Baltimore Museum Withdraws Paintings From Sotheby’s Auction

The Baltimore Museum of Art withdrew three paintings it was planning to sell from its collection following days of mounting pressure.

The move came just two hours before Wednesday’s scheduled auction of contemporary art at Sotheby’s. The paintings by Andy Warhol, Clyfford Still and Brice Marden were supposed to raise $65 million for the Maryland museum. Two were to be offered at Wednesday’s auction, while Warhol’s “Last Supper” was to be sold privately by Sotheby’s.

“The decision was made after having heard and listened to the proponents and the detractors,” the museum said in a statement Wednesday.

The museum said this month it was selling the works partly to raise salaries for several dozen staff members, as well as to add more works by women and nonwhite artists to the collection and create a diversity and inclusion plan. That prompted two artists to resign from the museum’s board of trustees in opposition to the decision and two former board members to say they would rescind $50 million in promised donations.

Museums used to be able to sell art only to buy more art, not to keep the lights on or pay salaries. In April, after the pandemic forced museums across the country to shut their doors, the Association of Art Museum Directors announced that for two years, works could be sold -- or deaccessioned -- and the proceeds used for “direct care,” with each institution defining what that means.

“The resolutions were not put in place to incentivize deaccessioning, nor to permit museums to achieve other, non-collection-specific goals,” Brent Benjamin, president of the AAMD board, said in a clarifying letter on Oct. 27. “However serious those long-term needs or meritorious those goals, the current position of AAMD is the the funds for those must not come from the sale of deaccessioned art.”

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