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Artists Adam Pendleton and Amy Sherald are among the latest to resign from the board of trustees at the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) in the wake of the institution’s announcement of a controversial deaccessioning plan. Pendleton and Sherald join two honorary trustees who have also stepped down from the board over the last few weeks.
There are less than 48 hours left until the sale of the works from the BMA’s collection that has drawn ire from hundreds of museum supporters and numerous prominent cultural figures. Two of the three deaccessioned paintings, Brice Marden’s “3” (1987-1988) and Clyfford Still’s “1957-G” (1957), will be offered publicly at Sotheby’s this Wednesday night; Andy Warhol’s “The Last Supper” (1986) will be sold privately by the auction house.
The sale is expected to bring in approximately $65 million, the bulk of which will be used to establish an endowment for the direct care of the collection. It is projected to yield $2.5 million in annual income for salaries of curators, registrars, and conservators, among others. The museum also intends to funnel $10 million of the proceeds toward an acquisition fund for works by women and artists of color.
According to the Washington Post, neither Pendleton nor Sherald stated their objection to the sale, nor cited the deaccession directly as a reason for their resignation.
“I have my opinions about the recent and ongoing proceedings but do not feel as though I am in a position to weigh in, which has given me clarity about my decision to resign,” Pendleton told the Post.
In her resignation letter, Sherald said, “While I have my impressions about the deaccession I respect the opinions of the remaining trustees whose tenure has informed their decision making.” A supermajority of board members voted in favor of deaccessioning the trio of paintings.
Sherald also denounced a claim made by former board chairman Charles Newhall III that her role on the board represented a conflict of interest because BMA director Christopher Bedford later acquired work by the artist for the museum.
“This is a high mark of audacity to assume that I was nominated only to be used as a pawn for Christopher Bedford’s gain. I like to believe that we are all seen for our capabilities and as individuals,” Sherald wrote in the letter. “Any suggestion otherwise is implausible. Not only is it egregious but it is irresponsible especially given the fact that trustees are vetted and approved by committee.”
A museum representative told Hyperallergic, “Adam Pendleton and Amy Sherald determined that they could not fully participate in board activities due to other commitments and have resigned. We are grateful for the time they invested and for the perspectives and ideas that they brought to the BMA.”
Newhall and another former board chair, Stiles Colwill, have stepped down from their more recent honorary trustee positions on the board in protest of the deaccession. They have also expressed intentions to rescind verbal pledges of $30 million and $20 million, respectively, for the museum’s upcoming 100th anniversary campaign. However, the museum told Hyperallergic it had no record of such pledges.
Meanwhile, former BMA board member Laurence Eisenstein, who drafted an open letter opposing the deaccession that has now been signed by more than 150 museum supporters, is requesting legal action to stop the sale of Still’s canvas this Wednesday. This morning, he sent a letter to the State of Maryland warning of potential sale restrictions placed on the canvas by Still himself, as he often did with paintings he donated to institutions. A copy of the letter was also sent to Sotheby’s.
Eisenstein told Hyperallergic that he has also contacted the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) to clarify whether the BMA’s deaccessions are in line with best practices. Although AAMD temporarily loosened some of its restrictions on deaccessioning works in light of the coronavirus pandemic, Eisenstein says that the BMA’s actions “fly in the face” of the organization’s guidelines that works only be sold in cases of financial distress.
The museum says the sale of the artworks will proceed as planned. “While we appreciate the variety of presumptions being circulated, the BMA has, in collaboration with legal counsel, fully vetted the works selected for deaccession. There are no restrictions on the sale of the Clyfford Still, Brice Marden, or Andy Warhol paintings,” a spokesperson told Hyperallergic.