Berkshire Museum Art Sale Architects Say ‘Pervasive Wickedness’ Within Museum Community Prevents It From Undergoing Meaningful Change | Local News

SYRACUSE, NY – Van Shields and Elizabeth “Buzz” McGraw said the decision to dispose of the Berkshire Museum was made at a time when the institution was on its last leg, with no recourse but to sell the most valuable works of his collection.

The decision, they said, redressed the museum’s financial situation, allowing for the creation of an endowment and necessary repairs.

But the alienation, which sold works by Norman Rockwell, Alexander Calder and Albert Bierstadt, among others, and raised $53.25 million, also drew legal challenges from a local group of critics, Save The Art, and other members of the community.

Shields and McGraw, who are no longer affiliated with the museum, were guest speakers on an online panel on regional museums making tough decisions Thursday, as part of “Deaccessioning After 2020,” a two-day symposium sponsored by the Syracuse University College of Law and Law. Graduate Program in Museum Studies. Other panel members included Elizabeth Dunbar, Executive Director of the Everson Museum of Art, and Jessica Arb Danial, Chair of the Board of Trustees. Some 1,100 people — including graduate students, museum professionals and educators from across the country — have registered for the conference, Craig M. Boise, dean of the Syracuse University School of Law, said Thursday.

In the three years since the controversial sale, the Berkshire Museum’s decision, noted moderator Laura Roberts, has provoked an unprecedented amount of criticism and has become a touchstone for the wider ‘disposal discussion’. . In addition to unabated opposition, the Berkshire Museum was censured by the professional organizations Association of Art Museum Directors and American Alliance of Museums, prohibiting member museums from loaning objects or working in collaboration with the Pittsfield institution. .

“We are a small regional museum in an aging county where there are over 1,000 nonprofits, all vying for the same funding. Was this the easy way out? In no way was it just a last resort,” McGraw said. “But I have to say the museum is in a place where amazing things are happening and where the potential is great. It’s a tough decision, you’re going to get raked.

“The reality is that there is a very active group of people in the museum world who want to reject an institution and treat it as a pariah when the institution is at the lowest point in its history. Productive conversations just can’t happen when there’s this pervasive meanness that towers over every existential problem like this and it doesn’t help the broader museum field create meaningful solutions, create partnerships and make the necessary changes in policies.

Roberts took the time to acknowledge that critics from neither the Berkshire Museum nor the Everson Museum of Art were included in the conversation. The Everson Museum of Arts has come under fire for the recent sale of Jackson Pollock’s ‘Red Composition, 1946’ for $12 million through auction house Christie’s. Dunbar said the proceeds went to diversify her collection to focus on works by black and Indigenous artists, as well as other artists of color, women artists and other underrepresented, emerging and middle artists. careers. The funds will also be used for the maintenance of the museum’s collection, including storage and conservation needs.

Members of Save The Art had asked to be included in Thursday’s conversation, but as Roberts noted, the symposium organizers had not intended the discussion to be a debate about whether sales should have take place or not. Roberts asked Shields about the opposition, which hasn’t waned in the three years since the sale. Shields replied that he was surprised not by the criticism, but by the vitriol that accompanied it.

“You can always do things better,” he said. “We thought we were doing it right. The conversations we had with our consultants were so fluid and dynamic… The intrusion of people outside the community didn’t help. I think the reaction would have been the same no matter what. I don’t know what caused what I would call an irrational response.

“It was well thought out – we lost control of the narrative and never got a chance to explain what we were doing because every conversation was stifled by the conversation about selling the art, not what we were trying to do. The local newspaper didn’t help, in my opinion.

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