Berkshire Museum Postpones Art Sale as It Works With Attorney General to Resolve Dispute

But a final solution is a ways away.

The Berkshire Museum, courtesy of wikimedia commons.
The Berkshire Museum. Courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

The continuing fight between the Berkshire Museum of Art—which wants to sell of 40 works of art from its collection to raise $60 million—and the Massachusetts attorney general took an unusual turn yesterday when the two sides released a joint statement saying that they have “agreed to resolve their differences.”

However, the resolution appears to be more of a pause than a long-term solution. The two sides—not to mention dozens of other opponents to the sale—do not yet agree. According to the statement, the attorney general still believes that the 40 works due to be sold at Sotheby’s are subject to restrictions that the museum maintains do not exist.

Under terms of the “deal” they reached, the museum has agreed not to sell the works while the two sides file a “petition for judicial relief” in Massachusetts’s highest appeals court within the next few days. The petition will request the court interpret the intentions of the donors and make a final decision about whether the sale should be permitted. Whatever the outcome, the attorney general says it will comply with the court.

The museum and the AG intend to file a motion in trial court requesting that the other lawsuits currently pending—brought separately by heirs of artist Norman Rockwell and museum members—be put on hold until the issue is resolved. But their lawsuits may resume after the court makes its decision, meaning the saga is far from over.

Berkshire Museum leaders have argued that the institution needs to sell the works—including two major Rockwell paintings donated by the artist himself—to solve financial problems that it says put it at risk of shutting down. Others believe the situation is not so dire.

The case has put the museum at odds with leading professional organizations, which prohibit the sale of art unless the proceeds are used to fund future acquisitions, and re-ignited the national debate over deaccessioning.

As part of her extended investigation, attorney general Maura Healey’s office reviewed more than 1,500 documents and interviewed key museum employees and board members, according to the recent statement.


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