In recent art world news, a Norman Rockwell painting titled “Blacksmith’s Boy—Heel and Toe” (1940) from the Berkshire Museum’s collection sold for $7 million (with buyer’s premium added, the figure is about 8.13 million) to a telephone bidder last week at Sotheby’s in New York.  This was the highest price fetched by the museum as part of a sell off of 13 works over the past few weeks at Sotheby’s.  Additional works sold include a Francis Picabia watercolor painting and an Alexander Calder mobile that came in at a below estimate of $1 million last week.

Following the recent offering of 13 artworks at auction (notably, two of which failed to sell, including a Frederic Edwin Church with an estimate of $5 million to $7 million) and a private deal involving the purchase of Rockwell’s “Shuffleton’s Barbershop (1950) for an undisclosed amount by the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, the Berkshire Museum has brought in $42 million just $13 million short of the $55 million goal “it has hoped to raise in an effort to build an endowment and close a budget deficit that its leadership has said risks shuttering the museum in coming years.”

The total fetched for the 11 lots that recently sold at auction was about $12.7 million (without buyer’s premium).  It can be determined from the $42 million total sales to date that the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art likely paid around $29.3 million for Shuffleton’s Barbershop, which was previously tagged by Sotheby’s with a $30 million high estimate.  It is unknown as to whether the museum is receiving a portion of the buyer’s premium paid on auctioned lots—such practice is known as “enhanced hammer”.  If it is, the price paid for Shuffleton’s Barbershop by the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art was likely less.  Sotheby’s has reportedly waived the seller’s fees for the Berkshire Museum.

Pursuant to the terms of the agreement between the museum and the Massachusetts Attorney General and approved by Massachusetts’s highest court in April, the Berkshire Museum has the option of selling up to 40 works in three separate portions to reach $55 million.  With last week’s sale of 11 lots, this means that 26 additional works could still be sold and the two works that passed could be up for auction again.

It will be interesting to see if the museum is able to reach its $55 million goal with the sale of a portion of the remaining works.  For our recent coverage of the Berkshire Museum on the Art Law blog, click here.

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.