Baltimore museum halts art sale amid growing 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 would suspend the sale of three paintings from its collection. The decision comes just hours before Sotheby’s Contemporary Art auction tonight at which two of the works, Brice Marden’s ‘3’ (1987-88) and Clyfford Still’s ‘1957-G’ (1957) , had to go under the hammer. A private sale of Andy Warhol’s third work, “The Last Supper” (1986), was to be negotiated by the auction house; he was also arrested.

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

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

The latest missive came earlier today when a group of past 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 penned 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 foundations for positive transformation in the future.

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

In its statement announcing the end of the sale this afternoon, the museum said it had previously discussed the sale with the AAMD and secured the organization’s support.

“The BMA was in contact with AAMD management in the early fall before announcing its plans for staffing going forward. In private and public statements, the AAMD claimed that plans for the BMA were aligned and consistent with the resolutions it adopted in April 2020,” the statement read. “However, subsequent discussions and communications have made it clear that we need to put our plans on hold to have further necessary conversations.”

The combined public and private sales of the paintings were expected to raise $65 million to fund staff salaries, equity programs and new acquisitions for underrepresented artists under the new Endowment for the Future initiative. 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 strongly believe that museums and their collections were built on structures that we must work through, through bold and tangible actions, to consider, modify and reimagine as structures that will meet the demands of the future,” the statement read. “We don’t respect the idea that museums exist to serve objects; we believe the objects in our collection should reflect, engage and inspire the many different people we serve.

“Our vision and our objectives 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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