The Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse New York will deaccession a 1946 Jackson Pollock painting titled Red Composition in an effort to diversify its collection. The museum has consigned the work to Christie’s, which will sell the painting in the first evening sale staged by its newly merged modern and contemporary department on October 6. The work is valued at an estimated $12 million–$18 million.
At 19¼ inches by 23¼ inches, Red Composition features the Abstract Expressionist’s signature drip technique, and was painted just after Pollock completed his formative “Sounds in Grass,” series another example of which resides in the Solomon R. Guggenheim collection. First acquired by dealer-collector Peggy Guggenheim, the work changed hands several times, going next to James Ernst, the son of Surrealist painter Max Ernst and Guggenheim’s ex-husband, in 1947. From there the work resided in the collection of Syracuse-based collectors Marshall and Dorothy Reisman, who then gifted it to the Everson Museum in 1991.
“The last painting the artist completed in 1946, Red Composition is an exceedingly rare opportunity to acquire a museum quality work by Pollock that marks the breakthrough of his fabled ‘drip’ technique,” said Barrett White, Christie’s Executive Deputy Chairman, in a statement.
A statement from the Everson Museum claims its board of trustees made a unanimous decision to deaccession the work in order to raise funds to acquire works by marginalized artists. The move is an extension of the museum’s Collecting Priorities plan, established in 2017 and put in place to address the collection’s historical gaps. The fund established by the sale will also be used for the maintenance of the museum’s collection, which houses more than 10,000 works, many of which are by American modern and contemporary artists.
“The Everson aspires to be a leader in racial equity and anti-racist policies and programming,” said Jessica Arb Danial, Board Chair of the Everson Art Museum.
Citing the police killing of George Floyd and violence against Black Americans, Everson director Elizabeth Dunbar said the events of the last few months have expedited the museum’s initiative. “By deaccessioning a single artwork, we can make enormous strides in building a collection that reflects the diversity of our community and ensure that it remains accessible to all for generations to come.” New acquisitions made through the fund are authorized for 2021, though its plans going forward have not yet been detailed.
The Everson Museum is not the only cultural institution to deaccession blue-chip works in order to address issues of underrepresentation in its collection. In June 2019, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art sold a Mark Rothko painting for $50.1 million in Sotheby’s May contemporary evening sale, and it then used the funds to acquire 11 works by artists such as Mickalene Thomas, Alma Thomas, Kay Sage, and Leonora Carrington. One year before that, the Baltimore Museum of Art controversially sold seven works from its holdings through Sotheby’s to establish a fund that would add works of contemporary art by women and artists of color to its holdings. The sale saw works by Andy Warhol, Franz Kline, Jules Olitski, and Kenneth Noland generate $7.93 million at auction; a Robert Rauschenberg was also sold privately. With the money brought in from those sales, the museum acquired works by Senga Nengudi, Melvin Edwards, Meleko Mokgosi, and Carrie Mae Weems.