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The Baltimore Museum of Art.
The Baltimore Museum of Art.

Baltimore Museum of Art Loses $50 Million Planned Gift Over Deaccession

The furor over the Baltimore Museum of Art’s (BMA) deaccessioning of three major works—by Brice Marden, Clyfford Still, and Andy Warhol—continues, with two former board chairs announcing the withdrawal of planned gifts totaling $50 million, and two artists resigning from the institution’s board of trustees.

Stiles Colwill and Charles Newhall III said that they would cancel their pledged gifts, of $20 million and $30 million, respectively, in protest of the sales, with Newhall additionally resigning as honorary trustee. Colwill, whose planned gift comprised the entire value of his estate, told The Art Newspaper he had made the decision to cancel the gift a year ago “when it became clear to me that under the leadership of [director] Christopher Bedford the BMA was no longer trustworthy to receive this bequest,” and that “[i]t was only in the past weeks that I was, quite sadly, publicly proven right about the BMA’s current leadership. Thus I allowed word of my decision along with that of Mr. Charles Newhall . . . to [be] announced.” Newhall announced the retraction of his own gift along with his resignation in an October 15 letter and called for “any public display” associated with his family’s previous $5 million gifts to be removed from the institution.

Bedford and current board chair Clair Zamoiski Segal contended that Colwill and Newhall’s planned contributions “have not been recorded with the museum as gifts and are not part of the museum’s current budgeting,” further adding that the cancellations are “not evidence that donors are rescinding gifts to the museum.”

Artists Amy Sherald and Adam Pendleton additionally resigned from the BMA’s board of trustees last week, both citing a lack of time to attend to their necessary duties with the organiziation, and Pendleton saying he had been “blindsided” by the controversy attending the deaccessioning.

The BMA’s planned October 28 deaccessioning of Marden’s 3, 1987, and Still’s 1957-G, 1957, and its private sale of Warhol’s The Last Supper, 1986, have raised hackles far beyond Baltimore, with the Los Angeles Times, noted San Francisco–based writer Martin Gammon, and Warhol biographer Blake Gopnik, among others, condemning the sale. Supporters contend that the sale, expected to raise $65 million—of which $10 million is earmarked for new acquisitions, with an emphasis on artists of color from the postwar era—represents an example of progressive deaccessioning, which is intended to expand representation of previously overlooked artists.