Saturday, January 27, 2018

"But in the supercilious guild of museum elitists, deaccessioning items from a collection for any purpose other than acquiring more important items is a hanging offense."

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby writes about "the dogmatic world of the deaccession police, [where] the Berkshire [Museum] would be better off dead if the price of staying alive for decades to come is to sell some artworks today."

He singles out captain Christopher Knight, who "sneered that the museum’s board had 'lost their minds' for not realizing that they had a duty to go out of business":

"'Don’t sell the art. Do close the museum,' he commanded. 'Spend the next several years responsibly overseeing the dispersal of the collection.' Elizabeth McGraw, the museum’s chairman, tells me people have said the same thing to her face. A Berkshire socialite confronted her at a reception: 'I think the museum should close, and the art should stay in the public.'

"But does anyone believe that culture and the arts in Pittsfield will be better off if the Berkshire Museum agreed to commit a genteel suicide and let its treasures be parceled out to other institutions? When the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, facing a similar financial crisis, closed its doors in 2016, its collections were dispersed to venues in North Carolina, upstate New York, and Washington, D.C. Almost nothing remained in the Massachusetts community .... Is that really what the condescending pooh-bahs of museum propriety wish for Pittsfield — not the loss of 40 items, but of all 40,000?"

And he has this to say about the Massachusetts AG:

"Attorney General Maura Healey, whose office oversees nonprofits and charities, was notified of the museum’s deaccessioning plans in June, weeks before it was announced publicly. She rightly raised no objection. Not until four months later, did Healey’s office act. ... [I]t’s hard to escape the conclusion that Healey’s investigation became a quest to find something, anything, to justify her belated opposition to the Berkshire’s plan. It isn’t only museum partisans who say so. Ruling on the initial request for an injunction in November, Superior Court Judge John Agostini pronounced it 'bewildering' that Healey would try to stop the sale when her office 'has uncovered no evidence of bad faith, no conflict of interest, [and] no breach of loyalty.'"

He concludes:

"The injunction expires Jan. 29. What happens next is anyone’s guess. But this much is clear: Each additional delay brings the Berkshire’s demise closer. Nothing is going to hurt Norman Rockwell’s paintings. But the museum he loved enough to give them to is fighting for its life, and time is running out."