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Parsing the Arguments: Second Lawsuit and Reply Brief Filed Today on Berkshire Museum’s Art Sales

In the continuing saga of Berkshire Museum's planned art sales through Sotheby's, a second lawsuit and motion for an injunction (following close upon these) have today been filed by a new set of complainants in a different court. Both legal challenges, to my mind, fail a crucial test---the need to argue convincingly that the sales would violate explicitly stated donor intent. The museum this afternoon issued this press release regarding its reply to the first lawsuit, filed today. The press release essentially reiterates the museum's … [Read more...]

News Flash: Berkshire Museum’s Head on Medical Leave; 21 of 40 Consignments Pulled from Sotheby’s Auctions

There have been two major plot twists in the convoluted saga of the Berkshire Museum's highly controversial plans to sell 40 works from its collection at Sotheby's. This just in from the Berkshire Museum: The Berkshire Museum today announced that effective Oct. 31, 2017, museum operations will be led by Acting Co-Executive Directors Nina Garlington [the museum's chief engagement officer] and Craig Langlois [its chief engagement officer], as Executive Director Van Shields prepares to undergo major surgery and be out on medical leave. … [Read more...]

Berserk in the Berkshires: Lawsuit Filed Against Berkshire Museum Sales UPDATED TWICE

As I previously wrote, the only realistic hope to stop Berkshire Museum's misguided course would be legal action, either by the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office (which is reviewing the case but has not yet announced whether it will act) or by opponents to the sale. Now it's happened. This just in from Foley Hoag, the Boston law firm: Foley Hoag LLP filed a complaint and motion for a temporary restraining order in Massachusetts Superior Court on October 20, 2017 on behalf of several plaintiffs, including the three sons of renowned … [Read more...]

Dandy Danforth: Framingham Approves Win-Win University Partnership to Rescue Museum & Its Collection

I recently denounced as a bad role model for the Berkshire Museum the deplorable disposals by the New-York Historical Society 1995. Those selloffs were recently touted by Felix Salmon in a Berkshire Museum-related article as "relatively responsible deaccessioning." Now, here's some breaking news about a much better role model: Last night, another financially endangered Massachusetts institution---the Danforth Art Museum\School---got the required go-ahead at a Town Meeting to merge with Framingham State University---a win-win agreement … [Read more...]

Warhol Effect: Can Leonardo’s Strange Bedfellow Make Christie’s Bidders Salivate for “Salvator Mundi”?

It seems Christie's couldn't resist the chance to pair Leonardo da Vinci's Jesus with one (or, more accurately, 60) by art-market megastar Andy Warhol, whose 32-foot-long "Sixty Last Suppers" (riffing on the Italian Renaissance master's famous take on that subject) is being offered at the same Nov. 15 Contemporary auction as the incongruous interloper, "Salvator Mundi." The Warhol's presale estimate is half of Leonardo's: Not previously known for his old-masters expertise, Loic Gouzer, Christie's chairman for Post-War and Contemporary … [Read more...]

Salvaging “Salvator Mundi”: Inside Look at “Extensive Restoration” of Leonardo at Christie’s

"Without question," Christie's confidently declared last week, Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi" (being auctioned on Nov. 15 in New York) is "the greatest artistic rediscovery of the 21st century." Really? With 83 years still remaining in this century, we're entitled to pose a few questions. First off: Might this century have other extraordinary rediscoveries that are yet to come? Even Leonardo seems to have new contenders for his canon emerging every few years, although they usually don't gain the overwhelming expert consensus of true … [Read more...]

New Yorker’s Bad Role Model for Berkshire Museum: NY Historical Society’s “Responsible” Sales

In his well-intentioned but flawed Oct. 4 New Yorker article, The Lost Masterpieces of Norman Rockwell Country, Felix Salmon demonstrates more understanding of museum ethics than the leaders of the embattled Berkshire Museum possess. But that's not quite enough. When a conscientious journalist doesn't quite "get it," those who do---including the Association of Art Museum Directors and the American Alliance of Museums---clearly need to do a better job in educating the public about the thorny issues surrounding the sales of objects from museum … [Read more...]

BlogBack: Timothy Cahill, Regional Art Writer, on Berkshire Museum’s Decline (& how it should regroup)

Timothy Cahill, a veteran journalist and critic focused on the Berkshire art scene, responds to CultureGrrl Video: My Opinionated Tour of the Embattled Berkshire Museum: I watched the video of the your visit to the Berkshire Museum with mixed feelings. I'm glad you made it up here and grateful you keep training your light on what's happening with the misguided sale. But it sure is sad to see through the eyes of a visitor just how diminished the museum has become. The young mom you spoke to at the beginning is right: The exhibits, especially … [Read more...]

How Might the Guggenheim Museum Have Dodged the Pit-Bull Onslaught?

The short answer to my headline is: by realizing in advance that works predicated upon artist-inflicted cruelty to animals are morally repugnant and have no place in a museum display. Such was the case with the three pieces withdrawn from the Guggenheim's upcoming Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World (Oct. 6-Jan. 7), organized by senior curator Alexandra Munroe. Munroe told @artnet that @Guggenheim was "prepared" for China show critics ...or maybe not — Lee Rosenbaum (@CultureGrrl) … [Read more...]

CultureGrrl Video: My Opinionated Tour of the Embattled Berkshire Museum

Having written extensively and critically (four links) about the Berkshire Museum's deaccession plans, I thought I ought to revisit that embattled institution in person. I'd been there twice before, decades ago, before my skiing knees gave out. It seemed to me largely frozen in time (save for the solar panel): At the end of this post is my CultureGrrl Video of what I saw and thought during my two-hour journey through the galleries on Monday. Have patience, art-lings: The gallery for the paintings in the very eclectic (and now about to be … [Read more...]

Smith Smites: Tom Campbell’s Precipitous Fall from Favor (plus, my I-told-you-so)

Now that we know what the Metropolitan Museum wants in its next director, I'm going to allow myself an I-told-you-so moment about its last director, responding to Roberta Smith's recent autopsy of Tom Campbell's trouble-plagued tenure. Her negative appraisal of his "financial mismanagement and overreach" and her recommendations for the Met's future (a female director; no adoption of the mandatory admission charge that has been proposed) appeared in Sunday's hardcopy of the NY Times (almost a week after being posted online). As if she had … [Read more...]

Breaking: Metropolitan Museum’s Job Description for Its Next Director (contrasted with its last one)

This just in---the memo sent today to the Metropolitan Museum's staff by president and CEO Dan Weiss, followed by the text of the job description for the new director. Here are excerpts from Dan's memo: Dear Colleagues, I want to provide an update on the Director search, specifically to share the position description (attached) that has been developed over the past several months. Led by Trustees Candace Beinecke and Richard Chilton, the search process began in the spring. Since then, more than 400 staff members and Trustees have … [Read more...]

Berserk in the Berkshires: Museum’s Perverse Plan Underscores Need for Government Regulations

The sad saga of the Berkshire Museum's descent into madness---its wrongheaded, self-destructive obsession with solving its financial problems by selling off the best works in its collection---reaffirms my long-held conviction that strict laws and/or ironclad government regulations (such as those enacted in 2011 in New York) are urgently needed to protect the public's patrimony from being squandered by inadequate administrators and untrustworthy trustees. As recent history has shown, interventions, censures and sanctions by individual … [Read more...]

Breaking (& heartbreaking): Sotheby’s Releases Checklist & Price Estimates of Berkshire Museum Disposals UPDATED

Read 'em and weep. Sotheby's has just released the checklist (with presale estimates and sale dates) for the Berkshire Museum 40. Apparently the seller and its agent don't believe that the Massachusetts Attorney General's interest in the deaccessions will pose any impediment. The two top lots (no surprise) are the Rockwells, to be sold along with 12 other Berkshire Museum works at the Nov. 13 American art sale: Here are the two next highest-estimated lots in the American art sale: The rest of the works, scattered among at least five later … [Read more...]

How to Save the Berkshire Museum: A Roadmap Provided by the Endangered Danforth Art Museum

Could Williams College come to the rescue of the foundering Berkshire Museum and its endangered collection? The financially challenged Danforth Art Museum\School has shown how this might be done, with its director's announcement of a yet-to-be-finalized "thoughtful and mutually beneficial" merger agreement with Framingham State University (FSU). The Danforth solution is contingent on the Town of Framingham's allowing FSU to purchase the museum's building. (The potential stumbling blocks are detailed in this Boston Globe article.) I've … [Read more...]

In Harvey’s Wake: An Update on Houston MFA and the Menil Collection

Updates to my previous post on the effects of Hurricane Harvey on two of Houston's premier art museums: ---The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which stood up well to the hurricane, reopens to the public on Tuesday, Sept. 5, with regular hours. Admission, usually $18 for non-senior adults, will be free through Sept. 7, giving hard-hit residents a welcome respite from coping with widespread devastation. Featured in the MFAH's temporary exhibition of work by Pipilotti Rist is an installation comfortingly titled, "Worry Will … [Read more...]

Hurricane Harvey & Museums: Houston MFA, Menil Collection in Relatively Good Shape UPDATED TWICE

UPDATED again here. This just in from Gary Tinterow, director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in response to my query about how his institution has been weathering the Hurricane Harvey maelstrom: We did not have to evacuate any art out of our buildings. Our main campus facilities and our art storage building are in good shape. We do not yet know when we will reopen; that largely depends on when streets become navigable. But our main campus buildings have fared well, thanks to the expert preparations of our hurricane task force and … [Read more...]

Berkshire Bumble: Director’s Letter Reveals Focus Groups Kept in the Dark About Planned Art Sales

In the sell-job for its New Vision, the Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, MA, has made much of the fact that "approximately 400 people have participated in the community consultation process" during the planning phase. But a letter (text obtained by CultureGrrl and posted below), sent this week by director Van Shields to members of the museum's community focus groups, reveals that most of them were given no heads-up that the museum was strongly considering a sell-off 40 works---the cream of its collection---to bankroll a multimedia … [Read more...]

Resistance Insistence: Museums (& CultureGrrl) Grapple with Political Turmoil UPDATED

If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention. ---the late Heather Heyer Like most of you, I've been "paying attention" all week---upset and obsessed with the Charlottesville explosion and its toxic fallout. I've finally emerged from my apartment complex's fallout shelter. I haven't felt up to tweeting, let along posting, on my usual subject---the artworld---since a few hours after I tweeted this about my last blog post on the demonstration in Pittsfield protesting the Berkshire Museum deaccessions: Seems fatuous for me to … [Read more...]

Save the Forsaken 40! Protest March Tomorrow by Opponents of Berkshire Museum’s Art Sales UPDATED

Opponents of the Berkshire Museum's planned sale of 40 artworks from its collection plan to stage a protest march tomorrow (Saturday), 9 a.m.-noon, on the sidewalk in front of the Berkshire Museum, South Street, Pittsfield, MA. Yesterday evening, Leslie Ferrin of Ferrin Contemporary (a gallery for contemporary ceramics) told me this about the plan: We hope to engage the Berkshire community, first by simply letting them know that we exist, and welcome all who’d like to participate in the protest to join in. We are planning subsequent … [Read more...]

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