Felix Salmon has returned in his role as art market gadfly and savant. This time he’s in the New Yorker magazine offering a kitchen sink of often conflicting arguments against the Berkshire Museum’s decision to sell much of its art to re-focus the museum’s mission, repair its infrastructure and create a sustainable endowment.
Whether the Berkshire Museum is right to pursue this strategy is really a matter for the museum and its constituents. These decisions are always far more complex than the outside advocates would have you believe.
But Salmon’s approach seems to begin with the conclusion that Berkshire Museum’s board is wrong to sell art and then offer a broad range of arguments from wondering why the art cannot be simply moved or merged with other museums in the area to complaining that moving any of the art out of the Pittsfield museum would violate the donor’s intent.
On this last point, Salmon gets up a full head of steam to repeat some of the AAMD’s highest dudgeon:
The American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors have vociferously condemned the museum’s plan, saying that “one of the most fundamental and long-standing 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.” What’s more, they note, potential future donors to any museum might now have second thoughts if they feel that their gifts and intentions might be treated as Rockwell’s have been. Meanwhile, financial donors can be forgiven for asking museums why they need monetary support when they can just sell their art instead. The news from Pittsfield, the associations conclude, “cuts to the heart not only of the Berkshire Museum, but every museum in the United States.”
The Lost Masterpieces of Norman Rockwell Country (The New Yorker)