The Baltimore Museum of Art has reversed its plan to sell a trio of iconic paintings for an estimated $65 million at Sotheby’s amid an outcry over the museum’s intention to funnel some proceeds toward its staff, not its collection.
Museum trustees voted Wednesday to pull Brice Marden’s squiggly, 1987-88 abstract, “3,” and Clyfford Still’s jagged “1957-G” from the market two hours before the paintings were set to be offered at a Sotheby’s live stream evening sale in New York. The works had been estimated to sell for at least $10 million and $12 million, respectively.
The museum, in a statement, said it also voted to “pause” its plan to privately sell Andy Warhol’s yellow silk-screen from 1986, “The Last Supper,” through the house. The Warhol was expected to sell for at least $40 million.
The move comes as museums around the world are struggling to pay for everything—from day-to-day expenses to more ambitious overhauls—during a pandemic year when traditional fundraising methods, like galas and performance events that draw ticketed crowds, remain off-limits.
The Baltimore museum, which is on solid financial footing, said it held the three works back “after having heard and listened to the proponents and the detractors” of its strategy. Its plan, originally announced Oct. 2, would have plied some of the proceeds from its art sales to increase pay among its lower-level workers and implement diversity and inclusivity initiatives. The museum said it was attempting to respond concretely to widespread calls for museums to offer greater pay equity and more diversity within their ranks and their collections.