Posts Tagged ‘Detroit Institute of Arts’

Service of Both Sides of a Coin: To Sell Art or Not–the Berkshire Museum’s

Monday, February 5th, 2018

Photo: dailykos.com

When Detroit was having its financial crisis four years ago, I shared the opinion of an economics professor who felt the Detroit Institute of Arts should sell its work by big name artists to the mega-rich and instead, opt to own the pictures of emerging talent. The new owners could lend their Picassos, Rembrandts, Gauguins and Bruegels to museums as needed and the museum would have such a huge endowment that the interest alone would pay to run the place.

Money is part of the reason the Berkshire Museum wants to sell some 40 paintings. The other is a change of focus. The sale has landed it in a legal tangle.

Photo: artnews.com

An article in ArtfixDaily, “Massachusetts AG Seeks to Extend Berkshire Museum Injunction,” reported that the “Berkshire Museum, in Pittsfield, Mass., announced in July 2017 that it would sell 40 artworks from its collections to generate about $50 million, to help fund a New Vision plan to refocus the museum on science and history, and build an endowment.”

It continued, “A November auction of the museum’s art at Sotheby’s was stopped pending legal wrangles and opposition from Rockwell’s family and others.

“‘We are hopeful that a brief extension will allow us to fully analyze the information we have received in our investigation in the hope of finding a way forward to secure the future of the Museum, and ensure it is able to thrive in the years to come,’ said Emily Snyder, a spokeswoman for Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.”

Photo: artnews.com

Back in November, Larry Parness, the Berkshire Eagle, quoted museum directors who warned that without the proceeds of a sale, the 115 year old museum, founded by Zenas Crane, “could close within eight years” because of a yearly deficit of some $1million. “After working with a consultant, museum trustees decided to sell works from their collection and apply the proceeds to a capital project and to expand its endowment to roughly $40 million.

“The case has drawn national attention and is considered precedent-setting because it may be the largest such deaccession to date in the museum world in which proceeds would be applied in large part to operational expenses.”

The opposition, some 2,000 members of Save the Art-Save the Museum, on two Facebook pages according to Parness, raised money to pay for legal help to fight the sale and garnered 1,700 online signatures.

The museum has apparently softened its message about change-in-direction and added the word ART in a reaction to the stay by the AG. According to Adam Frenier on nepr.net “‘The museum accepts the attorney general’s request for a brief postponement, but remains eager to see these issues resolved to secure the future of the Berkshire Museum for all it provides its visitors, young and old, in art, history, and science,’ a museum spokeswoman said Monday.”

Do you think the museum directors should have kept separate any discussion of change in direction and first focused on the financial aspects of selling the art to help the museum survive or doesn’t that matter? Should the directors seek other ways of generating income before selling their legacy?

Berkshire Museum Photo: news10.com

Service of Art III

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Detroit Institute of Arts

Detroit Institute of Arts

The subhead in a New York Times op-ed, “Costs, Benefits and Masterpieces,” by Robert H. Frank was: “For Detroit and its endangered art collection, a classic question of economic trade-offs.”

In a nutshell the Cornell economics professor’s point was that a museum, such as the Detroit Institute of Arts, could do just as well collecting the less expensive work of emerging artists leaving the mega rich to pay humongous prices for famous paintings and lend them to museums, as necessary, for exhibits. Therefore museums, such as the one in revenue-starved Detroit, could sell its Picassos, Rembrandts, Gauguins and more to better benefit its citizens. 

"The Wedding Dance" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Photo: Wikipedia

“The Wedding Dance” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Photo: Wikipedia

Using “The Wedding Dance” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder as an example, he wrote that Christie’s estimates that the work could bring $200 million, noting that “Once interest rates return to normal levels — say, 6 percent — the forgone interest on that amount would be approximately $12 million a year.”

He concluded: “If billionaires choose to bid up the prices of trophy art, that’s their privilege. And because most of them will die with large fortunes unspent, they can buy what they want without having to buy less of other things they value. But because money for worthy public purposes is chronically in short supply, city officials and true philanthropists must grapple with agonizing trade-offs.

“Yes, communities benefit from famous paintings, but they also benefit from safer roads and better schools.”

Christie's Auction. Photo: artmarketblog

Christie’s Auction. Photo: artmarketblog

I like the idea of identifying talented emerging artists and filling museums with their work yet I see it as a short-term solution. Once the $billions are gone–and they soon will be–how then will the gluttonous city coffers replenish themselves? If a city like Detroit has such great collections, shouldn’t they be a tourist draw?

Perhaps Detroit can generate income by renting the master paintings to billionaires letting them display them in their homes and offices. With the rental money Detroit might make itself conducive to tourism. That’s key. When I used to visit Brooklyn Museum on a weekend some 20 years ago most of the exhibits were echo chambers. Last December, when my client produced the American Fine Craft Show Brooklyn at the museum on a famously snowy weekend, I was amazed by the hoards coming in the doors in spite of the storm.

Your ideas?

 

Brooklyn Museum in snow

Brooklyn Museum in snow

 

 

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