The yet-to-open Lucas Museum Of Narrative Art in L.A. has acquired Shuffleton’s Barbershop, a Norman Rockwell painting at the heart of the controversy surrounding the Berkshire Museum’s art sale.
One of the concerns among critics of the Berkshire Museum’s plan to sell pieces of its collection in an effort to stabilize the Pittsfield, Mass. institution and fund an endowment was that priceless artworks would be snatched up by collectors and removed from the public eye.
“We were, like most people in the country or in the world, aware that the Rockwell and actually other paintings might be coming to market," said Don Bacigalupi, the director of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, a new Los Angeles museum under development by Star Wars creator George Lucas.
“The story is the story of storytelling, so the museum focuses on narrative art of a variety of sorts, from all the way in history, all the way up to the present and into the future," Bacigalupi told WAMC. "A variety of media from painting to comic art to illustration to digial media, but all underpinned by this notion that human beings have found ways to tell stories visually, from cave paintings until the present day.”
The museum will feature pieces from Lucas’s private collection, and his vision will steer the museum ahead of its opening.
“We were certainly interested, we were interested, one, because of Norman Rockwell’s preeminence as a story teller, the greatness of these particular works, and we — George Lucas and the museum — have a long commitment to the work of Rockwell as one of our master storytellers of the 20th century, so Rockwell occupies already a very significant place in the museum’s collecting,” said Bacigalupi.
The Lucas Museum monitored the Berkshire Museum’s sale, and moved when it had a chance to make a sealed bid for Shuffleton’s Barbershop in a private auction. While it won’t disclose the final sum, Sotheby’s has appraised the 1950 painting at between $20 and $30 million.
“We were able to put together what we thought was a very strong proposal for both acquiring the work for a public collection, for the museum, forthcoming," Bacigalupi said to WAMC, "and also in the meantime, while we’re constructing the museum, to have occasion to lend the painting so that it would be seen in public, in the Berkshires, elsewhere in Massachusetts, and really ensure that the painting was given full public access and accessibility. So that’s when we began to talk to our good colleagues at the Rockwell Museum.”
“We have just announced that the painting will be on view on loan at Norman Rockwell Museum beginning on June 9th," said Laurie Norton Moffatt, director of the Stockbridge-based Norman Rockwell Museum. “We will have it here for 18 months and be presenting it in a number of exhibitions over that time.”
Bacigalupi says the Lucas Museum won’t open for at least four years, and will explore further public exhibitions for Shuffleton’s Barbershop until it is ready. Displaying Shuffleton’s Barbershop in the Berkshires was part of an agreement between the commonwealth and the Berkshire Museum to settle a series of legal actions.
“The key factors for us obviously are keeping the work in the public realm, we think it’s an incredibly important resource for the public — as an inspiration, as a hallmark of great storytelling in the 20th century, and as a great work of art,” he said.
Norton Moffatt says the Norman Rockwell Museum has plans to make that resource available to Berkshire residents as quickly as possible.
“I’m so pleased that we are going to arrange immediately upon its opening on June 10th for a free community day for Berkshire County residents, and we hope as many people in the area as possible can come and visit with the painting that day, see the new exhibition,” she said.
Shuffleton’s Barbershop will be part of the Norman Rockwell Museum’s “Keepers Of The Flame” exhibition, which explores narrative realism. The painting by the museum’s namesake will appear alongside artists like Maxfield Parrish and N.C. Wyeth.
Both Bacigalupi and Norton Moffatt say they had no involvement in the Berkshire Museum’s agreements with the Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey about the terms of its art sale.
For more coverage of the Berkshire Museum, click here.