First pieces auctioned in bid to fund 'New Vision'
Henry Moore's "Three Seated Women" and Francis Picabia's "Force Comique" fetched $240,000 and $920,000 hammer prices, respectively, at Sotheby's Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on Monday night. The winning bidders, both by phone, were not immediately known. Sotheby's reported a combined sale price of $1.42 million for the two works, which includes a buyer's premium that goes to the auction house.
Moore's drawing had been expected by Sotheby's to sell for an estimated $400,000 to $600,000; Picabia's watercolor had an estimated value of $800,000 to $1.2 million.
"Tonight's auction demonstrates people are interested in these works," museum spokeswoman Carol Bosco Baumann wrote in an email after the sales. "We are hoping these auctions will be successful in helping us secure the future of the Berkshire Museum for all those who rely on the museum for meaningful experiences in art, science, and history."
The sales will contribute to the $55 million in net proceeds allowed by the state Supreme Judicial Court on April 5. The amount, agreed upon by the museum and the state Attorney General's Office, will be used to shore up the museum's precarious financial situation and fund its "New Vision" project.
In addition to a private sale of Norman Rockwell's "Shuffleton's Barbershop" to the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in April, the museum has marked 39 pieces from its collection for auction. Thirteen works, including the two sold Monday night, will be auctioned by Sotheby's at four different May events.
If the $55 million in net sales is reached at the end of the first round of sales, the museum cannot proceed with the second and third auction lots and the remaining 26 works will return to the museum's permanent collection.
The agreed-upon sales price for "Shuffleton's" has not yet been disclosed. The estimated sales price ranged from $20 million to $30 million.
The Louise Crane Conservatorship donated "Three Seated Women" to the museum in 1991. Crane was the niece of Zenas Crane, who founded Berkshire Museum.
The drawing, a wax crayon, pencil, charcoal, wash and pen and ink on paper work created in 1942, depicts three women seated on a bench. The renowned British artist intended the work to be a study for a stone sculpture, but, according to Sotheby's auction catalog, that piece was never made.
The drawing was once owned by celebrated German art dealer Curt Valentin and, subsequently, by Winthrop Murray Crane, known as W. Murray Crane. Crane was the brother of Berkshire Museum founder Zenas Crane and served as a Massachusetts governor and U.S. senator.
Picabia's "Force Comique," created in 1914, arrived at Berkshire Museum as a gift from Mrs. John Nichols of Pittsfield in 1965. Picabia dabbled in different art forms and is perhaps best known as a Dadaist. The Sotheby's catalog says that "Force Comique," or "Comical Force," "pulsate[s] with a sense of rhythm and movement."
The work hung in a corner of Sotheby's 10th-floor gallery space until 1 p.m. Monday. While much of the foot traffic passed by Amedeo Modigliani's "Nu couche," a work expected to sell for more than $150 million, several passersby stopped to take photos of Picabia's watercolor, which was next to a Pablo Picasso work.
Moore's "Three Seated Women" was supposed to be situated at the other end of the wall. But in the final hour of Monday's showing, that area was barren. A Sotheby's staffer said the drawing had been taken down for a private viewing.
Nearly five hours later, protesters from the Berkshire-based Save the Art — Save the Museum group, occupied the bustling Upper East Side sidewalk next to Sotheby's main entrance.
"Our purpose really is to just draw attention to this kind of action as something that is unethical, that selling works in museum collections for anything other than upgrading a collection or adding to it, anything other than enhancing a collection, is not the way those proceeds should be used, and certainly not for a complete redirection without engagement around a mission, which is the case in this instance," spokeswoman Hope Davis said by phone in advance of the protest. Davis was among the 15-plus protesters who gathered just after 5:45 p.m. outside the auction house. The attendees held red, black and white signs made by a Pittsfield couple that expressed the group's displeasure with the museum's decision to sell the art as well as Sotheby's participation in it.
"Public Art is not a CA$H cow!" one read. Many of the protesters had traveled from the Berkshires for the occasion. Sara and Aidan Clement were part of a crew that took a van down from Pittsfield.
"We grew up going to that museum," Sara Clement said before she took her place against the building, holding one sign and leaning another against her legs.
Though the legal battle surrounding the works has ended, Clement and others believe ethical precedent is what's important moving forward.
"We can't drop the ball now," she said. "We are really trying to stand up for the public trust."
Passersby stopped to ask the protesters about their cause. One of them was Phil Daman, a lawyer specializing in intellectual property who has offices around the country.
"What's the problem?" he asked a group of protesters, who made their case.
"It's very sad," Daman said afterward, citing the importance of engaging the creative class to generate change.
Davis isn't sure if Save the Art — Save the Museum will protest again at one of the upcoming Sotheby's auctions. She said that May 23, when Rockwell's "Blacksmith's Boy — Heel and Toe (Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop)" and a few other valuable pieces will be up for bid, might present another opportunity.
On Wednesday, Alexander Calder's "Double Arc and Sphere" will be the next Berkshire Museum piece auctioned by Sotheby's. It is expected to fetch $2 million to $3 million.
Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at email@example.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.
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