The battle over whether art institutions can sell works to fund operations and exhibitions isn’t only an American phenomenon. Artnet’s news service was the first to point to the controversy in Norway over the planned sale on Wednesday in London of a Barbara Hepworth bronze that stood in front of the Stavanger Kunsthall. Now, remember that a Kunsthall is not a museum but a place to hold exhibitions and promote art. It has no institutional mission as a long-term steward of art. And, in this case, the Kunsthall does not have the funds to operate properly to fulfill its actual mission. So the decision was made to sell a very valuable and portable asset which happened to sit in front of the building.
The interesting wrinkle here is that the Hepworth maintains the work was sold to Stavanger at a steep discount because the artist wished to have an example of her work in a public collection in Norway:
Stavanger Art Museum (Stavanger Kunstmuseum) acting director Vibece Salthe told NRK about the sale that “there aren’t many sculptures of this type and quality here in the city.”
“There aren’t many of Barbara Hepworth’s works in Norway either. I think it’s a shame.”
Stavanger Byselskap also filed a law suit against Kunsthall Stavanger trying to prevent the sculpture being sold off. Their 40,000 Norwegian Kroner donation (about 6,700 US Dollars/4,900 Euros/4,000 Pounds Sterling at today’s ROE) was used towards purchasing it. Stavanger District Court judges ruled against the plaintiffs and ordered them to pay the Kunsthall’s costs.
Stavanger municipality financed the rest of the purchase, contributing 51,000 Kroner (some 8,500 Dollars/6,270 Euros/5,100 Pounds) for buying the work (balance of 40,000 Kroner), and landscaping in front of the building where it was displayed.
The sculptress reportedly sold her work to Stavanger for considerably less than cost price because she wanted Norway to have one of her works. Three other examples are placed outside the Tate Modern and University of Exeter in Britain, and the US’ San Diego Society of Arts, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC. The remaining three are in private collections.
Norway Hepworth sculpture under the hammer (The Foreigner)