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Massachusetts Reviews Berkshire Museum’s Plan to Sell Forty Artworks

The Berkshire Museum’s plan to auction about forty works from its collection at Sotheby’s, in hopes of raising $50 million, is currently being looked over by the state of Massachusetts. A spokesperson for the Massachusetts attorney general’s office told Eileen Kinsella of Artnet that they are “reviewing the transaction for how it comports with applicable charities law.” The source did not provide any further details.

According to the guidelines of the American Association of Museums (AAM) and the Association of Art Museum Directors’ (AAMD), institutions are only allowed to sell art when the funds raised are put toward future acquisitions. The Berkshire Museum board, however, says that the sales are needed to avoid a financial crisis and boost the institution’s endowment. If the plan is unsuccessful, the museum might have to close its doors in six to eight years.

On June 22, the museum informed the attorney general’s office of the anticipated deaccessioning and sale, even though notice was not required. “The Attorney General’s office does not second guess the decisions of boards of trustees, but it is appropriate for the office to look at how the board discharged its fiduciary duty in making the decision it did. The office is also vested with ensuring that the museum is correct that there are no restrictions on the objects to be sold. The museum has sent the Attorney General’s office documentation, as requested, to assist in that process,” said Mark Gold, legal counsel for the museum.

The institution has been heavily criticized following its decision to sell the works. Laurie Norton Moffatt, the director and chief executive of the Norman Rockwell Museum, said, “Selling these treasured assets actually poses a debilitating economic ripple effect beyond the museum, not to mention it would be a profound spiritual loss to the community.” In response to the controversy, a group of unnamed donors pledged to give $1 million to the museum so that it would pause the sale for up to one year, but the museum’s board of trustees turned down the offer.

Beginning in November, the sales will span six months and include two paintings by Norman Rockwell, Shuffleton’s Barbershop, 1959, and Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop, 1966, which the artist personally donated to the museum.