Historians Say the Newark Museum’s Plan to Deaccession Art at Sotheby’s Will Inflict ‘Irreparable Damage’Breaking News
tags: museums, Newark, art history
When the Newark Museum of Art announced a plan to sell 17 objects in March, it provided few details as to which artworks might appear on the auction block. But a gradual release of the specifics has enraged some historians, including previous employees of the museum, who described the sale as a misguided attempt to monetize some of the collection’s best examples of American art, including a painting by the landscape artist Thomas Cole.
On Friday, opponents of the auction released a letter addressed to the museum’s director, Linda Harrison, demanding that she “cancel the self-diminishment and monetization of Newark’s art” because it was “inflicting irreparable damage” on the institution.
More than 60 curators and historians have signed the letter, including professors from Harvard and Yale, a former Baltimore Museum of Art trustee, and a past president of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD).
Among the works being offered at Sotheby’s on May 19 are examples by Mary Cassatt, Georgia O’Keeffe, Thomas Eakins, and Marsden Hartley. Scholars said that while the entire deaccessioning plan concerned them, it was the museum’s intention to sell Cole’s The Arch of Nero (1846), an allegory of the fragility of American democracy, that raised the loudest alarm.
The auction could generate millions for the Newark Museum, which has been closed throughout most of the pandemic and remains shuttered. The Cole painting alone is estimated to go for somewhere between $500,000 and $700,000.
Harrison has defended her museum’s decision, saying that the deaccessioning plan was “carefully and thoughtfully considered” and represented a loss of less than one percent of the museum’s 130,000 artworks.
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