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The Berkshire Museum.

Berkshire Museum and La Salle University Art Museum Face Sanctions for Selling Artworks

The Association of Art Museums Directors (AAMD) announced today that it is imposing sanctions against both the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and the La Salle University Art Museum in Philadelphia for deaccessioning works from their collections in order to support operating budgets and expansions.

“Selling art to support any need other than to build a museum’s collection fundamentally undermines the critically important relationships between museums, donors, and the public,” AAMD said in a statement. “When museums violate the trust of their donors and the public, they diminish the opportunity and responsibility to make great works of art available to the public. This hurts the individual institution and affects the museum field as a whole.”

AAMD said that it had communicated with both institutions, urging them to consider alternative fundraising possibilities and warning them about the possibility of sanctions if they continued with their plans to use the proceeds from sales of artworks for purposes other than acquisitions. The association is now advising its 243 members to refrain from lending or borrowing works or collaborating with either museum.

The Berkshire Museum has sold thirteen works of art by artists such as Alexander Calder, Frederic Edwin Church, Francis Picabia, and Norman Rockwell in several auctions and private deals, allowing it to collect more than $42 million. The institution faced backlash after it first announced that it would sell works to fund a $20 million renovation project and to boost its endowment last summer. However, after months of litigation, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in favor of the museum but capped the amount of money it could raise from deaccessioning works at $55 million. While many saw the decision as a major setback, Judge David Lowry argued that if the Berkshire was forced to shutter because it did not have enough funds to stay in operation then it would not be able to fulfill its mission of serving the public.

After La Salle University revealed that it would sell forty-six works in order to offset the cost of educational programming, Caroline P. Wistar, a former curator at the institution, said that she felt the move would kill the museum. According to philly.com, twenty-two works netted $2.4 million at auctions held at Christie’s New York last month. At the modern and Impressionist day sale at Christie’s on May 16, the museum raised an additional $2 million.

If the Berkshire or La Salle backtrack and decide to reinvest the monies from the sales in their collections, the AAMD will reconsider the sanctions.

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