justice stated:
Sullivan & Worcester LLP has filed an appeal on behalf of its clients, the members of the Berkshire Museum who sued to enjoin the museum’s sale of 40 works of art and sculpture. The appeal is brought as a result of the Berkshire County Superior Court’s November 7, 2017 denial of their request for an injunction, and dismissal of the case (before the Appeals Court utlimately enjoined the sale until at least December). That Superior Court order denied not only the members’ request, but also a motion by another group that include Norman Rockwell’s sons and the motion by Attorney General Maura Healey to pause the sale originally scheduled for November 13, 2017 at Sotheby’s in New York—a sale that would have included Rockwell’s Shuffleton’s Barbershop and other masterpieces.
Topics: Norman Rockwell, Sullivan & Worcester LLP, Sotheby's, Nicholas M. O'Donnell, Berkshire Museum, Zenas Crane, Shuffleton’s Barbershop, Attorney General, Maura Healey, Berkshire County Superior Court