Berkshire Museum Sanctioned for Selling Artworks to Boost Endowment

Berkshire Museum Sanctioned for Selling Artworks to Boost Endowment

The Association of Art Museum Directors has sanctioned the Berkshire Museum for selling artworks to support an expansion initiative, the New York Times reports.

The museum found itself embroiled in controversy last summer after it announced that it planned to sell forty pieces in its collection, including works by Norman Rockwell, Albert Bierstadt, and Alexander Calder, and use the proceeds from the sale to boost its endowment, renovate its building, and expand programming. Rockwell, who lived his final twenty-five years in Berkshire County, had given several paintings "to the people of Pittsfield," the western Massachusetts town where the museum is located.

AAMD also sanctioned the La Salle University Art Museum in Philadelphia for selling art to support activities other than the acquisition of new works. Effective immediately, the sanctions include a request that each of AAMD's two hundred and forty-three members refrain from lending works to the museums or collaborating with them on exhibitions.

"Selling art to support any need other than to build a museum's collection fundamentally undermines the critically important relationships between museums, donors, and the public," the association said in a statement. "When museums violate the trust of their donors and the public, they diminish the opportunity and responsibility to make great works of art available to the public. This hurts the individual institution and affects the museum field as a whole."

After a series of lawsuits and conflicting court rulings, the Massachusetts attorney general's office agreed on a framework for the Berkshire Museum to sell as many as forty pieces to raise up to $55 million. In May, the sale of thirteen works brought net proceeds of $42 million to the museum.

"These auctions move the Berkshire Museum important steps forward by providing resources needed to secure the museum's future," said Elizabeth McGraw, the museum's board president, in a statement. "We will take time now to consider how we will proceed, through possible auction and private sale, to gain the additional resources needed."

Colin Moynihan. "Sanctions Are Imposed on Berkshire Museum for Sale of Artworks." New York Times 05/27/2018. "AAMD Statement on Sanction of Berkshire Museum and La Salle University." Association of Art Museum Directors Press Release 05/25/2018.