The history of the Berkshire Museum art sale is hitting the symposium circuit. Critics denied spot on panel | Local News

Berkshire Museum (copy)

In an online symposium this week, two former Berkshire Museum leaders – Van Shields, its executive director, and Elizabeth McGraw, its board chair – are due to discuss the institution’s 2018 art sale. .

PITTSFIELD — Although Van Shields and Elizabeth McGraw are no longer at the Berkshire Museum, they will meet this week to explain the museum’s drive to sell its most valuable works from a few years ago. People who objected to this sale may or may not be heard.

Shields and McGraw will appear Thursday as members of an online panel in a symposium titled “Deaccessioning after 2020,” sponsored by Syracuse University’s College of Law and Graduate Program in Museum Studies.

The sale of the Berkshire Museum predates the coronavirus pandemic. Saying it needed to straighten out its finances, the museum fended off legal challenges and opposition from local group Save the Art to sell famous works by Norman Rockwell, Alexander Calder and Albert Bierstadt, among others, raising 53.25 million dollars.

Almost three years later, Shields and McGraw will sit on a panel titled “Regional Museums Making Tough Decisions and Expanding Their Horizons.” It is believed to be the first time the two – Shields, the museum’s former executive director, and McGraw, its former board chair – have joined to speak publicly about the controversial sale.

When Save the Art’s Hope Davis heard about the panel, she called on its organizers to be included. The Syracuse Law School dean declined, saying the panel was not supposed to debate the merits of the sale.

“This session is not a forum for debating the right or wrong – or right or wrong – of these decisions,” Craig M. Boise, the dean, wrote in an email to Davis, denying his request. to join the panel.

Davis said in an interview that she thought the museum’s divestiture was still worth discussing. And she thinks the design of the panel, which includes the experience of a small Syracuse museum that sold an artwork in 2020, could distort the context of the Pittsfield sale.

Syracuse University symposium panelists with ties to the Berkshire Museum, left to right: Van Shields, former executive director; Elizabeth McGraw…

“They’re trying to de facto legitimize what they’ve done,” Davis said. “The Berkshire Museum remains very much in people’s minds. Although it was an outlier, it was the precursor to what we see now.

Boise could not be reached Tuesday for comment on the composition of the panel.

In two messages to Davis, Boise said an opponent of the Berkshire Museum art sale is pictured on another panel. It was Nicholas O’Donnell, the Boston attorney who represented three Lenox residents who unsuccessfully sought to block the sale.

Boise also said the symposium includes “at least two distinguished museum leaders — Michael Conforti and Tom Campbell — who are very conservative in their outlook.” Conforti is a former director of the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown.

If organizers intended to foster debate during Thursday’s panel with Shields and McGraw, Boise said a group like Save the Art would have been included, along with people critical of a sale by the other museum. represented on the same panel, the Everson Art Museum in Syracuse.

“We would certainly have reached out to those who opposed the actions of these two museums,” Boise wrote to Davis. Copies of their email correspondence were obtained by The Eagle.

In October, the Everson sold a painting by Jackson Pollock, “Red Composition, 1946,” for $12 million through auction house Christie’s. The museum said in a statement at the time that it would use proceeds to diversify its collection “to focus on works by artists of color, women artists and other underrepresented, emerging and developing artists.” mid-career”.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale, he said, will also be used to maintain his 10,000-piece collection, a use sanctioned by the American Alliance of Museums and New York State Regents. .

Van Shields, proponent of controversial art sales, bows out at Berkshire Museum

PITTSFIELD — After taking over as head of the Berkshire Museum in 2011, Van Shields surprised his new colleagues by talking about the “monetization” of the Pittsfield institution’s collection. It took six…

The Berkshire Museum sale, on the other hand, has been criticized by directors of the Association of Art Museum Directors for violating its policy on art sales.

The group ordered its 243 members not to collaborate with the Pittsfield institution. The sale also faced opposition from the executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the American Alliance of Museums. This led the Smithsonian Institution to end its affiliation with the Berkshire Museum.

The museum is spending about $3.5 million to complete repairs to its 39 South Street home, including sewer lines, waterproofing and the installation of a freight elevator and is now revamping the space On the second floor.

The panel

Thursday’s panel with Shields and McGraw is described by the symposium as a time to hear from people who “have been there and done that” and will share what contributed to their decision-making and experiences, providing important learnings. to others involved in leadership. of similar institutions.

Alongside former Berkshire Museum officials, viewers will hear from Everson’s executive director, Elizabeth Dunbar, and chairwoman of its board, Jessica Arb Danial.

The symposium describes panelists as people who worked in smaller communities and on tighter budgets than museum executives in big cities.

“One would assume that museums in places like Syracuse, New York and Pittsfield, Massachusetts, are more closely tied – and perhaps more essential – to their communities than their counterparts in major metropolitan areas,” the program says about of the panel. “Their volunteer boards are generally not people with the wherewithal to fill structural deficits or fund bold, big initiatives.”

He continues, “These museums are where ‘the rubber hits the road’ in terms of professional standards and the ability of these museums to survive and thrive in service to their communities, all within the context of their legal obligations to their institution.”

McGraw and Shields aren’t the only local names to participate.

Joseph Thompson, founding director of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, will participate in a panel on Thursday titled “Museum Resource Allocation: The Cost of Collecting.”

And two people who spent long hours on the Berkshire Museum’s disputed sale – from different perspectives – will sit on the same panel. A session titled “Legal Issues, Strategies, and the Role of the Courts” includes Courtney Aladro of the State Attorney General’s Office, who worked in 2017 and 2018 to ensure the Pittsfield Museum complied with the law.

On that same program will feature the man who initially informed Attorney General Maura Healey’s office of the museum’s proposed art sale: Mark Gold, of the Pittsfield law firm Smith Green & Gold LLP. They will be joined on the four-member panel by O’Donnell, the Boston attorney who filed the lawsuit against the sale.

Gold will also host a Friday morning panel on the ethics of museum art sales. Its title refers to “direct care,” a term used to describe the proper use of sales proceeds. The panel is entitled “Direct care: a critical concept still in search of meaning”. And Gold and O’Donnell will sit on an “Ask the Lawyers” panel on Friday.

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