News ID: 275601
Published: 1138 GMT October 17, 2020

Brooklyn Museum waives tradition to auction its treasures

Brooklyn Museum waives tradition to auction its treasures

The venerable Brooklyn Museum in New York City for decades struggled with a structural deficit, as well as a relatively small endowment and staff to take care of its 150,000-object art collection.

Then came the global pandemic, forcing the 197-year-old institution to shut its doors for months along with the rest of the US’ museums. Furloughs followed as revenue plunged, Bloomberg reported.

This month, the museum began selling artworks from its collection to help make ends meet. On Thursday, Lucas Cranach’s “Lucretia” fetched $5.1 million at Christie’s, almost triple the high estimate for the 16th century oil painting and leading a group of 10 works that totaled $6.6 million.

More are hitting the auction block this month. Sotheby’s said it will offer multiple works from the museum, starting with Impressionist and modern art on Oct. 28. The sales, which include pieces by Claude Monet and Henri Matisse, are part of a plan to create a $40-million fund to oversee the collection, including staff salaries.

“It’s one of the most important functions of a museum,” director Anne Pasternak said. “COVID just made clear the importance of having collection-care funds, so that when there are economic downturns, we shouldn’t lose conservation and collection-management staff.”

Museums historically were allowed to sell art only to buy more art, not to keep the lights on or pay conservators. But in the wake of the pandemic, the Association of Art Museum Directors announced in April that for the next two years works could be sold and the proceeds used for “direct care,” with each institution defining what that means.


‘Fundamental change’


“It’s a fundamental change” said Adrian Ellis, founder of AEA Consulting, which does strategy and planning for the cultural and creative industries. “It’s putting the artworks back on the balance sheet.”

Brooklyn Museum is among several institutions taking advantage of looser regulations. Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York, sold its sole Jackson Pollock painting for $13 million last week at Christie’s. The Baltimore Museum of Art will try to raise $65 million from the sale of three paintings at Sotheby’s, while the Palm Springs Museum of Art will offer its Helen Frankenthaler painting through the auction house.

The new batch from Brooklyn includes Monet’s landscape “Les Iles a Port-Villez,” estimated at $2.5 million to $3.5 million, and Jean Dubuffet’s “Le Messager,” which has a similar estimate.

The works selected for sale were voted on by curators, executives and board members and were donated as unrestricted gifts, Pasternak said. “People gave us art without restrictions because they wanted to support our institution,” she said.

Still, some museum sales face challenges. Petitioners have asked New York officials to block the Everson’s Pollock sale, claiming the work’s deaccession violates state regulations. A group of former trustees and curators at the Baltimore Museum of Art have requested that Maryland authorities stop the Sotheby’s sale of paintings by Andy Warhol, Clyfford Still and Brice Marden.

The Brooklyn Museum isn’t selling “anything that could be considered a crown jewel of our collection,” Pasternak said.

“I hope that institutions that need to take care of their collections will do everything they could do before deaccessioning,” she said. “As long as we are sticking to the very careful guidelines, we are in good shape.”


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