Baltimore Museum halts art sale amid escalating controversy

Brice Marden, “3” (1987-1988), oil on linen, 84 3/16 x 60 1/16 inches (© The Baltimore Museum of Art / Brice Marden)

This afternoon, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) announced that it will suspend the sale of three paintings from its collection. The decision comes just hours before Sotheby’s contemporary art auction this evening in which two of the works, “3” by Brice Marden (1987-1988) and “1957-G” by Clyfford Still (1957) , had to go under the hammer. A private sale of the third work, “The Last Supper” by Andy Warhol (1986), was to be negotiated by the auction house; he was also arrested.

The decision was made after hearing and listening to supporters and detractors of the ambitious Endowment Fund for the Future of the BMA and after a private conversation between the management of the BMA and the Association of Museum Directors of ‘art, “said a statement from the museum’s management and board of trustees.

The museum has faced a flood of backlash against the divestiture plan over the past three weeks, including the resignation of two honorary board members, threats from two philanthropists to withdraw pledges and a series of editorials. reviews and open letters.

The latest missive arrived earlier today, when a group of former presidents of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) sent a letter to BMA board chairman Clair Zamoiski Segal, urging the museum to reconsider the sale. Among its 12 signatories at noon today were Maxwell L. Anderson, former director of the Whitney Museum; Madeleine Grynsztejn, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; and Arnold Lehman, director emeritus of the Brooklyn Museum.

Laurence Eisenstein, a former administrator who wrote an open letter against the surrender that garnered more than 200 signatures, told Hyperallergic:

We believe that this decision affirms the essential role that works of art, publicly accessible collections and museums play in providing knowledge about the past, providing opportunities for reflection and learning in the present and in throwing bases for a positive transformation in the future.

“We look forward to working with the directors and staff of the BMA to rebuild community relationships and strengthen the diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives that will ensure that the BMA remains relevant and responsive to its community going forward. “, he added.

In its statement announcing the end of the sale this afternoon, the museum said it had already discussed the divestiture with AAMD and had gained support from the organization.

“The BMA was in contact with AAMD leadership in early fall before announcing their plans for the Endowment Fund going forward. In private and public statements, the AAMD affirmed that the BMA’s plans were aligned and in line with the resolutions adopted in April 2020, ”the statement read. “However, subsequent discussions and communications have made it clear that we must put our plans on hold to have any further necessary conversations.”

The combined public and private sales of the paintings were expected to bring in $ 65 million to fund staff salaries, equity programs and new acquisitions of under-represented artists as part of the new ‘Endowment for the Future’ initiative of the BMA.

In its statement, the museum affirmed its commitment to the plan.

“We unequivocally believe that museums exist to serve their communities through experiences with art and artists. We firmly believe that museums and their collections have been built on structures that we must work with, through bold and tangible action, to take into account, modify and reimagine structures that will meet the demands of the future. », Indicates the press release. “We do not respect the idea that museums exist to serve objects; we believe the items in our collection should reflect, engage and inspire the many different people we serve.

“Our vision and our goals have not changed. It will take us longer to reach them, but we will do so by all means at our disposal. This is our mission and we support it, ”he concludes.

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