New York’s National Academy to Sell Upper East Side Buildings
The institution has struggled financially for decades.
New York City’s National Academy, the longest running American artists’ society, is selling its two buildings on Fifth Avenue at 89th Street—its home since 1942—to shore up its finances.
Founded in 1825, the National Academy owns an impressive collection of American painting and sculpture donated by former members such as Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, and John Singer Sargent.
However, the institution—which is registered as a non-profit and operates both a museum and school—has found it difficult to decide whether to brand itself as a traditional members club or a museum. The uncertainty has resulted in financial difficulties that have persisted for decades as the Academy has struggled to remain relevant in the 21st century.
Only eight years ago the Academy raised $13 million by controversially deaccessioning two Hudson River School masterpieces by Frederic Edwin Church and Sanford Robinson Gifford.
However it wasn’t enough to balance the books, and as the academy’s financial problems have persisted the maintenance costs of its historic home have become a burden. (In 2011, the museum reopened after an 18-month $3.5 million renovation.)
According to the New York Times, the buildings were valued at $107 million in 2012. According to the vice president of the academy’s board, Wendy Evans Joseph, a sale and the opportunity to start fresh in a new location with a permanent and unrestricted endowment is the best option for the institution’s long-term survival.
“It’s a big decision to come to,” Joseph told the Times. “But for a lot of reasons, it seemed like a good idea… It’s about making a new history.”
Other venerable art institutions forced to part with long-held New York real estate include Wildenstein & Co, which, facing legal action for alleged tax evasion, sold its Upper East townhouse for Qatar fro a record $90 million in 2014, only to have the oil-rich country pull out before the closing. In less historic properties, the cash-strapped American Folk Art Museum was forced to see its 2001 flagship building to the Museum of Modern Art, which demolished the much-loved Tod Williams and Billie Tsien building.
The academy says its museum will close in June until an alternative headquarters is found. However, the school will operate “for the foreseeable future” in its current location on East 89th Street until a buyer is found for the building.
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