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Collector’s Ire Prompts Met to Pull Sculpture from Auction

Following criticism from a donor, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, withdrew a work it had consigned to an upcoming Sotheby’s auction in London. Museum officials acknowledged they had violated the institution’s own long-standing policy of consulting with donors before deaccessioning gifted objects received less than 25 years before.

NEW YORK—Following criticism from a donor, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, withdrew a work it had consigned to an upcoming Sotheby’s auction in London.

Museum officials acknowledged they had violated the institution’s own long-standing policy of consulting with donors before deaccessioning gifted objects received less than 25 years before.

Frank Ribelin of Dallas, Texas, had donated Silent Music II, a sculpture 7 feet long and 3 feet high, by Spanish artist Eduardo Chillida (1924-2002), to the museum in 1987.

Met spokeswoman Elyse Topalian said the museum had withdrawn the Chillida work from the Sotheby’s London auction after learning of the museum’s failure to consult with the work’s donor, because “we are obliged to follow our own procedures.”

Ribelin, an art collector and retired Fiberglass materials distributor, told ARTnewsletter, “There are six more years to go before the Met will feel free to cash in on it.”

Ribelin learned of the Met’s plans from a friend who had seen the work displayed for sale on Sotheby’s Website, where it was estimated at $1.8/2.6 million. Soon after, both Gary Tinterow, head of 19th-century, modern and contemporary art at the Met, and the museum’s general counsel Sharon Cott called him to apologize for not informing him of their plans, and the piece was withdrawn from the Feb. 9 sale within a day, according to Topalian.

Ribelin was further upset that the museum’s ownership of the work had not been acknowledged in the Sotheby’s catalogue. “The implication,” he said, “is that they don’t think Chillida is as important as other artists the museum features in its collection.”

Topalian says the planned sale did not reflect anything negative about Chillida as an important artist. “It was a curatorial decision based on the needs of the collection,” she told ARTnewsletter.

Ribelin has given numerous other artworks to major U.S. museums. These include donations to: the Art Institute of Chicago (a sculpture by John Chamberlain); the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (sculptures by Jesús Moroles and Luis Jimenez); the Santa Fe Museum of Fine Arts (a painting by Rufino Tamayo); and New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (another sculpture by Chillida).

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