Berkshire Museum, AGO Agreement Would Allow Art Sale to Proceed
Under the agreement, the painting, donated to the museum by Rockwell in 1958, would first spend 18 to 24 months on display at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge and then possibly at museums in Massachusetts before being put on prominent display at the unnamed museum.
The joint filing made on Friday would also allow the museum to sell up to 40 works -- but only up until it captures the $55 million it says it needs to improve the century-old institution and provide for an endowment.
"For the people of Berkshire County who rely on our museum to engage with the arts, history, and science, this agreement is the promise of a long future for our small but extraordinary museum and its collection," Elizabeth McGraw, president of the board of trustees of the Berkshire Museum, said in a statement. "We hope it will also mark the beginning of a time when our community can come together again."
The Berkshire Museum announced a "reinvention plan" back in July aimed to turn around annual deficits that it says have topped $1 million annually. The museum opted to auction off the pieces of art to generate $50 million. Coupled with fundraising of $10 million, the plan is to create an endowment of $40 million to sustain the museum into the future and $20 million in renovations.
The announcement caused a firestorm of controversy with a group including Rockwell's three sons filing suit against the museum in Superior Court. There have numerous protests outside the museum and editorials against the deaccessioning by museum directors and art lovers around the nation.
Attorney General Maura Healey stepped into the fray in the fall seeking an injunction to delay the auction set in November so her office could began an independent review of the sale under her purview of laws governing charitable assets.
Four days ago, in a joint status report, Healey's office said it had concluded its investigation after reviewing more than 1,500 documents and interviewing museum employees and board members. It determined that the museum had demonstrated a need modify restrictions that had prevented it from selling the works and using the proceeds to sustain itself.
"The AGO believes that the 40 works at issue are subject to restrictions, which the Museum does not believe exist. The AGO and the Museum have agreed to resolve these differences and will file a petition for judicial relief" with the Single Justice of the Supreme Court, the report stated.
No sale can go forward until the Supreme Judicial Court acts on the petition and Berkshire Superior Court enters final judgement on the current complaint. Healey said she will not "seek any further injunctive relief or stay the Superior Court proceedings at this time."
"This agreement helps secure the future of the Berkshire Museum for years to come, while preserving 'Shuffleton's Barbershop' for public view, in keeping with the wishes of Norman Rockwell," Healey said. "We are pleased that this agreement will allow the Berkshire Museum to thrive, ensures that no more art than necessary will be sold, and honors the legacy of Norman Rockwell and his masterpiece, 'Shuffleton's Barbershop.'"
The sales would go through Sotheby's as originally intended but in three lots, or tranches, structured so that not all of the works might be sold. For instance, if the first two lots brought in enough, the third would not be sold. The museum will be unrestricted in use of the first $50 million in net proceeds, including the sale of "Shuffleton's," but revenues over that will be put into a separate account for acquisitions and to support the collection, including its "New Vision" collections.
The agreement also allows the museum to sell works at a lower price to private collectors if it means those pieces will be publically available.
The museum has declined to identify the museum interested in "Shuffleton's," citing confidentiality until the court proceedings are concluded and the sale can be announced. However, the proposed purchaser has indicated it would be open to loaning the painting to other museums around the country in the future so that the work can be seen by many, said officials.
"It is in the best interests of both sides, and particularly the people of Berkshire County, that these issues be resolved to allow the Berkshire Museum to continue to be an invaluable resource in the culture, education, and economy of the region long into the future. Our hope is that this represents the end of a legal dispute and a new beginning that brings together those divided by that dispute," said William Lee of WilmerHale, lead counsel for the Berkshire Museum.
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