As a parent and now a grandparent, I tell my children to aspire to be the best they can possibly be to reach for the stars. When the Baltimore Museum of Art, its board of directors and its director decide to sell some of the best and most iconic works of art, art at the highest level, that sends a message, too (“Baltimore Museum of Art to sell 3 paintings, including Warhol’s ‘The Last Supper,’ to fund diversity initiatives,” Oct. 2).
We go to museums to be inspired, to reach for the stars, to dream of the possible and the impossible, to be transformed. The board and its director are slowly gutting the BMA. Last year, the museum sold art that they said was superfluous in order to buy works by artists who are other than white males. Historically, white males have created the vast majority of famous western art. That is a fact. Selling works of white males, which is what the museum is doing, does not change the history of art, and selling outstanding examples as the museum currently plans to do diminishes the viewing experience at the BMA. Imagine the Louvre Museum in Paris selling the Mona Lisa. How that money will be used is part of the issue, but understand that the museum will never be able to buy back those works it plans to sell.
The sad fact is that the museum stated that it is not selling the art because it is in financial difficulty. In general, art museums are only permitted to sell works of art to acquire other works, but this year, the rules have changed because COVID-19 has caused financial damage to a number of museums. So this year, art can be sold and the money used for other purposes. The board and its director are using this loophole for purposes other than those for which it was designed. This is really sneaky.
The Baltimore Museum of Art is a general art museum; by that I mean it has a collection of art from many different periods and places. The museum is not a museum of contemporary art, and there is no necessity to buy contemporary art. The population of Baltimore is 68% Black and the director and the board decided to try to engage them — an admirable prescient idea. When I visit the museum, unless there is an event that caters to the Black population, few Black people are in attendance. This is a problem, and it is not solved by lowering the bar, which selling these three paintings and the ones sold last year does.
If anything, the museum needs to raise the bar as excellence almost always wins out, and pandering, which is what the museum is doing, diminishes us all. When you decide and state that you are only going to buy works by women and people of color, you have dispensed with connoisseurship and have become a politician. The BMA is an institution that was founded in 1914 and its growth is dependent upon adding works of art, not subtracting works, especially three of the crown jewels of the collection.
The director will only be here for a short while, the board and the museum will be here for a very long time and they, rather than the director, must have the best interests and longevity of the museum well ahead of those of the director.
Dr. Peter W. Broido, Ruxton
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