Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Berkshire Museum to Dump Norman Rockwells

The Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts will be selling off Norman Rockwell's "Shuffleton's Barbershop" and 39 other paintings to raise funds for their "New Vision" for the museum.

Shuffleton's Barbershop by Norman Rockwell
The paintings will be auctioned by Sothebys in the next six months and are expected to raise over $50 million. 

Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop by Norman Rockwell
Norman Rockwell donated the paintings to the museum, which was founded in 1903 on the model of the Metropolitan Museum and the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. 


The Museum made the decision after consulting with local community leaders, architects, and education consultants. They have announced the new vision for a "transformed museum" with a "radically new interdisciplinary approach....Static museum galleries will be transformed into active teaching laboratories."

William-Adolphe Bouguereau,  L'Agneau nouveau-né (The Newborn Lamb)
The Museum risks censure from the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors for selling its art to raise funds for operations and renovations rather than acquisitions of new artwork. 

“Valley of the Santa Ysabel,” by Frederic Church, 1875
In in its guidelines, the AAMD states that “A museum director shall not dispose of accessioned works of art in order to provide funds for purposes other than acquisitions of works of art for the collection.”

Both organizations have joined in a statement opposing the sale: “One of the most fundamental and longstanding principles of the museum field is that a collection is held in the public trust and must not be treated as a disposable financial asset.”

Albert Bierstadt, Connecticut River Valley, Claremont, New Hampshire 1868
Apart from the loss of the paintings to public view, the decision may lead to other repercussions for the museum. Potential donors of artwork may have second thoughts about bequeathing paintings, artifacts, or other treasures that might be liquidated later as a cash asset.

Under censure by the museum associations, other museums may shun the Berkshire Museum for traveling exhibitions or loans. 
-----
Berkshire Museum to sell works by Calder, Church and Durrie (Berkshire Eagle)

33 comments:

Celia said...

Makes me sad.

Allenmorrisart said...

Is there anything we can do to stop sales like this from happening?

Linda Navroth said...

By "new vision" I hope they don't mean a bunch of modernist eyesores. I don't know how they can get away with cheating the public out of the opportunity to view these works. Once they disappear into some rich man's collection, they are likely gone forever. I hope someone is able to stop it; I'll to my part by writing a letter of protest this morning.

Tom Hart said...

Shameful!! I was born and raised in Pittsfield (though I haven't lived there for many years now.) After his retirement my father worked as a museum guard in this very place for several years. I spent many happy hours in front of these works, and the thought of them meeting this fate saddens me greatly. Pittsfield has always had that small town feel, but I never considered it to be culturally small-minded. Until now.

Carol Scown-Raynal said...

How can they have a "new vision" when dump out Norman Rockwell ?

Susan Krzywicki said...

This sounds like a very confused process. If you look at the two images where they show their vision for the future, there are not many real objects at all...most of it is didactic panels and fake recreations of scenes. That disturbs me. In the call for "creating an experience", museums and exhibit spaces are actually doing the opposite: creating fake experiences by using plastic objects to represent reality.

Secondly, one article that you linked to suggested that the lawyer for the museum thought the ethical standards of museum curators were too narrow. Oh dear, that way lies perdition, right?

The issue of fiscal responsibility is a serious one - and it sounds like they are all muddled up over that one.

Then, the shift from a "museum" to a "museum for science", as the one article suggests is "the will of the people" - huh...that doesn't sound very clear....

Ava Jarvis said...

The "new vision" is mentioned in James' post. It's museum extensions, not art.

I don't think this is a good direction for Berkshire Museum to take, because no matter what we may or may not believe about the values of specific art movements, pieces that were donated for the good of the public trust should not be later sold. I don't even believe they should be sold to gain new artwork.

However, I feel this is likely motivated by current government movements to eliminate arts funding. If that is obliterated, there will be little choice for museums in the future to get funding for keeping the lights on other than by selling art. (It's not just the US, either, that wants to eliminate public funding for the arts.)

While this is distasteful, I believe that in the near future—maybe ten years or less—without national arts funding, this will just be how museums operate, and will have to operate, to even show what's left of their collections to the public.

I think to this end, stopping such sales means somehow reinstating the stability of arts funding.

Ava Jarvis said...

Susan—sounds to me like "will of the people" means "people seem to like seeing these types of things the most, the government is eliminating arts funding so we need to cater to what the most popular exhibits are, schools in particular buy tickets for these things and not the other things, do we want to still have a museum in five years? Damn it, what can we let go of that won't harm the collection too horribly much and yet let us cater to the public in what they want to buy ticket for?"

I don't think this is a decision people took on lightly. Arts curation is not a money-making scheme. There are way easier things to do to make much more money.

nuum said...

What about selling some Warhols and others Modern "Art" ?

And who are these local community leaders, architects, and education consultants ??

What about the people ?

Nothing new here.
Just another Museum with a lot of junk.
Move on.

julia lundman said...

Absolutely outrageous

Smurfswacker said...

Ava Jarvis is right, it's about getting bodies through the turnstiles. Museums preserve history and culture on behalf of the many, but they've always been the province of the few. Under the contemporary model, that which doesn't pay its own way doesn't deserve to survive. Thus we see major museums booking big-money roadshows at the expense of smaller specialty exhibits. Silk Road Warriors pull in way more viewers than Sebastiano Ricci.

This museum's "new vision" seems to follow a trend toward replacing the traditional passive museum experience--looking at things on the wall--with interactive installations. In interviews I've heard museum directors argue that visitors, especially children, learn more when they have buttons to push and experiments to run.They have a valid point. However I suspect the real attraction of interactive displays is that they increase the entertainment value. Museums compete with an ever-expanding menu of media choices. You can hardly blame them for trying to lure visitors by upping the fun factor. Sadly, fancy installations reduce display space for the odd items that someone, some day, might want to see. For me that's always been the big attraction of museums: the chance of discovering some marvelous obscurity that opens my mind and enriches my life.

As for the Rockwells, I'm they'll find comfortable homes on the walls of the comfortable mansions of one-percenters who will glow with augmented status. "And I got it for only 1.2 million!"

Jennifer Branch said...

Such a tragedy. It's a time capsule of America lost forever. I can't imagine trading those historic images for ephemeral interactive exhibits that will be relevant a decade at most.
Museums rarely respect artist's wishes in the long run. Look at the National Gallery and Turner, for instance. I wonder how many great artists reconsider donations with stories like this.

Sesco said...

Well, there are some permutations of this outcome that I would want clarified: First, there is no guarantee that the risk The Berkshire is taking will pay off. They may rue the day they let these masterpieces go. They are isolating themselves from sanctioning bodies which isn't usually a sound strategy. Have they actually done any demographic research that indicates this is the correct move, are they copying some other museum's successful model, or is this simply a power play by some individuals? I see the power play by boosters at work in college football all the time getting coaches hired, fired, and players signed. Second, isn't it possible that other museums, instead of private individuals, may buy these works for their own public display? Third, are there documents that delineate the intent of Norman Rockwell? For me the irritating part is if this sale is in conflict with the intent of Norman Rockwell. Usually once you give someone a gift you give up the right to control its disposition, however that doesn't mean your relationship can't be ruined. Finally, I don't see this as an issue of public funding even indirectly. This is an issue of core values that are changing. Didn't we recently have a Gurney blog post regarding incredible works of art being held hostage in the basements of museums while so-called 'modern art' filled the walls upstairs? At any rate, there is every possibility that the new owners of the Rockwells will display them for public consumption. I can only hope.

Rich said...

Looks to me like this "New Vision" thing's just CHEAP STUFF, acquired by a priceless sale-off.

Time will tell.

rock995 said...

I totally agree with Sesco. Let's hope that somebody listens.

David C. said...

This is very sad. I'm sure there will be repercussions for this misguided decision. Phooey.

Janet Oliver said...

When James used the word "Dump" in his blog title, I sensed his feelings about the sale.

I've never been to the Berkshire, but it seems a true pity that they want to unload these classics.

timothy bollenbaugh said...

I hope today's comments page makes it to the museum. Working for and researching in a university library following a similar route, my observations: a trend is being followed that might be financially irreversible. For example, physical resources were sold off bargaining on the overtaking by electronic resources, whereas since then the popularity of physical resources is escalating from books to LP's. Plus, physical spaces are being modified at great expense. In short, the trend is already proving to have it's limitations and disadvantages. I'll admit the trend has obvious and great advantages. Are we throwing out the baby with the bathwater? Is the museum about to do that? How will they ever recoup once some of the various concerns in today's comments come about, as indeed they will. The museum, and the public, will end up with both physical collections and this advancement that are mediocre. Keep what is there and maximize it—what a learning potential it already is!

Tim

bollent@wwu.edu

Gary Dombrowski said...

George Lucas owns a number of Rockwell paintings. He's also in the process of building The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. I'm sure at least some of these paintings may find a new home there for the public to enjoy.

Robert Cosgrove said...

The best solution for the Rockwells Would be to work out a way for THe NOrman ROckwell MUseumTo acquire them. uNfortunately, things don't seem to be moving in that direction.

SCOTT CAPLE said...

Are the paintings still on exhibit? If so, how long will they be so?

The Way said...

Naked men screaming on a mattress and crucifixes covered with ants? The vision of Amherst-life displacing antiquated, bygone, actual art. How progressive.

Bug said...

This is not an isolated instance. While our art museum is not so shallow, I live in a city where the local library has decided to focus on "incubator" work and spend a small fortune on development that has nothing to do with the book, dvd, or magazine collections, but has everything to do with some wild idea of "making the library relevant." Apparently they are going to do this at the expense of the aging of the non-fiction collection and on the minimizing of the fiction collection.
Apparently this was approved by the board and implemented by a head librarian who viewed herself as dynamic. Somebody probably did a budgeting précis for the feasibility study preliminary to the comprehensive report by the planning commission.

David Apatoff said...

If anyone is interested in pooling assets to outbid George Lucas for that barbershop painting, let me know. I can kick in at least $437 and would be willing to rotate custody.

As for the Berkshire Museum, their press release says that by selling the Rockwells they will finally have enough money to bring "Wally the fiberglass stegosaurus" indoors to protect it from the elements. Shame on the museum management for giving up on the museum's key mission of preserving excellence to heighten the taste of the community, but shame on the community for being so uninterested in experiencing excellence and expanding their taste.

nuum said...

And for those interested, here is an historical post by
David Apatoff, in his site illustrationart, 10 years ago.

http://illustrationart.blogspot.com.br/2007/12/in-exchange-with-readers-after-my-last.html

You will see what is happening in some american museums.

The most crushing post I ever seen on an Art blog.

10 years later, Thanks David !

Pat Ann said...

Let's gang up on George Lucas to buy them all and force him to display the Rockwells in his new illustrative arts gallery in Los Angeles. That'll teach the Birkshire Museum to give up on such an American treasure.

D.K. Vosburgh said...

Great sadness. I basically grew up in the Berkshire Museum and have spent hours standing in front of the Rockwells and the other paintings in question, learning a good part of what I know about art in the process. To my knowledge none of them have been on permanent display in decades, the last time I saw any of them they were squirreled away in the basement storage area along with most of the other ("no longer relevant") treasures in the collection. Lots of flashy interactive geegaws upstairs, though.

The one positive thing in their monumentally pathetic plan is trying to conserve Wally the Stegosaurus, created from the original mold by wildlife sculptor Louis Paul Jonas for the Sinclair Dinoland exhibit at the 1964 World's Fair in NYC. The Museum also has an awesome series of miniature dioramas of various environments around the world by Jonas, although from the sound of it anybody who wants to see them better hurry. Either that, or keep checking the dumpsters out back...

David W. Rickman said...

Something similar happened at the Delaware Art Museum a few years ago, when an interim director decided to sell off important pieces of the collection, including a Thomas Eakins and a William Holman Hunt to make up for shortfalls in their operating budget. I was part of a vocal opposition. At a final public meeting our outrage and warnings that they would lose their accreditation were met with smug complacency on the part of the board of directors and either fatalism or complicity on the part of the curators and other staff. I asked at one of these meetings what else they were willing to sell and was told that the board was willing even to consider selling some of their Howard Pyles. They went ahead and sold the Eakins and the Hunt, but realized only a fraction of what they hoped for. They also lost their accreditation from the American Association of Museums and are now handicapped in acquiring important traveling shows - thus reducing public attendance even further. For this, and other missteps such as losing Howard Pyle's famous painting of Bunker Hill, I've not returned to the Delaware Art Museum for years now, excepting only to see the William Heath Robinson exhibit. I hope that the board of the Berkshire Museum knows what it is risking.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

"Static" is not a bad thing. Can't we learn an amazing amount just by studying something quietly? Active learning doesn't require noise and commotion. This is a product of a society obsessed with things that sparkle and twinkle.

Robyn said...

I am surprised how many commenters support keeping the Rockwells because of their personal tastes in art, but would support the sale of art they don't like. The point is that a museum's purpose is to maintain its collections, regardless of the public's changing tastes. I am sympathetic to the museum's dilemma, but this action is eating the seed corn.

dugbuddy said...

“Oh, believe me, we calculated the odds of succeeding versus the odds we were doing something incredibly stupid, and we went ahead anyway.” -wishes to remain anonymous

MakeLifeCozy Annette said...

So sad. These are an important part of American and New England history.

Feston Bulbous said...

Rockwell is not PC...and much of MA is. Very sad.