Group Protests The Newark Museum of Art's Planned Sale of Thomas Cole Painting; 'A Senseless Monetization'

  • May 09, 2021 20:21

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The Newark Museum of Art is sending Thomas Cole's The Arch of Nero (1846) to auction at Sotheby's, estimated at $500,000-$700,000.

Facing $6 million in revenue loss during the pandemic, the temporarily closed Newark Museum of Art will deaccession a number of collection artworks. Critics are particularly decrying the planned sale of “Arch of Nero,” an 1846 painting by Thomas Cole scheduled for sale at Sotheby's on May 19 and estimated to bring $500,000 to $700,000.

The museum is sending to auction a total of 17 pieces, including works by Albert Bierstadt, Mary Cassatt, Burgoyne Diller, Thomas Eakins, Marsden Hartley, Childe Hassam, Thomas Moran, Georgia O'Keeffe, Frederic Remington and Charles Sheeler.

More than 50 scholars and curators wrote an open letter on Friday to leadership at The Newark Museum of Art, including Director and CEO Linda Harrison, to halt the sales.

“By monetizing this and other works, you and your trustees are inflicting irreparable damage to your recently re-named museum of art and to the broader fields of history, art history, and American history,” the letter said. “We beseech you to cancel the self-diminishment and monetization of Newark’s art. Welcome ‘The Arch of Nero’ and the other paintings and sculpture back into your collection”

Harrison spoke about redundancy in the museum's collection, writing in a statement: “The influence of Europe on American culture is an extremely well-told story at The Newark Museum of Art and museums around the country, and we will still be able to share extraordinary examples and tell those stories going forward.” 

On Instagram, former Newark Museum curator William L. Coleman, who is now at The Olana Partnership, called "The Arch of Nero" a "beloved icon of the institution since its acquisition by Bill Gerdts in the 1950s." Coleman was among the scholars who crafted and signed the open letter. He said Cole painted the work at the height of his artistic prowess toward the end of his life. The piece could be interpreted as a juxtaposition between the decadence in the Roman Empire and the moral decline America was facing in 1848 over slavery just before the Civil War, Coleman told“It is helping this museum speak to the present and the future,” Coleman said.

Read more at The Art Newspaper

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