Museum group sanctions Berkshire Museum

FILE - In this July 12, 2017 file photo, a pedestrian passes the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Mass. The Massachusetts museum that won a legal battle over its plan to sell dozens of works of art announced Tuesday, April 10, 2018, that 13 of those pieces, including one by Norman Rockwell, will be auctioned next month. Rockwell’s “Blacksmith’s Boy-Heel and Toe” is among the pieces for sale by Sotheby’s in May, the Berkshire Museum announced. Works by William Bouguereau, Alexander Calder and John La Farge also are going on the auction block. (Ben Garver /The Berkshire Eagle via AP, File)
Ben Garver/The Berkshire Eagle via Associated Press/File
A pedestrian passes the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, in July 2017.

The Association of Art Museum Directors moved Friday to impose sanctions on the Berkshire Museum, in Pittsfield, for selling a portion of its art collection to bolster its finances and renovate its building as part of a reinvention plan that emphasizes science and history.

The association has long held that proceeds from the sale of artwork should go only toward the acquisition of new works and should not be used to support an institution’s operations.

“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,” the association said in a statement.


The sanctions, effective immediately, call on the organization’s 243 members neither to lend nor borrow artworks from the Berkshire and also to abstain from any collaborative projects with the museum.

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“The possibility of sanctions was carefully considered by the board when deciding whether to deaccession any works to secure and sustain the museum’s future,” Carol Bosco Baumann, a spokeswoman for the museum, said via e-mail. “We determined then and strongly believe now that to protect our most important asset – the museum’s open doors – it was necessary, and even with regrettable sanctions like these, we could fulfill the mission of the museum and successfully serve the community.”

The cash-strapped museum has come under widespread criticism since it revealed its intention last summer to sell up to 40 of its most prized artworks — including Norman Rockwell’s “Shuffleton’s Barbershop,” considered by many to be among his finest paintings.

The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art announced last month that it had privately purchased ‘‘Shuffleton’s Barbershop’’ for an undisclosed sum. As part of the sale, the Los Angeles museum agreed to loan ‘‘Shuffleton’s Barbershop’’ to the Norman Rockwell Museum, in Stockbridge, for up to two years. The museum, founded by filmmaker George Lucas, is expected to open in 2022.

In a series of recent auctions at Sotheby’s, the Berkshire Museum offered 13 additional works for sale. The artworks — combined with the earlier sale of “Shuffleton’s” — raised roughly $42 million in net proceeds, according to Elizabeth McGraw, president of the museum’s board of trustees.


“Considering the unpredictable nature of the art market, we are disappointed but not surprised to fall short of our expected goal by close to $13 million,” McGraw said in a statement. “We will take time now to consider how we will proceed, through possible auction and private sale, to gain the additional resources needed.”

The art museum directors group said it was also taking action against Philadelphia’s La Salle University Art Museum, which began auctioning artworks last month in an effort to fund educational initiatives. The La Salle museum began auctioning the works last month.

Malcolm Gay can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @malcolmgay