More than 75 art historians, curators, and scholars have signed an open letter against an upcoming sale of works from the collection of the Newark Museum of Art in New Jersey, as reported by the Art Newspaper. The letter, which was reviewed by Hyperallergic, denounces the “senseless monetization” of 17 pieces slated to go under the hammer at Sotheby’s next week, including paintings by Thomas Eakins, Marsden Hartley, Childe Hassam, Thomas Moran, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Charles Sheeler.
The letter’s co-authors are William L. Coleman, a former curator of American art at the museum; author and historian Tyler Green; and a third collaborator who has asked to remain anonymous. The trio laments the loss of one work in particular — Thomas Cole’s “The Arch of Nero” (1846), an oil on canvas depiction of the Roman arch that has been interpreted as an admonition of tyrannical rule.
“The painting urges Americans to be on guard against the dilution and potential dissolution of their republican experiment,” the authors write. “For northeasterners such as Cole, the prime source of corruption of American republicanism was the Southern slavocracy and its unjust influence within the federal government.” Cole’s work is expected to fetch between $500,000 and $700,000, making it among the most valuable in the trove.
“We beseech you to cancel the self-diminishment and monetization of Newark’s art,” the letter concludes. “Take this opportunity to tell the intertwined story of art and the American nation better and louder than before.”
Among the letter’s signatories are Maxwell L. Anderson, president of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, and James K. Ballinger, director emeritus of the Phoenix Art Museum, both past presidents of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD).
In an email to Coleman provided to Hyperallergic, Newark Museum of Art director Linda Harrison stood by the decision, explaining that it had been approved by the museum’s curators, registrars, and board of trustees following an eight-month review. The 17 artworks selected for sale represent less than one-fifth of 1% of the Museum’s 130,000 objects, she added, and the Hudson River School movement — to which Cole’s “Arch of Nero” belongs — is strongly represented throughout the collection.
Ben Martin, a spokesperson for the Newark Museum of Art, told Hyperallergic that proceeds from the sale will go toward a permanent fund for long-term care of the collection, and to help “offset the economic impact of the pandemic.”
“The decision precisely follows the guidelines set forth by the Association of Art Museums (AAM) and the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), as well as the Museum’s Collection Management Policy, and comes with the support of local, state and federal elected officials and the President of the AAMD,” Martin said.
“For museums, thinking about the future also requires reconsidering the past. For our Museum, with its 112-year history, we need to cast a critical eye on outdated and harmful narratives that have hung in our galleries without enough questions being asked,” he added.
The missive comes in the midst of a heated debate around museum deaccessioning, or selling artworks in public collections. Proponents defend the practice as a source of much-needed funding at a challenging time for the sector, but critics fear institutions will come to depend on deaccessioning money for operational expenses, liquidating their most prized assets at the public’s expense. Last year, the Baltimore Museum of Art faced a wave of backlash when it announced the sale of three paintings by Clyfford Still, Andy Warhol, and Brice Marden from its collection to support staff salaries, equity programs, and new acquisitions by underrepresented artists. Succumbing to public pressure, the institution canceled the sale on the day of the auction.
A new study details the creation of a hyper-flexible material inspired by an unexpected source: the humble sea cucumber.
The extensive exhibition confronts the Netherlands’s often-forgotten colonialist legacy.
The 1,600-year-old fragment was part of a dodecahedron, a mysterious object that experts believe may have been linked to the occult.
The Renaissance work by Francesco Salviati is the museum’s first painting on marble.
The 1969 exhibition 5 + 1, and now Revisiting 5 + 1, are reminders that the history of Black Art in the United States is diverse rather than monolithic.
The artist’s solo US museum debut at the Baltimore Museum of Art is a contemptuous, at times satirical, take on oppression that gives way to a new history.
Ten artists will receive studio space and access to faculty, staff, students, workshops, and programming at an arts institution in the heart of Philadelphia.
Who tells a tale adds a tail: Latin America and contemporary art explores contemporary Latin American art without conforming to external expectations.
Simulation Sketchbook takes as its starting point the reality that digital artists, like all artists, sketch out their work as well.
Twitter’s curbing of free API access could affect accounts posting from museum collections or the archives of long-gone artists.
How does a selective competition fit with the contemporary art world’s aspirations toward greater inclusivity?