Attorney General Sides With Berkshire Museum in Art Sale Dispute

A sign that reads "office of the attorney general."

Photo credit: Paul Brady Photography / Shutterstock

After more than six months of bitter disagreement, it looks as if the Berkshire Museum controversy is finally being settled in court.

A brief backstory:

In July 2017, the museum announced that it would auction off 40 of its works—a move that angered activists, including acclaimed artist Norman Rockwell’s three sons. The museum argued that the sale was necessary in order to fund renovations, expand its endowment, and pursue a “New Vision” in which future exhibitions would be centered on science, nature, and technology. Opponents of the decision filed a lawsuit, claiming that the museum’s decision to auction off the works violated the intent of the original donors.

For a while there, it appeared as if the attorney general’s office was going to side with the plaintiffs. In October 2017, the AGO requested a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction on the auction pending further investigation.

But as of Friday, February 9, 2018, the AGO asked the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to approve the sale of at least some of the 40 works that were originally going to be auctioned off at Sotheby’s in New York back in November. The AGO argued that the sale is necessary due to the museum’s dire financial status.

“This marks the beginning of efforts to bring communities back together,” said William F. Lee, a lawyer representing Berkshire. In a conference call with the press on Friday, he called the agreement “an important step forward.”

But not everyone is satisfied with the decision. Save the Art – Save the Museum, an activist group that objected to the sale, has called the decision “flawed.”

“It flouts all standards of museum best practices and fails to honor the Berkshire Museum’s duty to the community’s cultural past or its future generations,” the group said. “By leaving intact the current museum leadership, despite clear evidence of poor management and bad stewardship, the accord does nothing to protect the collection from future sales.”



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