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AG Sides With Rockwells, Calls On Berkshire Museum To Halt Art Sale

Massachusetts Attorney General's office

Massachusetts’ Attorney General has joined the three sons of Norman Rockwell in calling for a temporary restraining order against the Berkshire Museum to prevent the controversial sale of 40 pieces of art, including two works by the American artist, to fund an expansion and an endowment at the Pittsfield museum. 

Attorney Michael Keating, who is representing the Rockwells, says Attorney General Maura Healey supports their claim.

WAMC’s Berkshire Bureau Chief JD Allen spoke with attorney Michael Keating, who is representing the Rockwells.

“That any of the gifts of art that were received by the Athenaeum as opposed to the museum, which were 19 out of the 40 pieces of art that the museum wanted to sell, could not be sold because they were required to be, they were restricted to be kept in the city of Pittsfield,” Keating says.

The Berkshire Museum released the following statement from attorney William Lee, who is representing the museum, Monday afternoon.

“We respectfully disagree there is any further inquiry for the Attorney General to conduct before these long-scheduled sales can proceed.  For more than four months, the museum has cooperated fully in providing documents and information to the Attorney General’s Office. While the museum appreciates the time and attention given this matter by the Attorney General’s Office, we look forward to presenting the museum’s legal arguments to the court without further delay.  We continue to believe that there is no legal barrier to the museum proceeding with the deaccession and its plans for a sustainable future which are critical to the region. We look forward to presenting those arguments in court.”

The Berkshire Museum Board of Trustees said last week it has fulfilled its fiduciary duty and that there are no restrictions on any of the art proposed for sale.

“We respect the role of the Attorney General in this process, but continue to believe we have strong legal grounds to move forward and secure the future of the Berkshire Museum as an invaluable asset to the educational, cultural and economic life of our community. We have made clear that the Board of Trustees acted consistent with its mission and the founding principles of this museum and our fiduciary responsibility. Our plan is to proceed, but these are now issues for the court to decide,” Elizabeth McGraw, President of the Board of Trustees, says.

The state attorney general’s office response to the plaintiffs’ motion released Monday says the sale needs to be properly reviewed in court, before there’s “irreparable harm to the public interest.”

"The Berkshire Museum is important to the community and a resource for the entire state. We are hopeful that this court proceeding presents an opportunity to explore alternatives to this sale that will maintain the art collection and allow the museum to thrive in the years to come," Emily Snyder, spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office, says.

A Berkshire County court will convene a hearing to discuss the restraining order Nov. 1st, joined with a second lawsuit against the museum.

Sotheby’s says it will proceed with the auctions beginning on November 13th, unless the court rules otherwise.

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