Image of empty art gallery

A postscript to “Selling public art” – another sell-off

This is a short postscript to the last post, it’s not going to be a regular theme. I prefer to focus on the positive, if possible. Another public museum is selling off art to pay the bills. Berkshire Museum in Massachusetts (USA) is selling off 40 of it’s most notable paintings, sculptures and drawings – including it’s prized Norman Rockwell painting Shuffleton’s Barbershop (1950).

Norman Rockwell painting Shuffleton’s Barbershop (1950).

Anyone who follows my art/prints blog will know I’m partial to the occasional Rockwell. I like the humour and the way he adds dignity to ordinary people. Would the artist have donated the painting if he had known it would be flogged off? I suppose we will never know the answer, but Rockwell’s family have publicly objected to the sale. As have the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors.

Also up for sale. Giant Redwood Trees of California (1874) by Albert Bierstadt.

For sale. Giant Redwood Trees of California (1874) by Albert Bierstadt

On the museum’s website it says “The Museum has faced a significant budget deficit for many years, which would have eventually forced us to close our doors”. It seems Berkshire Museum want to raise £47 million (US $60m) to fund ‘future museum operations’.

If this was a one-off event I wouldn’t be writing about it. But it now looks like a clear trend. The art that public institutions hold seems increasingly seen as financial asset, like any other. To be utilised as and when needed, to pay bills or take on a pet project. I think that’s a pity because I think of the art as belonging to the public, and the art museums merely as custodians – I would be sorry if future generations couldn’t access the art that I’ve been able to enjoy.


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