Museum should consider
evolving by degree
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.
Museum's art itself
is the best investment
To the editor:
Ever since The Berkshire Museum's announcement of its proposed change of direction and selloff of an important selection of our artistic patrimony, local and national opposition has been growing. Questions are being asked, but the museum is not answering. Rather, they have hired a PR professional, to paraphrase the words of the museum's board chairman, to help us get over our anger.
In a recent article, financial journalist Felix Salmon raises a number of issues, which call into question both the museum's strategy and the truthfulness of the few answers critics have managed to pry from museum Executive Director Van Shields and museum board members. According the website Artprice.com, contemporary art has multiplied in value 14 times since the year 2000. Why, rather than selling off 40 important works of art to raise millions that will then be invested in stocks and bonds, not recognize that the art holdings themselves constitute the museum's best investment?
Rockwell's paintings have turned out to be a singularly good investment. Another major Rockwell, "After the Prom," last sold at Sotheby's in 1995 for $880,000. According to the New York Times, the 2014 sale price, $22.5 million, represents a compounded annual rate of return of 13.1 percent, compared with 7.9 percent for the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index between 1995-2014. If the museum needs a few million, don't sell 40, sell one!
The art market is extremely liquid and these are among the artist's major works. Speaking of Rockwell's art, why wasn't our Norman Rockwell Museum given an opportunity to buy one of those "redundant" artworks the artist donated to the Berkshire Museum specifically for the enjoyment of Berkshire residents? Honor the donor's intention and keep this important painting in the Berkshires. How about a time payment plan based on the presale estimate?
The time seems to be ripe to launch a capital campaign to raise the necessary funds.