To the editor:
Like many others in the community I was distressed to learn of the Berkshire Museum's plans to deaccession 40 artworks from the collection. I understand the museum's desire to transform its offerings and to effect major renovations. I understand the need to build a significant endowment for the future of the museum. While these are certainly important goals, I can't help but wonder whether the museum might not be better able to change its course by degrees rather than through a more sudden (and expensive) shift.
I would love to see the museum grow and evolve, but even the most carefully considered plans entail some unforeseen consequences. A slightly more patient evolution of the museum might allow for adjustments of direction as these become necessary. I understand that the museum is not abandoning its commitment to the visual arts and that the proposal is to sell only 40 of its 2,400 artworks. Unfortunately, among the 40 works chosen for deaccession are the most important works held by the museum. Once the two Bierstadts are sold it is highly unlikely that the museum will ever again acquire works of this caliber.
It is true that over 2,300 artworks will remain, but the 40 chosen represent the very heart of the collection. If there is no alternative to deaccessioning works in order to raise needed funds, would it be possible to begin with works of lesser importance, even if that means raising the total number of works to be sold? That strategy might not generate $60 million in a single step, but it might, in time, allow for the desired changes to the institution without the need to sacrifice the very finest things in the museum.
The writer is a professor emeritus of art at Williams College.