Enemies of continued Berkshire Museum art sales speed up the message | Archives



PITTSFIELD – Roadside billboards normally encourage sales. Not the one who went up Monday on Route 7 in Pittsfield, a stone’s throw from the Lenox line.

“More sales!” reads black text on a red sign, under this full-width statement: “NO TRANSPARENCY = NO TRUST.”

Puzzled travelers should read up to two Twitter hashtags at the bottom to get a full picture: #savetheart and #BerkshireMuseumWatch.

The sign is the work of Save the Art-Save the Museum, a group of citizens who formed after museum administrators announced last July that they would sell up to 40 works of art and use the produced both to bolster the institution’s endowment and to carry out repairs and renovations to their building at 39 South Street in Pittsfield.

The museum sold more than a dozen works at private sales and auctions in April and May, including two paintings by Norman Rockwell, for proceeds of $ 47 million.

On June 25, the museum announced that it would solicit buyers for nine more works in its collection, as it seeks additional proceeds of $ 8 million. If successful, that would take the full $ 55 million the Suffolk County Supreme Court of Justice says it can collect, after the museum joined with Attorney General Maura Healey to seek leave from the Boston court. in February.

Hope Davis, a member of Save the Art, said the group had lobbied for answers on sales and urged the museum to preserve its collection. She said members decided to invest around $ 2,000 to keep the billboard going until July.

“We no longer have transparency despite the promise of it,” she said of the group’s contact with museum leaders. “That extra $ 8 million? What’s that going to do? I think the community deserves answers.”

A spokesperson for the museum defended the institution and cited the steps its leaders have taken to build trust.

“The museum’s management and board have consulted with hundreds of people in our community and continue to reach out as we move forward,” Carol Bosco Baumann said in a statement, responding to questions about the panel. display.

“We have continued to share information for months of legal action and beyond,” she said.

The notice board is visible to travelers heading north on the west side of Route 7.

It joins the posts of two groups of billboards that typically advertise the best museums in the area.

The Clark Art Institute is using space on an adjacent billboard to promote an ongoing exhibition titled “The Iron Age.” Across the parking lot from Guido’s Fresh Marketplace, another billboard refers to Mass MoCA as “an extremely lofty dream”.

The past year has been rather like a nightmare, as far as the Berkshire Museum and its critics are concerned. Museum administrators and staff fought two lawsuits and a months-long investigation by Healey’s office. This investigation ended in early February with an agreement approved on April 5 by the SJC.

Save the Art members have called unsuccessfully over months of street protests, rallies, private meetings, editorials and letters to the editor for the museum to change its course.

Today that call is to drop additional sales plans.

Of the nine works listed last week, seven will be sold in private transactions, the museum said, with the aim of placing them with owners willing to keep them in the public domain. Two other pieces will be offered for sale at an Asia Week auction in September at Sotheby’s in New York.

All are part of the original list of works that the museum’s collections committee agreed on July 11, 2017 to remove, in the process known as cession.

While not uncommon in museum practice, this divestiture became international news because administrators planned to allocate the proceeds to operating costs, a use considered unethical in the profession.

Opponents of the sale, including the head of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, called it a dangerous precedent that could lead to widespread sales of works of art from public collections. Nonetheless, the museum won its efforts to break this ethical impasse, taking a position articulated by Pittsfield lawyer Mark S. Gold and by Van Shields, who was the museum’s executive director from September 2011 until his retirement on last week.

Borrowed words

The notice board’s references to “transparency” and “trust” borrow words from museum administrators used in an open letter of May 31.

In the 1,200-word message, posted on the museum’s website, the trustees acknowledged that community confidence had been strained by what they called a “bitter debate” over art sales. – and called for a new start.

“We are committed to doing so, in a transparent, cooperative and thoughtful manner, to regain public trust where it has been lost,” the open letter said.

On Monday, Bosco Baumann added that leaders believe that those who care about the museum must “move forward together”.

“We believe it is time to move beyond what has been a controversial and at times bitter debate to genuinely undertake the critical work of securing the future of the Berkshire Museum,” she said.

Save the Art members said they hoped that after promising new outreach in the community, admins could give in to further sales.

About three weeks later, when directors announced the continued sales, Save the Art issued a statement condemning the decision.

“In light of the recent call for healing and the Museum’s promises of transparency, it is heartbreaking that they have chosen to sell the most important of the remaining art,” the group said on June 25.

“This reflects the board’s disregard for a substantial segment of the community that respects the integrity of the museum’s original mission – the study of the art, natural sciences and culture of humanity. This is clearly a violation of public trust. “

Davis said Monday that the billboard space unexpectedly became available. She said it’s a coincidence that the post, crafted by the group itself, is clustered near those of other museums in the area.

“Our hope is to make an impact on the community at large,” she said, reaching visitors as well as those who have followed the story over the past year. “Definitely at the height of the tourist season. We are looking for maximum impact.”

“We are here and we are watching,” said Davis. “Continue the pressure and demand answers.”

Larry Parnass can be reached at [email protected], @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.


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