In recent art world news, and as a follow up to last week’s post on the Art Law blog, with legal hurdles now overcome, over a dozen artworks from the Berkshire Museum’s art collection are set to be offered for sale at auction next month at Sotheby’s New York in connection with the institution’s efforts to raise a total of $55 million. The lots include works by Norman Rockwell (high estimate of $10 million), Frederic Edwin Church ($7 million), Alexander Calder ($3 million), and Francis Picabia ($1.2 million).

Sotheby’s estimates that the lots could generate between $20.2 million and $28.9 million in sales after being sold at auction in mid-May. The sum from those works will be combined with an unknown sum that the museum received from the earlier announced private sale of its treasured work by Norman Rockwell, “Shuffleton’s Barbershop” (1950), to an institution (recently reported as the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art) that will keep the work on public view.

The Pittsfield, Massachusetts based museum hopes to reach its goal of $55 million through the sale of the lots at auction next month and the private sale of Shuffleton’s Barbershop. Whether the museum will be able to reach its goal depends on how much the museum received for the Rockwell masterpiece, Shuffleton’s Barbershop, which depicts a group of men playing music at the rear of a storefront late in the evening. Sotheby’s, the broker of the private deal, has said that the sales figure is confidential.

When Shuffleton’s Barbershop was set to be offered for sale at auction last November at Sotheby’s, the work was estimated at $20 million to $30 million. The auction was halted due to legal challenges that led the Massachusetts Appeals Court to hold off the sell-off of works while the state’s attorney general’s office conducted an investigation of the museum’s plans.

With the legal hurdles now cleared, the first sales of the lots from the museum’s collection are set to take place at Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern auction the evening of May 14, when works by Francis Picabia and Henry Moore will be offered at auction. The museum’s highest estimated lot, Norman Rockwell’s Blacksmith’s Boy—Heel and Toe (1940), will round out the auction sales at Sotheby’s American Art sale on May 23.

It will be interesting to see if the Berkshire Museum is able to achieve its goal of $55 million after next month’s auction sales. If the museum hits the figure, additional works from its collection will not need to be sold.

In recent art world news, last week the Berkshire Museum has secured court approval to sell as many as 40 artworks from its collection, including works by Alexander Calder, Albert Bierstadt, Francis Picabia, and Norman Rockwell, as part of a “deaccessioning plan” that has been widely criticized by “museum groups and arts advocates who say it could encourage other museums to sell off works they hold in public trust.”

In a ruling by Justice David Lowy of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued last Thursday, it was decided that “the museum had sufficiently established a need to sell the works, which could raise upwards of $55 million, in order to continue operations.”  In reaching its decision, the court deferred to the state’s attorney general, who has oversight of charitable organizations in the state, and who had conducted an investigation and reached a conclusion in the museum’s favor.  The court’s decision paves the way for at least some of the works to be auctioned for sale at Sotheby’s in New York, and for the private sale of the treasured Rockwell painting to an unnamed institution in a deal that was earlier approved by the state’s attorney general.

The museum’s leadership has said that it is running a structural deficit and without a cash infusion the museum will be forced to eventually close.  In particular, the museum’s leaders have said that the ability to sell the artworks is necessary due to a decrease in fundraising opportunities in the region.  Under professional guidelines, art sales are usually only allowed when funds are used to acquire other artworks or, in some instances, maintain a collection.

The museum has said that it intends to use the sale proceeds to build an endowment, renovate its building, and embark on a “New Vision” with particular emphasis on science and technology.

The Association of Art Museum Directors (“AAMD”) has said in a statement that the court’s decision “to approve the Berkshire Museum’s planned art sales addresses outstanding legal questions.  [However,] [i]t does not resolve the violations of ethical and professional standards that will occur when the museum’s plans are implemented.”  The AAMD is considering “censure and/or sanctions” against the museum in connection with any sales that result in funds being directed toward operations or endowments.

The earlier agreement reached between the attorney general’s office and the museum requires that the works be sold in three portions such that if the target figure ($55 million) is reached before one of the later portions is offered for sale, the later portions will not be sold.  Those opposed to the sale argued that because the museum is able to structure the portions, a substantive restriction is not represented in the parties’ agreement.

For detailed coverage on the legal battle of the Berkshire Museum, please see “Berkshire Museum Sell-Off Approved by Top Massachusetts Court, Ending Lengthy Legal Battle,” published online by ArtNews on April 5, 2018.

In recent art world news, for a long time spanning many decades, visitors to the world-renowned tomb of King Tutankhamen (“King Tut”) in Egypt have noticed unsightly brown spots covering the wall murals in the Egyptian pharaoh’s burial chamber.  The brown spots have been the subject of much speculation.  For years, Egyptian authorities were concerned that the spots may be from living microorganisms stimulated by “humidity and the sweaty bodies of tourists.”  Scientists from the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles have recently completed an analysis of the wall murals determining that the brown spots are not alive and do not pose a threat to the tomb’s attractions.  In addition, chemical, DNA and microscopic analysis confirmed that the brown spots were microbiological in origin.

This study was part of [a] larger, multimillion-dollar, nine-year-long collaboration between the Getty and Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities designed to assess the condition of the tomb and help prevent further deterioration.  Their work has led to the creation of a new ramp and railings to better control visitor access; guidelines for maximum number of visitors to control humidity and carbon dioxide levels; and the installation of a filtered air supply and exhaust ventilation system.”

The scientists’ work also included an analysis of the flaking of paint on the wall murals lining the tomb, which was especially an issue in areas of black and red pigments.  While there has been a loss of pigment historically, the scientists have stabilized the affected areas by carefully inserting material below the flake to hold it in place—though they could not push it back due to the brittleness of the affected areas.

The conservation studies and treatment occurred without the restriction of normal visiting hours at the tomb with the exception for a one month period in 2016.  The tomb was closed that October for the temporary move of the mummy for the installation of new flooring and railings.

Because the brown spots had penetrated into the paint layer of the murals and attempts to remove them would most likely endanger the artworks, the spots will remain.

Lastly, on a related note, in celebration of the upcoming 100th anniversary of the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, the California Science Center in Los Angeles is currently featuring the world premiere of “King Tut:  Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh”.  The new exhibition claims to be the largest King Tut exhibition ever toured with over 150 authentic artifacts from King Tut’s tomb, 60 of which have never traveled outside of Egypt until now.  The exhibition runs for a limited time from March 24, 2018 through January 6, 2019.

 

 

In recent art world news, popular social media site Instagram has been having a significant effect on the art world since its launch in 2010.  The photo and video sharing app has evolved into the cornerstone of the art world becoming a home to many in the industry, including artists, art collectors, auction houses, curators, galleries, and museums.  Many artists are using Instagram to promote, discover and sell art.

Many emerging artists see the photo and video sharing app as a democratizer, helping artists who might not have representation from the most prestigious galleries or degrees from the most exclusive art schools get their work in front of big audiences.”

Before the arrival of social media, emerging artists had a more difficult time getting their work out there and being noticed.  In the past, under the traditional route, artists would contact local galleries and hope for a favorable outcome.  To promote a bigger following, artists faced numerous hurdles, such as securing representation at prestigious galleries, exhibiting around the world, and participating in premier art festivals.

With the arrival of social media, artists started using various services such as Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, and Twitter to highlight their work, attract audiences around the world, and advocate on their own behalf.  Instagram, however, is said to have the biggest impact on the art industry.  Remarkably, Instagram is on track to achieve a billion monthly active users in 2018.

The coalescence of tech, demographics and changing buying habits also plays a role in making Instagram the tool of choice for art professionals.  In the Venn diagram of people who use Instagram and people who are discovering and willing to buy art online, the overlap is increasing.”

According to research from Pew, about a third of online adults in the United States use Instagram and among those aged 18-29, the app’s usage increases up to 59%.  Online art marketplace Invaluable, in its 2017 survey, found that nearly 56% of consumers in the United States aged 18-24 said they would purchase art online and 45% said social media is the primary way they find art.

Although art sales from the big auction houses from the likes of Christie’s and Sotheby’s are well documented, there isn’t much data on private art sales, and it’s difficult to say whether direct sales via Instagram are taking away gallery sales.  Though it has been reported that auction houses and galleries are seeing their own sales gain traction as their work is discovered on Instagram.

Major galleries and museums have even benefited from use of the app by cultivating tremendous followings on Instagram.  Museums use Instagram to promote upcoming exhibitions, provide followers an inside look at their operations, and make art more accessible.  The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) views its Instagram page “as something of a virtual gallery that allows followers to feel like they’re seeing an exhibition, even if they’re not in Los Angeles.”  Smaller galleries, on the other hand, use Instagram to discover new artists.

Some artists have said that Instagram can be distracting, particularly when artists get wrapped up in seeing how many “likes” or comments their work receives as compared to others.  Some are concerned that “an overreliance on Instagram could discourage people from attending art shows and shift the enjoyment of art from an in-person experience to something that happens over a phone.”

As with any technology, there are going to be pros and cons, but it certainly appears that Instagram has had a mostly positive effect on the art world.

 

 

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts has added a new employee to its roster, a Weimaraner puppy named Riley.  Riley will patrol the gallery on a quest to locate insects or other pests that can damage fine art and tapestry. Unfortunately, Riley will not be visible to patrons.

It will be interesting to hear if Riley’s addition to the museum helps to preserve the artwork and prevent damage from insects and pests.

In recent art world news, the Board of Directors of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston has voted to extend the $10 million reward for information leading to the return of 13 art works (valued at half a billion dollars) that were stolen nearly 30 years ago.  The reward was to have reverted to $5 million at the end of last year had it not been for the Board’s recent vote.  The extension of the reward was done in the “hope of enticing tips that would help recover works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas, Manet and others that were stolen in the world’s largest unsolved art heist.”

The theft occurred just after midnight on March 18, 1990 when two thieves appearing as Boston police officers deceived museum guards in gaining access to the building, restrained the guards, and then left nearly an hour and a half later with the valuable art works.

While there have been multiple suspects throughout the years and the Federal Bureau of Investigation has said in 2013 that agents had determined who the thieves were (but did not reveal their names), and added that the thieves were no longer living, the statute of limitations has run out on the theft in 1995, but the investigation is ongoing.

Isabella Stewart Gardner, the woman for whom the museum is named, was a leading American art collector, art patron, and philanthropist, who passed away in 1924.  Gardner had stipulated in her will that “the vast art collection in her home, modeled on a 15th-century Venetian palace, remain on permanent display exactly as she left it.  Nowadays empty gilded frames that held some of the works that were taken in 1990 still hang on the walls.”

For further information about the theft and Isabella Stewart Gardner, see the following articles, Learn About The Theft and An Unconventional Life, via the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum website.

 

In recent art world news, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (“Met”) announced last Thursday that visitors will have to pay a $25 mandatory admission fee if they reside outside New York State under a new policy that goes into effect on March 1, 2018.  The Met’s existing “pay-as-you-wish” policy will continue for state residents, but such individuals will be required to present address identification when the new policy begins—those without it will not be turned away and will be asked to bring it on their next visit.  The existing policy will also continue for students from adjacent states, Connecticut and New Jersey.  A full price admission ticket will be valid for three consecutive days at the Met’s three locations, which include the Met Breuer and the Cloisters.

The change is said to reflect the museum’s efforts to create “a reliable, annual revenue stream after a period of financial turbulence and leadership turmoil, particularly given what the Met describes as a sharp decline in people willing to pay the current ‘suggested’ admission price, also $25.”  In particular, the change is intended to provide the museum with

a predictable source of revenue at a time when institutions all over the country face competition for private donations and patrons’ leisure time; declining membership; and dwindling public dollars.”

As one of the most prestigious art institutions in the world, the Met has long distinguished itself from other such institutions, among the likes of the Louvre, the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim, by not charging a mandatory admissions fee.  The museum has long sustained itself through a combination of private donations and public dollars (the city provides operating support each year since it owns the Met’s building on Fifth Avenue).  The city’s allocation (currently about $26 million), however, is subject to changing economic conditions and the discretion of the Department of Cultural Affairs.

Tellingly, over the past 10 plus years, even when Met attendance had risen from 4.7 million to 7 million visitors, the museum had observed a sharp decline in the proportion of attendees who paid the full suggested admission fee (from 63 percent to 17 percent).  The museum admission fees account for 14 percent (or $43 million) of the Met’s $305 million operating budget.  The figure is expected to increase to 16 or 17 percent (or $49 million) with the new policy change.

For further information on the Met’s new admissions policy and for art critics’ reactions to same, see “Met Changes 50-Year Admissions Policy:  Non-New Yorkers Must Pay” and “The Met Should Be Open to All.  The New Pay Policy Is a Mistake[,]” published online by the New York Times on January 4, 2018.

In a recent report, New York City (Manhattan) District Attorney, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., announced the formation of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit, which was created to work with U.S. Homeland Security to combat the trade of stolen antiquities.  The Unit was formed after a number of culturally valuable pieces were found in New York City.  The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office recently announced the return of three ancient statutes to the Lebanese Republic.  It will be interesting to see what other treasures this Unit will uncover.

Massachusetts Appeals Court Justice, Joseph A. Trainor, granted a motion for an injunction on the sale of important works of the Berkshire Museum.  The auction was to be hosted by Sotheby’s this week. The controversial injunction was entered two weeks after Judge John A. Agostini of Massachusetts’ Superior Court held that the Board of Trustee’s of the Berkshire Museum was permitted to pursue its plan to raise $50 M through the sale of art.

Justice Trainor entered his decision after the Massachusetts Attorney General, Maura Healey, filed an appeal three days before the scheduled auction. The Massachusetts Attorney General based her last minute appeal on the fact that the lower court did not consider, among other things, that the planned deaccession of important works would violate the museum board’s duties under its museum charter.

The museum’s controversial sale was to include the sale of two famous Norman Rockwell paintings – Shuffleton’s Barbershop and Shaftesbury Blacksmith Shop. Sotheby’s announced that it was disappointed that the Massachusetts Attorney General had decided to appeal, and that Justice Trainor entered the injunction.  The Board of Trustees of the Berkshire Museum has been fighting Margaret Rockwell, who represents the family of Norman Rockwell as well as other dissatisfied museum members.

An intriguing story recently ran in the Los Angeles Times regarding an 18th century masterpiece painting that has gone missing for more than a century.  The mysterious painting seems to have been hiding in plain sight in a Los Angeles home since the mid-1950s, but the exact location of the work is unknown.  The painting is known as “Española” (Spanish Girl) after the primped and powdered child that is the focus of the work.  The lost work is from a treasured set of 16 paintings by the artist Miguel Cabrera (circa 1715-1768), who is considered the “greatest painter of his age” in Mexico.  It is believed that the paintings left the country shortly before the artist’s death, but the whereabouts of Española have long remained unknown.

Curator of Latin American art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Ilona Katzew, has been perplexed over the lost painting since 2015 after receiving an eccentric letter written in the first person voice of Española and then signed as if by the young child.  Española wrote in late summer 2015:  “You should know that I am well and living less than two (2) miles from LACMA,” adding “I have been in the same family for I believe 60 years, although I do not know how I was acquired.”

Cabrera’s Española painting is part of a treasured set of casta, or caste, paintings.  More than 120 casta sets, which typically include 16 numbered paintings, are known.  The casta sets were painted in different formats by talented artists of varying skill.  Most of these sets have been divided up and individual paintings widely circulated.  Cabrera had painted just one set, which is considered the genre’s finest.

Two paintings from Cabrera’s set of 16 had gone missing long ago, but one of them, No. 6, was found hidden in a Northern California home.  The painting’s owner researched the work’s history and her surprising discovery landed on the cover page of the Los Angeles Times in April 2015.  Soon thereafter, LACMA acquired the painting.  And Española’s owner went to see it.  Española in her letter from late summer 2015 further wrote:  “My owner enjoyed seeing #6 and I am pleased that we are all now accounted for despite the diaspora.”

Several photographs showing details of the missing Española painting were enclosed in the envelope.  Although there are no known pre-modern images or written descriptions of Cabrera’s set, Katzew has little doubt of the authenticity of the painting.

Española’s letter revealed another astonishing detail.

If you ever gather a reunion of all my siblings, I would welcome the opportunity to be on display for a limited period of time.  I am not lost, I just do not wish to be found.”

A near complete reunion occurred several years earlier when 14 of the 16 paintings from Cabrera’s set were brought together from museums in Madrid and Monterrey, Mexico as well as a Los Angeles foundation, for a major exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art entitled “Tesoros/Treasures/Tesouros:  The Art in Latin America, 1492-1820” in 2006.  The paintings from Cabrera’s set had not been displayed together in at least a century.

Española’s letter was signed by her and neatly typed in the format of formal business correspondence, however, she did not include a return mailing address, telephone number, e-mail address, or any other way to get in contact with the owner.  The stamps on the envelope were not even canceled at the post office.

During this time, Katzew was well into her research for her upcoming exhibition entitled “Painted in Mexico, 1700-1790:  Pinxit Mexici,” which is said to be the most comprehensive museum survey ever devoted to the period and is set to open at LACMA later this month on November 19, 2017.

Katzew is hopeful that Española’s owner will stop in to see the exhibition and perhaps get in contact again.  She has even made space for Española on the wall next to the painting’s “rediscovered sibling,” No. 6:

‘[No.] 3.  From Spaniard and Castiza, Spanish Girl,’ its full title, is an especially important picture in the set because of its uniquely sumptuous details.  The Spanish father, dressed in a dove-gray frock coat and tri-corner hat, is an aristocrat.  The castiza mother, offspring of a Spaniard and a mestiza (half Spanish, half Indian), is dressed in regal splendor—embroidered silks, delicate lace, pearls on her wrist and an extravagant coral necklace.”

For further information on this fascinating story, see “A masterpiece of Baroque painting, missing for more than a century, is hiding somewhere in L.A.,” published online by the Los Angeles Times on October 22, 2017.