Friday, December 22, 2006

The Morning After

When I was on WHYY in Philadelphia when news of the pending Gross Clinic sale first broke, my last word was a prediction that the offer would, in fact, be matched (hey, even a stopped clock ...). Stephan Salisbury has further details in The Philadelphia Inquirer today on just how it was accomplished:

"In total, over the last several weeks, about $30 million has been raised ..., officials said. Wachovia Bank has agreed to provide the backup financing that allowed the museums to sign an agreement of sale yesterday with Jefferson. No city or other government money is involved in the purchase. ... Museum officials likened Wachovia's role to the provision of bridge financing.
Fund-raising for the painting continues, the officials emphasized. Jefferson had set a Dec. 26 deadline for local institutions to put their money on the table. Now, however, the university has extended that deadline to Jan. 31. If a gap exists between contributions and sale price at the end of January, Wachovia will cover it, the officials said. Herbert Riband, vice chairman of the [Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts] board, said it is possible that some works might be sold from museum collections to help cover the costs of the transaction. But he said that was only a possibility."

The Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts will share ownership of the painting. The Inquirer also has a sidebar story on the five biggest donors. Carol Vogel's piece in today's New York Times is here.

I mentioned on the radio, and in my first post on the sale, that the parties here had adhered to the procedures New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman had proposed in the wake of the New York Public Library's sale last year of Durand's "Kindred Spirits":

"[W]henever art is sold by a public institution -- which, receiving tax breaks, can be expected to make some sacrifice toward the public good -- local museums should be given a reasonable period of time to match the sale price. That's it. Just a shot at preserving the public's heritage for the public."

A lot of folks thought that wasn't good enough in this case because coming up with $68 million in 45 days was too tall an order. I pointed out on the WHYY appearance that, in the case of the Durand sale, Philippe de Montebello, director of the Met, was quoted as saying he would have preferred a live auction (rather than the sealed bid procedure used in that case), because then "I could have gone to the auction with a donor who could, on the spur of the moment, cover a higher bid." In any event, the end result here proved the doomsayers wrong. It's amazing what can be accomplished when people are sufficiently motivated.

Derek Fincham at the Illicit Cultural Property blog says "it seems all the parties involved, with the exception the original purchasers, have come out looking good. The University gets its funds, the work has received a great deal of publicity and should be visited a great deal in the coming months, and Philadelphia has kept one of its prized local works." (Not everyone is happy, though.)

Fincham also notes that "at the heart of the decision to sell the work lies a question which often plagues cultural property. Do very beautiful works have a single home, or can they be enjoyed and appreciated anywhere? That's a question without an easy answer."

In that connection, Salisbury's Inquirer story includes the following piece of news:

"[Philadelphia Mayor] Street said he is sending legislation to City Council that would 'establish a registry of all important' objects and works of art in the city. Such a registry, he said, would serve as an alarm system if a work is threatened with sale or removal. He offered no further details yesterday."

This issue also came up in the Michael Kimmelman piece mentioned above:

"From time to time, American museum directors talk about following the lead of other countries by drawing up lists of objects so important to the nation that they should never be sold. But the idea never goes anywhere. We're a rich country. We're capitalists. Our museums are stuffed with treasures bought and plundered from elsewhere. We benefit from a free market. Our museums are our argument for the values of dispersing global riches, for spreading multiculturalism. Being diverse, we are uncomfortable with talk about a 'shared history,' which is the basis for lists of cultural treasures. Lists are accounts of collective patrimony. 'Who is going to create such a list here?' Mr. de Montebello asked. 'The great strength of the United States is that it's not burdened by the regulations that cause entrepreneurial sclerosis in other countries. Our system is opportunistic, but on the whole it works.'''

(In fact, the above Kimmelman quote, proposing the "opportunity-to-match" rule, actually begins: "So here's a modest proposal. Forget lists. Instead, whenever art is sold by a public institution ....")

Further reaction to all of this from Lee Rosenbaum here.