The grassroots citizens' group Save the Art – Save the Museum has invited fellow supporters to join a permitted protest at Sotheby’s on Monday, May 14 from 5:45 to 7 p.m. at 1334 York Avenue in New York City.
The protest is timed to coincide with the auction of two of 40 deaccessioned works of art – "Force Comique" by Francis Picabia and Henry Moore's "Three Seated Women" – from the Berkshire Museum’s collection at the ‘Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale’. This is the first of Sotheby’s spring fine art auctions that include works donated to the community and entrusted to the Berkshire Museum.
“Our presence outside the auction house is intended to discourage other institutions from attempting similar unethical deaccession practices. The laws do not adequately protect publicly held collections from a not-for-profit’s temptation to cash in works held in the public trust,” said Save the Art – Save the Museum spokesperson Hope Davis.
A Massachuesetts judge's decision in April to allow the museum in Pittsfield, Mass., to deaccession dozens of key artworks came after a seven month investigation by the state attorney general which ended with a plan for the cash-strapped museum to go forward with the sales despite opposition from museum organizations, locals, art lovers, and artist Norman Rockwell's family.
Rockwell's "Shuffleton's Barbershop" has now been sold to the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, which will be in L.A., while 39 other artworks will be offered through Sotheby's, until $55 million is reached.
“Since Attorney General Maura Healey allowed the Berkshire Museum’s sale to go forward, we have begun to see the damaging effect of this precedent-setting decision that breaks an essential tenet of art stewardship for museums across the United States,” said Davis. “Selling artwork for capital improvements or to balance budgets is considered unethical in the museum world and is opposed by The American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors.”
The group has also noted in the Berkshire Eagle that there is a lack of transparency with the museum's sales, including the terms and cost of the Rockwell painting to the Lucas Museum, and who is paying the museum's legal fees.