From Vermont, Ireland, Hamilton
How did the Berkshire Museum brouhaha wind up in the highest court under SJO (Single Justice) review by Justice David A Lowy?
The Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, deemed it necessary to alter an original historic building and sell off its priceless core art collection in order to build a dream and survive. This controvertial move garnered attention and divided opinion. The Trustees of the Museum explained that they hired a consultancy firm which confirmed this new direction (“New Vision”), via extensive public outreach* no less, so what gives? (*22 focus groups involving over 200 people is hardly extensive.) Opponents cried, “Foul!”, and pointed out questionable and perhaps shady fodder, i.e. would museum members and the Berkshire community have voted YES had they been told that the best works from the permanent collection must be sold off to make it happen? Also, the art was consigned to Sotheby’s June 13, 2017, but the Trustees altered the museum’s Charter after the consignment date and only then informed the “public”. Timing is everything. There was even an infamous email with a ‘loose lips sink ships’ subject line. We know these details because of dogged reporting by the The Berkshire Eagle, notably Larry Parnass, and a wide network. The story is urgent and compelling, the art world equivalent of a Spotlight-All the President’s Men-Pentagon Papers type investigation.
The first auctions were slated for November 2017. Shuffleton’s Barbershop by Norman Rockwell was to have been the Berkshire Museum star lot. Its presale estimate alone was 20 to 30 million. By the Fall of 2017, the museum was hit with multiple lawsuits, sued by the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General, Norman Rockwell descendants, and various plaintiffs. Eventually, all were folded into #TeamAGO vs. the Berkshire Museum. On November 8th, the Lower Court ruled in favor of the Museum, clearing the legal right of way to auction. The Attorney General Office appealed to the State’s supreme judicial court to block the sale for more time to evaluate and investigate the case. Attorneys for the Museum fought that request vigorously, but were denied. On November 10, 2017, the AGO procured an injunction from Judge Trainor of the Massachusetts Appeals Court, scuttling any scheduled auction prior to December 11, 2017. Allowances for extensions to build the case were granted. On February 5th, the AGO switched teams and filed jointly with its former adversary, the Berkshire Museum, petitioning the court to apply cy pres and maintaining its opinion that indeed all the art is restricted:
“As detailed elsewhere (e.g., in its filings in the litigation referenced above) the AGO believes that all of the works of art deaccessioned and proposed for sale are subject to one or more restrictions that limit the Museum’s ability to proceed with its planned sale and use of proceeds to fund an endowment, pay for operating expenses and fund renovations. The Museum continues to believe no restrictions (beyond the Museum’s charitable purposes) apply.”
This alliance left many scratching their heads and interested parties formerly #TeamAGO adrift. Although the Rockwell plaintiffs backed off and dropped their case, law firms Sullivan & Worcester and Foley Hoag with Barker, Epstein & Loscocco solicited amicus status on behalf of their clients.
Immediately, the AGO and the Berkshire Museum filed opposition papers. They weren’t persuasive. The Justice granted the participation of the law firms which means that the SJ-2018-065 docket was vastly enlarged and enlightened on February 27, 2018, and I had to see. And share. (Although everything I was looking for and questioned was not there.) The attorneys disagree with the AGO and Berkshire Museum proposal, and request oral argument. The AGO and Museum responses were filed after I visited. Justice David A Lowy will make that decision. He can act on filed papers related to Docket SJ-2018-065, order a hearing, or pass the case back to the full court. What will he do? I’m crossing fingers that arguments will be heard, and with the full court (which meets the first week each month and is open to the public), especially after I considered the material in person. The Berkshire Museum could inspire a Frank Capra-esque courtroom movie treatment one day.
In the meantime, the art remains in Sotheby’s possession and the auction house stands down as the case is sorted. The docket includes Sotheby’s contract.
For armchair lawyers and detail detectives: I offer a blizzard of documents, on the eve of the next Nor’Easter blizzard and hope I’ve peaked your interest. (Leaving my analysis aside for now.) Scroll past this post’s “read more” indicator to see interior architectural photos I took of the stunning John Adams Courthouse, and to read some of the complete and unfiltered new filings and documents related to the Berkshire Museum case, specifically-
- AMICI CURIAE Sullivan & Worcester LLP law firm on behalf of ‘Berkshire Museum Member Plaintiffs’: James Hatt, Kristin Hatt, and Elizabeth Weinberg, filed Feb 26 2018, case SJ-2018-065 (52 pages)
- AMICUS CURIAE Foley Hoag and Barker, Epstein & Loscocco – attorney Michael B Keating of Foley Hoag with attorney Daniel Epstein of Barker, Epstein & Loscocco on behalf of clients: Tom Patti, who completed two commissioned installations for the Berkshire Museum entrance and reception areas–spaces that will be gutted if the historic building is disfigured for the New Vision; Marilyn Holtz Patti – resides and works in Berkshire County as does Tom Patti; Jean Rosseau and Jonas Dovydenas- residents of Stockbridge and Lenox; James Lamme, resident of Egremont; and Donald MacGillis, resident of Pittsfield, MA. (21 pages)
- Sotheby’s Contract with the Berkshire Museum (9 pages)
- Affidavit from Dan Monroe, Director of the Peabody Essex Museum opposed the Berkshire Museum sale (4 pages)
- Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) provided major facility funding since 2000. Some related construction was completed by a board member and warrants scrutiny
- links to prior GMG Berkshire Museum posts
Interior views John Adams Courthouse
Is it or is it not the whole thing straight through? Behind the scenes doc on PBS GREAT PERFORMANCES. “Follows the creation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s pop culture Broadway phenomenon, Hamilton, and the history behind it. Interviews with Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, Nas, Questlove, Stephen Sondheim and more. Friday, October 21 at 9PM WGBH 2.” Anyone else annoyed by the buzz phrases “thought leader” and “notable thinkers”?
I loved the Hamilton live performance, riveting Grammys opener.
As I frequent museums and collections for work, and Gloucester art abounds, I suffer bouts of ‘Gloucester acquisition affliction’ . Relative newcomers at PEM include a St. Peter Fiesta scene by Gifford Beal and one of Portuguese Hill by Olga Itasca Sears. As much as I am fond of PEM– and I mean no disrespect to this august institution– I sorely wish the Cape Ann Museum had received the art or funds for acquisition. There are few major historic paintings of Gloucester (and the greater region) which remain in private hands. They include works by Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper. I’m trying.
While at PEM for special exhibits, I often check the permanent installation. Are the Frank Benson works and Norman Rockwell on view? Check. I make a point to spend time in front of the Philip Reisman 1951 Tuna Shed, another Gloucester painting and one that Wicked Tuna fans may like to scrutinize. Reisman was a masterful, versatile painter, and a smart gentle man. I was lucky to know and work with him. The Cape Ann Museum has examples of his Gloucester paintings in their collection and a binder of slides, photographs he took, many Fiesta. I remember labeling some.
I paused more than I ever have at the John Trumbull portrait of Alexander Hamilton. (Hmm. Have museums tagged works representing Alexander Hamilton? It would be a mastery of quick edits matched up to the Lin Manuel Miranda song.)
#Hamilton, @ Lin_Manuel, #PEM John Turnbull, Portrait of Alexander Hamilton, 1792, oil on canvas, gift of George A Ward, 1918, collection Peabody Essex Museum
I am looking forward to the upcoming Childe Hassam show opening July 16th at PEM. I went to see the Rodin exhibit.
Audra McDonald, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Jane Krakoski jump in the car with Lin Manuel Miranda and James Corden for 3. Sometimes nothing really matters more than rocking out in cars. Whatever your music. Have fun.
Hmmm. Joey, you could do this, drive around Gloucester (no chanteys if you’re there)
The original #carkaraoke?
It being Sunday and all, I thought I’d remind you of a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon during the summer. Polo.
I know as much as anyone that it is hard to tear yourself away from the beach, boat, deck, or backyard BBQ on a sunny afternoon during the precious and all too fleeting summer months, but, if you’re up for something a tiny bit different, taking in a Polo match is really quite fun!
I’d like to add, however, that better than simply doing it….is doing it right!
The best way to do it is to gather a bunch of your friends, grab a chunk of tailgate space on the sidelines, pack the picnic of all picnics, stuff a cooler to capacity and have a lovely afternoon. Despite popular belief, holding your pinky up while drinking is actually optional. The polo crowd is quite mixed and quite lovely. Ummm….and to any single ladies who happen to be reading….you could probably find a less attractive bunch of athletes elsewhere. Just saying. I should add that there are some pretty rad female players too. I, for one, would LOVE to learn the game.
My boys enjoy walking around and meeting the players and ponies before the match begins. I’ve yet to meet a player who wasn’t friendly and more than happy to let the boys ask questions and meet the horses. They also get a kick out of replacing the divots in-between chukkers….often times barefoot. (Insert mild shutter….horse poop and all).