Museum won't say whether new batch of works has found buyers

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PITTSFIELD — More than a month ago, the Berkshire Museum said it would seek to put nine more works from its collection in the hands of new owners, intent on taking in the full $55 million in proceeds allowed by the state's top court.

How it is faring with those transactions remains closely guarded by the Pittsfield institution.

The museum declined to say whether it has sold any of the seven works it planned to market privately through Sotheby's in New York City. Two other pieces are expected to be sold in a September auction.

"There are no announcements yet," Carol Bosco Baumann, a museum spokeswoman, said by email in response to a question from The Eagle.

The continued sale of works comes despite a call by the citizens group Save the Art-Save the Museum for trustees to accept the $47 million infusion from earlier sales of 13 works as enough to repair its financial condition. They asked trustees to retain other works by artists like Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, Alexander Calder and Thomas Wilmer Dewing.

The group tried to keep pressure on the museum to be more open about its finances. It placed a billboard on Route 7 near the Pittsfield-Lenox line in early July, days after trustees announced that art sales would continue. The billboard just came down, said Hope Davis, a Save the Art member.

"I wish it were longer," she said Tuesday of the roadside messaging. "I think it did its job."

At the end of May, trustees acknowledged in an open letter that a sense of trust needed to be rebuilt with the community after "a bitter debate" over its art sales. The letter called for a fresh start with the community "to regain public trust and confidence where it has been lost."

The museum is required to disclose the results of the second round of sales to the Attorney General's Office. But it isn't clear when that report, part of the agreement approved in April by the Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County, will be made. The museum is able to take in an additional $8 million under the petition approved by the court.

Since seven of the nine works are being handled through private sales, including to potential institutional buyers, there is no set closing date for the transactions that would trigger a report to Attorney General Maura Healey.

Davis, who is familiar with museum and nonprofit practices, said the timing of the private sales could be affected by the need to secure permission from leaders of other museums. "It might be a difficult time to get board approval," she said.

The next report would not likely come until late September at the earliest. That's because two of the pieces are expected to be put up for auction in September.

Sotheby's lists three auctions that include Asian art that month, on Sept. 11, 12 and 15, but none of the Berkshire Museum works is yet posted.

Minutes private

The museum also declined a request by The Eagle to release minutes of trustee meetings held in 2017 as the institution moved toward last summer's July 12 announcement that it would sell 40 works from its collection to address an endemic financial problem.

Baumann said that minutes of trustee meetings are "private."

She said that is a common practice among nonprofits "to allow board members to speak freely and fully, and vote their conscience at board meetings."

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.


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