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

Baltimore Museum of Art Pauses Contentious Deaccession Hours Before Auction

After weeks of raging debate surrounding the Baltimore Museum of Art’s decision to auction three major works by Brice Marden, Clyfford Still, and Andy Warhol reached a fever pitch days ago when two ex-board chairs withdrew a planned $50 million donation and two artists—Amy Sherald and Adam Pendleton—stepped down from the board in protest of the sale, the museum said today that it was calling off the deaccession. The surprising move was publicized this afternoon just two hours before the auction was to take place at Sotheby’s in New York. The sale’s estimated $65 million would go toward staff salaries and equipment to be used in the care of the museum’s collection.

“The decision was made after having heard and listened to the proponents and the detractors of the BMA’s ambitious Endowment for the Future and after a private conversation between the BMA’s leadership and the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD),” read the museum’s statement. Earlier this year, AAMD eased its restrictions on deaccessioning, a practice once widely considered taboo but increasingly considered by institutions amid drastic, pandemic-imposed setbacks. While BMA said that AAMD had greenlit its deaccessioning plans earlier this autumn, the museum said that “subsequent discussions have made clear that we must pause our plans to have further, necessary conversations.”

“This year has required great fortitude and great questioning,” the statement continued. “The calls for change within the museum field are right and just. For far too long, museums have made superficial efforts in enacting change. We have used exhibitions and programs to support the idea that we are diverse and inclusive. We are not. We have said change is important, but we have not taken the steps to enact it. The Endowment for the Future was developed to take action—right now, in this moment.

“Our vision and our goals have not changed. It will take us longer to achieve them, but we will do so through all means at our disposal. That is our mission and we stand behind it.”