Critics question strategy behind PAFA sales, acquisitions

  • January 13, 2011 12:20

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Maurice B. Prendergast (1858 - 1924), Bathers in a Cove 1916. Oil on canvas, 20 3/8 x 26½ in. (51.8 x 67.3 cm). Recently sold by Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Art critic Lee Rosenbaum, aka CultureGrrl, posted a blog titled "PAFA's folly; Art sales v. Acquisitions," which scrutinizes the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts' latest decisions in deaccessioning and acquiring works of art for its permanent collection.

"The disposal of traditional, historic works to acquire freshly minted pieces and/or works by minority and female artists brings to mind the much criticized 2007 disposals by the Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, of highly important antiquities and other masterworks, to bankroll a contemporary art-buying spree," says Rosenbaum.


The Philadelphia institution says it chose works to sell by artists who are represented in its holdings by a more important example and/or ones that relate better to core works in the permanent collection.

Among the museum's works of art sold, or presently consigned to dealers, are John Twachtman, "Flowers," 1893; Childe Hassam, "Looking over Frenchman's Bay at Green Mountain," 1896; Maurice Prendergast, "Bathers in a Cove," 1916; Frank Weston Benson, "Great White Herons," 1933; Theodore Robinson, "Girl at Piano," ca. 1887; James Peale, "Still Life #1," 1827; Childe Hassam, "Top of Cape Ann," 1918; Ernest Lawson, "Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia," 1924 ; and Arthur B. Carles, "The Turkey," 1927.

Frank Benson's "Great White Herons,' 1933, was sold by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

The de-accessioned Benson, "Great White Herons," is perhaps one of the noted Impressionist's most striking wildlife images and was a memorable focal point (then on loan from PAFA) in the noteworthy exhibition "The Art of Frank Benson, American Impressionist" at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., in 2000-01. The oil on canvas was also featured at PAFA. Menconi & Schoelkopf brokered its sale along with the Twachtman and Prendergast. Avery Galleries handled the sale of the Chase and Hassam, according to a museum statement.

Sale proceeds have tendered $5 million of funds for new acquistions which has been augmented by a purchase endowment. Among the newly acquired works are: Lilly Martin Spencer’s “Mother and Child by the Hearth” (1867); Philip Evergood’s “Mine Disaster” (1933); Dorothea Tanning’s “Midi et Demi (Half Past Noon)” (1956-57); Norman Lewis’s “Redneck Birth” (1961); Nancy Spero’s “At Their Word (The Sick Woman)” (1957-58), “The Great Mother” (1960) and “The Bug, Helicopter, Victim” (from her “War” series) (1966); Mickalene Thomas’s “Din Avec la Main Dans le Miroir” (2008); Odili Donald Odita’s “Future Perfect” (2009); and Mark Bradford’s “Untitled: [Dementia]” (2009).

PAFA maintains that the sales comply with their strategic plan to represent more women and African-American artists as well as Hudson River School, contemporary, and select 20th c. movements in their collection. The institution followed ethical guidelines for the Association of Art Museum Directors and the American Association of Museums.

David R. Brigham, president and chief executive of PAFA, told that the institution is announcing the sales because "we wanted to be as open as possible." The de-accessioned works passed through a review process involving curators and academy board members.

"Recent acquisitions will enable us to more fully tell the story of American art and culture," said Brigham in a statement.

Rosenbaum counters that the museum "shouldn't be selling museum-quality works in general and important historic works in particular to fill perceived gaps," but should expand its holdings through donations and by using their purchase endowment.

PAFA has recently been attracting new gifts of artwork that enforce its collecting strategy, including the major gift from collector and artist Linda Lee Alter of 400 works by women artists such as Alice Neel, Louise Bourgeois, Louise Nevelson, Faith Ringgold, and Miriam Schapiro.

View some of the sold artworks and new acquisitions.

Read more about PAFA's strategic plan here.

Read more at CultureGrrl on ArtsJournal

Tags: American art

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