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Closed for nearly a year, empty Los Angeles Struggle museums

LOS ANGELES – Fulton Leroy Washington (known as Mr. Wash), who began painting while serving time for a non-violent drug offense, was looking forward to being a part of the Hammer Biennale Museum – his first museum exhibition – before the pandemic forced open the doors. closed a few months before the opening of the exhibition. “I started to get excited,” Washington said. “Then disappointment set in.”

The “Made in LA 2020” show was installed in June and is still in place. But the public was not allowed to see him inside.

Los Angeles, where the coronavirus pandemic has been particularly severe, is the largest city in the country whose museums have yet to reopen, even temporarily, since the pandemic last March. The extended closure costs its museums millions of dollars a day in lost revenue and brings the city back to a crucial time when an influx of artists and galleries and a growing museum scene have prompted some to make Los Angeles the creative hub. from the world of contemporary art. .

“It’s frustrating to see crowded malls, retail spaces and airports, but museums are completely closed and many haven’t been able to reopen at all in the past 10 months,” said Celeste DeWald , Executive Director of the California Association of Museums. “There is a unique impact on museums.”

The city is an outlier. In recent weeks, museums in Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago, all of which have experienced less severe outbreaks, have been allowed to reopen at reduced capacity. And New York’s museums, which reopened in late August, remained open even as virus cases and deaths spiked again in the fall and winter.

While the viral outlook in Los Angeles has improved dramatically since last month, when a surge overwhelmed hospitals and funeral homes, the county continues to record more new cases of the virus every day than any other in America.

Some Los Angeles museum executives are bristling with state regulations, which they say forced them to remain closed even as commercial entities were allowed to resume operations (and art galleries are now open by appointment).

“When they opened up art galleries and indoor malls, I was like, ‘That doesn’t sound right to me,'” said Hammer director Ann Philbin. “Our museums function as real places of respite, healing and inspiration – they help people a lot. ”

Some museums elsewhere in the state were able to reopen at least briefly, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which opened for two months from October before having to close again.

But now all museums in the state must remain closed indoors (outdoor areas can be used), costing them $ 22 million a day, according to the museums association. The total estimated revenue losses for 2020 are more than $ 5 billion, the association said, including science centers, zoos and aquariums.

A statement from the office of Gavin Newsom, the Governor of California, said that “museums are essential to the fabric of our society,” but warned that they remain “high-risk environments as they attract visitors from all over the world. State and country, which increases the risk of transmission of the virus. “

In addition, visitors often stay in museums for long periods of time, “the statement continued,” again increasing the risk of transmission. “

In Los Angeles, the prolonged closure of museums has impacted not only admissions and memberships, but also event rentals, fundraising and other income-generating activities.

“It hurts,” said W. Richard West Jr., president and CEO of the Autry Museum of the American West, adding that he hoped the museums would be allowed to reopen at a limited capacity “so that the public know that we are not dead. “

The pandemic has struck amid a wave of activity in Los Angeles museums: major renovation projects at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Hammer; the success of the Broad; the creation of the Frieze Los Angeles art fair; and new management at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Klaus Biesenbach) and the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art (Anne Ellegood).

Two new flagships of the city have had to postpone their opening dates: the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, from spring to fall 2021, and the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, from 2022 to 2023.

Small institutions have been particularly affected. Revenue for the Museum of African American Art, which is on the third floor of a Macy’s store, fell 68%. “We are inside an open retail space,” Keasha Dumas Heath, the museum’s executive director, said during a Feb. 2 testimony before a National Assembly arts committee on how to safely reopen artistic activities. “People don’t understand why we are closed.”

Artists, in particular, are feeling the effects. One of the most anticipated exhibitions of the year, the Hammer Biennale ‘Made in LA 2020’ – with its complementary presentation at the Huntington Library, the Art Museum and the Botanical Gardens – has been postponed until later this year . The delay left the show’s 30 artists without a crucial opportunity to gain attention.

“This show can make or break careers,” Philbin said. “It’s a really big show for these artists – it can offer them galleries – and it’s not happening for any of them right now.

Due to the extended closure and crowded exhibition calendars of the museums, some shows may have to close without ever being seen by the public. The Getty Museum’s exhibition of Michelangelo’s drawings was only open to the public for six days; another, in Mesopotamia, was due to open just after the museum closed on March 14.

Last April, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art expected to open what was billed as the first international retrospective of Japanese painter Yoshitomo Nara. The artist, known for his disturbing portraits, made two trips to Los Angeles from Tokyo to oversee the installation of the exhibition, but it never opened.

As they tried to argue that they should be allowed to fully resume their operations, several museum directors in Los Angeles said most of their attendance came from locals, not tourists. And some have suggested that visitors to museums don’t dwell on art as long as some would expect.

In a call to reopen museums last fall, the state museums association cited research from the California Academy of Sciences showing that visitors typically spend less than 20 minutes in exhibits. (A group of researchers conducted a study at the Art Institute of Chicago and found that the time spent viewing a single artwork averaged around 29 seconds.)

Michael Govan, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, said he was struck by the inconsistency in the museum’s store being allowed to remain open, as it qualifies as commerce, as are galleries. art, which are often much smaller than museums. Museums, he argued, provide a public service.

“We could be part of the solution,” Govan said.

At Los Angeles’ largest museums, officials say, it would be easy to enforce distancing measures. “We have 100,000 square feet of space and a limited number of people in the museum,” said Terry L. Karges, executive director of the Petersen Automotive Museum.

Newsom’s recently proposed budget included $ 25 million for small museums and theaters, as well as $ 15 million for the California Arts Council for the California Creative Corps – to be funded through matching private donations – which would hire artists to produce. public health messages.

“We know they are struggling,” Newsom said of state institutions. “We also know that people of all ages look to these organizations for hope, healing, connection and joy.” But he added that the guidelines for museums “are aimed at ensuring the safety of people in order to minimize case rates and ensure that we don’t overload our intensive care units.”

According to state guidelines, museums cannot open their doors if they are in counties with an average of more than seven new cases per day per 100,000 population. Los Angeles County averages more than 40 new cases per day per 100,000 population, according to a New York Times database that tracks the two-week trend.

The state legislature’s budget committees have called on the governor to increase his funding for cultural aid to $ 50 million. “California is the latest state to allow statewide covered museums to reopen,” the committee chairs said in a Feb. 4 letter co-signed by 250 cultural institutions.

“While we understand the need to be cautious to avoid the spread,” the letter continued, “we also know that no industry can survive shutdown for more than a year.”

Not all Los Angeles museums are pushing to reopen. “We need to prioritize the safety of our staff and our public,” said Biesenbach of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), where total revenues fell by 26%, members by 32% and admissions from 50%.

“When the numbers go down and the vaccine is out,” Biesenbach added, “then it would be appropriate to reopen.”

Others are eager to let people in. “We haven’t given up,” said DeWald of the museums association. “We continue to argue that museums can adopt protocols and use existing state guidelines to make their spaces safe.”

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The results of the pandemic on Los Angeles museums

Hello.

(This article is part of California today newsletter. Register to have it delivered to your inbox.)

Throughout the pandemic, cultural institutions of all kinds have been hit with an ever-changing set of closures and aggravated losses.

This was especially true in Los Angeles, by some measures the most affected metropolis in the country, or many indoor activities have been restricted for almost a year.

My colleague Robin pogrebin, who reports on cultural institutions, wrote about the Los Angeles pandemic toll museums in this room. She told us a bit more about how she approached the story:

Before the pandemic, I had arranged with my editors to spend a few months a year in Los Angeles, doing stories about the art world and creating sources to better integrate the West Coast news into my regular cultural coverage.

In recent years, Los Angeles has been a hotbed of activity, with more artists settling there, more galleries open, the creation of the Frieze LA art fair and more activity among museums, including plans for two new ones – the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures and the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.

[Catch up on California’s reopening process.]

When the pandemic hit, I decided to stick to my Los Angeles plan, even though it would clearly be more difficult in a Covid environment. I had no idea my arrival in January would put me in the middle of the epicenter of the virus, with about one in three of the estimated 10 million people in Los Angeles County infected since the start of the pandemic.

Nonetheless, I contacted sources by phone and conducted in-person interviews with hidden sources. On one such visit to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, director Michael Govan highlighted the frustration his institution and others have felt at the shutdown since March.

[The director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art stepped down following a bumpy year.]

Ever since I had covered reopening museums in places like New York and Houston, the fact that Los Angeles museums were never allowed to reopen struck me. I then spoke with the directors of other museums in the county, including the Hammer, the Petersen Automotive Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Autry Museum of the American West.

I also interviewed artists affected by the shutdown and asked California Governor Gavin Newsom for an explanation. The reporting process allowed me to connect with different actors in the art world of the city. I can’t wait to keep telling their stories.

At another press conference on Tuesday at another new mass vaccination site – this time it was Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara – Governor Gavin Newsom once again asked for the patience of Californians still anxious to be vaccinate and promised more updates in the days to come.

“The only limiting factor will be the supply,” he said.

He said incomplete early demographic data on people who had already been vaccinated was a “cause for concern” but said data would be available nonetheless.

And he addressed difficult and looming questions about whether students across the state would be able to return to class, even if not all teachers were vaccinated. It’s a live debate happening across the country, and across the vast California statewide standards are elusive.

“I want to vaccinate our teachers,” he said. “But when you get less than 600,000 first doses per week, we have to be honest with people and parents that it is very unlikely that we will be able to achieve this very idealistic goal before the end of the school year. .

Still, he said, negotiations were ongoing. And – you guessed it – there would be more announcements soon.

[Track California coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths.]

Read more:

  • Colleges have promised a safer spring. But then came the variants – and the students. [The New York Times]

  • Uber and Lyft drivers have been on a roller coaster over the past year. And fall was another dip, as drivers had to choose between protecting themselves or spending their days in cars with strangers. [The New York Times]

If you missed it, read “The Primal Scream,” a series that explores how working mothers have been pushed to the breaking point of the pandemic and what it says about our society. [The New York Times]

  • Where do we see coronavirus variants and mutations? And which should we be most worried about? Learn more with this tracker. [The New York Times]

  • And learn more about the possibility a single vaccine that would work against all coronaviruses, present and future. [The New York Times]

Also: Help us to know the results of the pandemic by share the memories of someone you have lost.


  • Thieves Across The Country Sweep Catalytic Converters From Cars. They are critical emission control devices that contain traces of precious metals. [The New York Times]

  • Investigators said on Tuesday that the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others, was probably caused by the pilot’s decision to fly in the clouds, in violation of federal rules. [The New York Times]

  • A revived state bill limit the ability of national and local law enforcement authorities to purchase military-type equipment. Supporters say protesters were encountered frequently last summer with excessive force – facilitated by police departments’ access to such equipment – and police groups say such legislation would interfere with their operations. [The San Francisco Chronicle]

  • Meet LeRonne Armstrong, the new Oakland Police Chief. He has a difficult job ahead of him: the department has been under federal supervision for 18 years. [Oaklandside]

  • There are five candidates spread over one big question – managing the pandemic to revive the region’s economy – in the race to become the Supervisor of District 2 of Orange County. They will replace Rep. Michelle Steel, a Republican who was narrowly elected to the House, after opposing public health guidelines as chair of the board. [The Orange County Register]

  • Fifty years ago, the Sylmar earthquake rocked Los Angeles awakened to what had been a largely unrecognized danger. [The Los Angeles Times]

  • Birria’s Internet Hype it is complicated. Eating delicious birria is not. [The New York Times]

  • Looking for a creative and more lasting Valentine’s Day gesture? Make your loved one a bouquet of dried flowers. [The New York Times]


California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. PT on weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: CAtoday@nytimes.com. Have you been forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read each edition online here.

Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from UC Berkeley and has reported statewide, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles – but she always wants to see more. Follow us here or on Twitter.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from UC Berkeley.

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Do museums need a buying network for art donations?

For art collectors interested in donating a work, there have long been concerns that their gift, a precious painting, perhaps loved, will end up in a museum basement, where many collectibles. permanent resident, invisible.

For museums, which depend on the generosity of donors, the worry is that it is difficult to compete with the most prestigious and popular works of their genre.

“People know about great museums like the Whitney, the Met and the Guggenheim,” said Carter E. Foster, curator at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas. “But they don’t know us.

For example, curators like Foster and collectors like Michael Straus are cautiously optimistic about the potential of a new venture, the Museum Exchange, a subscription-based online catalog of works for donation that aims to connect collectors who are looking to find accommodation for their property. museums look for objects that support their mission.

“It is really very valuable for me to donate a work of art where it is seen to meet a need,” said Straus, who uses the exchange to donate a single series of 60 works. individual art from the first decade of the present century. .

The stock exchange, still a fledgling activity, attracted the interest of a dozen institutions and published its first quarterly catalog last fall. It features 32 works by artists like Jonathan Lasker, Richard Hunt, Wangechi Mutu and Diana Thater which have been presented as potential gifts by 15 donors. Donors pay a variable processing fee that the exchange would not disclose.

There is a subscription fee of $ 1,000 per year for museums and so far museums as small as the Blanton and as large as the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo have signed up. For now, the catalog focuses on modern and contemporary works of art, according to David Moos, a private art advisor who is one of the co-founders of the exchange.

The business plan ultimately involves charging collectors for other services such as appraisals and shipping, but initially it relies on museum subscriptions. There appears to be a need for a significant number of subscribers to fund operations, and operators have declined to say how many of the 12 museums registered so far have paid subscription fees.

The exchange will be led by Michael Darling, who announced his departure this week as chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

“Museums are going through a period of change that is only just beginning,” said Darling. “We want to help museums develop a broader vision of what contemporary art looks like by having access to different parts of the country.”

Museum acquisition budgets have rarely been large enough to allow institutions to compete in the open market with wealthy collectors. This disparity has only increased in recent years with the soaring prices of high profile contemporary art and has even been made worse by the pandemic. Relations with donors are therefore particularly important. Yet donors, though often motivated by the tax deductions that come with museum gifts, have been upset to see their gifts sometimes put aside – so upset, in fact, that some owners of the most treasured collections have been able to get them signed. agreements with museums committing to exhibit donated art.

Foster said he had identified a contemporary drawing in the catalog which he hopes will make its way to his museum in Austin.

As part of the exchange process, curators interested in a work must write an argument describing the nature of their institution and how the work fits. Collectors can see who is interested in their works before deciding where they will go.

Cathleen Chaffee, chief curator at Albright-Knox, said the site could help build relationships with potential customers beyond their region. “We hope this is the opportunity to meet like-minded collectors,” she said. “Collectors can not only bring philanthropy. They bring their own community and expertise. “

The site faces a number of hurdles, one of which is that many donors develop long-standing relationships with particular museums, which court them and offer them special access and other benefits.

“Those kinds of people won’t want their work to end up anywhere,” said Karen Boyer, a private art advisor in Miami who has helped collectors place works in museums. “They want it to end up on the wall of an institution they love and where their friends will see their name.”

However, Tim Schrager, an Atlanta-based collector where he is a board member of the High Museum of Art, said he would try to use the exchange. Recently, he said, he wanted to donate three works, but the High could only take two, and he had to look for another house for the third, by Dutch artist Folkert de Jong. After calling a lot, he placed it in a museum in Birmingham, Ala.

In the future, the exchange could facilitate this process, he said. “Museums will be able to see it,” he said, “and determine if it is appropriate.”

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Single senator launches hopes for Latin American and women’s museums – for now

“The so-called critical theory underlying this movement does not celebrate diversity; it harnesses diversity, ”he said. “He sharpens all those hyphens like knives and daggers. It turned our college campuses into grievance contests and cowardly Orwellian crowds to nullify anyone who dared to express an original thought.

Speaking to Mr Menendez, he said Latino and women’s history should be part of existing Smithsonian museums, and as these topics were not properly represented there, this should be the focus of Congress, and not the building of new institutions.

Mr. Menendez, furious, was far from convinced.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Sixty million Latinos in this country are watching tonight because it’s a highly anticipated moment. Univision, Telemundo, affiliates across the country, national organizations and others have been waiting for this moment – a moment that everyone in Congress in the United States agrees with except one colleague.

He argued that Latinos were just as entitled to their own cultural institution as African Americans and Native Americans, to whom the Smithsonian Museums have been devoted in recent years. When Mr. Lee said these groups had their histories “virtually erased” by the government seeking to enslave or eradicate them, giving them a unique right to dedicated federal facilities, Mr. Menendez said Latinos, they too had been “systematically excluded. “

Mr. Lee is not the first to worry about the Smithsonian’s divide into several identity-based museums. This concern, along with budgetary issues, has been one of the main points of opposition to a Latin museum in recent years amid sweeping lobbying campaigns for it.

But Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who tried to pass the bill creating a women’s history museum, lamented that “it seems wrong” that a single senator subverts a clear majority that favored women. institutions.

“Surely, in a year when we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, now is the time, now is the time to finally adopt the legislation unanimously recommended by an independent commission to create a museum of the history of American women in our nation’s capital, ”Ms. Collins said. “I regret that this does not happen tonight, but we will not give up the fight.”

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Smithsonian Museums Last To Close Due To Rise In Viruses

As coronavirus cases increase across the country, the Smithsonian will once again temporarily shut down eight of its Washington-area institutions on Monday.

“The establishment’s top priority is to protect the health and safety of its visitors and staff,” the Smithsonian said in a statement. “We will use this time to reassess, monitor and explore other risk mitigation measures.”

Seven museums and the National Zoo, which had all reopened on September 25, will close again, the statement said.

No reopening date has been announced.

The decision came as a second wave of closures was announced by museums in a number of states across the country. In recent days, officials in Oregon, Illinois and several other states have announced new virus restrictions that will force museums to close again, and several of Philadelphia’s top institutions, including the Philadelphia Museum. of Art, announced this week their intention to close again.

The Smithsonian Museums in New York, the Cooper Hewitt, the Smithsonian Design Museum, and the National Museum of the American Indian George Gustav Heye Center, have been closed to the public since March 14.

The Smithsonian had gradually reopened eight of its Washington-area institutions this summer, starting with the National Zoo and the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at the National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Va., On July 24.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the Renwick Gallery followed later, on September 18. “We haven’t had any staff infections, which means our security protocols are working,” Smithsonian secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III told the Washington Post at the time.

The National Museum of American History and the National Museum of American Indian reopened on September 25.

Like the rest of the country, the nation’s capital has seen an increase in the number of cases in recent weeks: 156 new cases of the coronavirus were reported in Washington on Wednesday, and the average of 155 daily cases was a 73% increase from at the figure of two weeks. earlier.

As of Thursday afternoon, at least 19,678 cases of coronavirus had been reported and at least 667 people had died in Washington since the start of the pandemic, according to a New York Times database.

The closures are the latest setback in a dark time for museums nationwide. An American Alliance of Museums survey released Tuesday found that nearly one in three museums in the United States remains closed due to the pandemic, and most of them have never reopened since the initial closure in March.

“The financial situation of American museums is going from bad to worse,” said Laura Lott, president and CEO of the American Alliance of Museums, in a statement announcing the results of the investigation.

The Smithsonian said visitors who booked timed entry tickets would be contacted directly. Its outdoor gardens will remain open, no passes required.

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Nearly a third of U.S. museums remain closed due to pandemic, survey finds

At the San Diego Museum of Natural History and similar institutions across the country, exhibit halls remain dark, atriums empty, frontline workers on leave.

Judy Gradwohl, the museum’s president and CEO, decided in August to close for the rest of the year – and she said in an interview on Tuesday that she thought she made the right call.

“We’re finding great ways to channel our energy into online programming and move forward on a number of projects,” Ms. Gradwohl said, “rather than spending all of our time trying to figure out how to stay open safely. .

Today, a survey by the American Alliance of Museums released on Tuesday clearly shows that nearly one in three museums in the United States remains closed due to the pandemic, and most of these have never reopened since. the initial closure in March.

The San Diego Museum is an active scientific research center that is not as dependent as other museums on ticket revenue. But, for others, financial problems are becoming critical.

Of the 850 museum directors who responded to the survey, which was conducted in the second half of October, just over half said their institutions had six months or less of their financial exploitation reserve. . Eighty-two percent said they were 12 months or younger.

These numbers are similar to the results of the group’s first survey in June, indicating that, for museums that have reopened, a few months of limited-capacity operations haven’t made much of a difference.

“The financial situation of American museums is going from bad to worse,” said Laura Lott, president and CEO of the American Alliance of Museums, in a statement announcing the results of the investigation. “Those who have served their communities safely this summer do not have enough income to offset higher costs, especially during a possible winter lockdown.

Establishments that have reopened are only operating at about a third of their capacity, according to the survey. Just over half have laid off or laid off staff since March, with nearly 70% of frontline workers, including those working in customer services, admissions and retail, affected.

American museums, which receive smaller government grants than European institutions, have been particularly affected by the pandemic. They rely on donations and ticket sales to keep their doors open, but these have declined or have dried up since March. Museum directors said that on average they expected to lose about a third of their institution’s budgeted operating profit in 2020.

Nearly one in three museum directors said their establishment was at risk of closing for good if they did not find additional funding in the next 12 months. Twelve percent of administrators rated their facility as “significant risk,” and 17% said they “didn’t know” if they would survive.

Some museums have tried to put their annual fundraising galas online, but virtual events, on average, fall short of targets institutions had projected before the pandemic, according to the survey, reporting only about the two third of expected donations.

A number of smaller museums have been unable to hang on due to a lack of a solid donor base or new financial support from the government. The World of Speed ​​Motorsports Museum in Wilsonville, Ore., Announced in May that it would not reopen; the Tahoe Maritime Museum in California closed in July; and the KGB Museum in Manhattan closed last month,

“Without financial support, we could see thousands of museums shut down forever,” Ms. Lott said.

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Two museums have tried to sell art. Only one grieved over it.

Two museums planned to sell works from their collections at a Sotheby’s auction on Wednesday evening.

One progressed seamlessly, with the Brooklyn Museum raising nearly $ 20 million for seven works by artists, including Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, and Claude Monet.

The other, the Baltimore Museum of Art, decided to remove its paintings – by Clyfford Still and Brice Marden – two hours before the much-criticized sale after talks with the Association of Art Museum Directors, a professional organization that advances best practices in the field.

If the disparate reactions to the two auctions are a bit confusing, welcome to the world of desacession, the often Byzantine process by which museums get rid of objects that no longer serve their long-term interests, whether through sale or donation. .

It’s common for museums to sell second-tier or redundant works that languish in storage rooms to generate funds for new acquisitions. But museums can go against ethical standards set by the association – and risk being publicly hit with sanctions that prohibit loans from member museums – when decommissioning funds are allocated to operating expenses.

But the association relaxed its rules in April, acknowledging the extraordinary financial pressures the pandemic had placed on museums. He said that for two years, museums would be able to use the decommissioning funds not only to pay for acquisitions, but also to directly manage their collections. And, significantly, the organization provided leeway in how each facility defined this care internally.

Brooklyn and Baltimore were quick to take advantage of it.

For Brooklyn, which has laid off 7% of its staff since the start of the pandemic, the need was dire. Its director, Anne Pasternak, said the institution was “extremely conservative” in its selection of objects. A table by Carlo Mollino, worth $ 6.2 million at Sotheby’s, had been considered for disaccession for decades, given the museum’s greater possession of the artist’s works. “The Monet happens to be charming but is not one of his great works nor close to the best in our collection,” Ms. Pasternak said.

Likewise, the museum has been cautious about how the money will be allocated to the care fund for its collection. “We didn’t just say, ‘Here are all the restaurant owners’ salaries’; we estimated the time they would actually spend maintaining an item, ”she said.

Baltimore, however, had a balanced budget and no layoffs or time off. Rather, its director, Christopher Bedford, who in 2018 donated seven premier paintings to purchase works by women and artists of color, seized the opportunity to raise funds for more initiatives based on the equity in its museum – in a city with a 68 percent black population.

With his curators and board of directors, he nominated Still and the Marden, as well as a monumental canvas from Andy Warhol’s “Last Supper” series, which together are expected to bring in $ 65 million. The museum said the proceeds from the sale would be used to acquire more work by underrepresented artists and to create an endowment for the care of the collection that would free approximately $ 2.5 million in the budget for increases. staff-level wages and other equity-oriented measures. Given Warhol’s wealth, Marden’s works on paper, and the Abstract Expressionist movement as a whole, the rulers felt they could still richly tell these stories without the works to be removed.

“This is done specifically in recognition of the demonstration led by museum staff to receive a fair living wage to do the groundwork for an institution with a social justice mission,” Mr Bedford said in early October, after a summer protests when museums across the country dealt with internal complaints about structural inequalities and racism in the workplace.

The association of museum directors expressed no concerns at first. “They are in line with how AAMD has defined this resolution for this period,” said its executive director, Christine Anagnos, at the time of the announcement.

But the backlash was quick on the part of art critics, historians and museum professionals. The paintings for sale were hardly second-rate, said Arnold Lehman, former director of the Baltimore (1979-97) and Brooklyn (1997-2015) museums.

“I’m not at all opposed to disaccession,” Mr. Lehman said, “but Baltimore was selling masterpieces – as good as you’re going to get from Warhol’s ending, as well as you’re going to get from Marden. and a fabulous Still. He was personally involved in the acquisition of the Warhol and the Marden. The Still, a gift from the artist who lived in Maryland late in her life, is also the only work in her collection.

A group of former Baltimore administrators led by Laurence Eisenstein has asked the state of Maryland to intervene in an open letter.

The current chairman of the Baltimore board, Clair Zamoiski Segal, hit back. “To suggest that the absence of these three works breaks the trust of the public misses the reality of the many people whose trust we have not yet gained,” she said in a statement.

Prominent donors have said they have rescinded their pledges. “I certainly don’t believe in selling masterpieces to fund diversity,” wrote Charles Newhall III, former chairman of the board, in his letter of resignation as honorary trustee on October 15. . “In my mind, Chris Bedford is putting the artists he is promoting and the BMA has bought paintings. “

Two acclaimed black artists on the board, Amy Sherald and Adam Pendleton, then stepped down, without directly weighing on the imbroglio of disaccession. But Ms Sherald, who spent her formative years as a young artist in Baltimore and is best known for painting the portrait of Michelle Obama, took umbrage at Mr Newhall’s claim. “It is a great daring to assume that I was nominated only to be used as a pawn for the gain of Christopher Bedford,” she wrote in her public statement.

In an interview this week, Eisenstein said critics of the sale agreed with promoting diversity and pay equity, but were opposed to “taking what appears to be a shortened approach to monetizing. art instead of doing the harder job of fundraising. and development. “

Lori Johnson, professor of art history at Morgan State University in Baltimore, said the attitude expressed by critics only maintained the status quo. “Saying we could fundraise through traditional means is basically how we got to where we are now – we are still under-represented and we still have people waiting for the careers they deserve. She said. “There is more at stake than these three works.”

Rev. Dr. Alvin C. Hathaway Sr., of Union Baptist Church in Baltimore, said he hopes the dispute will spark a healthy conversation in America about structural barriers to equality. “Is it the value of art or is the value of the accessibility of others to have access to art and so that their art is also valued”, he asked.

State officials have never publicly intervened in the affair, but the association clarified its position this week in a statement from its president, Brent Benjamin. Funds intended for “long-term needs – or lofty goals,” he wrote, “must not come from the sale of abandoned art.”

Then 14 current and former museum directors signed a letter to the chairman of the Baltimore board asking the museum to reconsider the sale.

The museum finally decided to “suspend” its plan to sell the works after a telephone call Wednesday afternoon between the leaders of the association and Mr. Bedford and Ms. Zamoiski Segal.

But Mr Bedford made it clear in an interview Thursday that the bigger conversation is not over.

“As an institution, we value the views of our colleagues and understand the importance of upholding the professional guidelines that govern our field,” said Mr. Bedford. “However, I believe that the time has come to think more deeply about the operating standards of museums. The turmoil we are experiencing is not just financial; it is the result of ingrained systems which cannot sustain neither the moment nor the future. Our communities call us to action, to go beyond words and symbols.