“A heart-wrenching decision”
Last week’s sale of an Eakins was “a heart-wrenching decision” according to Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts board vice-chair Herbert Riband on today’s Radio Times. Listen to the full program here. And there are still many unanswered questions about the sale of Thomas Eakins’ The Cello Player to help defray debt incurred with the purchase of Eakins’ The Gross Clinic. The best comment on the situation is by museum law expert Stephen Urice, also a guest on the same program. Urice stated that “transparency and accountability”are hallmarks of best practice in museums. So, with transparency and accountability in mind, here are a few of those outstanding questions:
– How can PAFA agree to sell The Cello Player for an undisclosed amount to a buyer whose identity, according to Riband, is unknown?
– How do we know that the pressure of the debt (which, we have heard, amounts to thousands of dollars per day) did not drive PAFA’s “unanimous” decision to sell a major work by a major artist core to its history, identity and mission?
– And how do we know for sure that billionaires are not going shopping for treasure in the galleries of Philadelphia’s museums and the halls of its other many institutions?
The Cello Player is a picture, according to Lee Rosenbaum (also a guest on the same Radio Times program) “that rewards close, careful looking.” (Rosenbaum blogs as Culturegrrl.) It displays the “empathy Eakins reserved for those he regarded as fellow artists,” writes Michael J. Lewis.
Heart wrenching for sure. But could this also be a case of art wrenching?