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Massachusetts Attorney General Nears Completion of Berkshire Museum Probe

The Berkshire Museum.

COURTESY THE BERKSHIRE MUSEUM

Those waiting for the next big development in the Berkshire Museum’s quest to sell 40 pieces from its collection in order to raise upwards of $50 million will have to wait a bit longer: the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, which has been investigating the plan, today asked the state’s appeals court to extend for one more week an injunction on the sale that was set to expire.

“We are hopeful that a brief extension will allow us to fully analyze the information we have received in our investigation in the hope of finding a way forward to secure the future of the museum, and ensure it is able to thrive in the years to come,” Emily Snyder, the museum’s spokeswoman, told ARTnews in an email.

The new motion states that counsel for the museum, which has tussled vigorously with the AGO in court, in legal filings, and in statements to the press, does not oppose the extension. Since both sides agree on the matter, it is likely to be granted.

“The museum accepts the Attorney General’s request for a brief postponement but remains eager to see these issues resolved to secure the future of the Berkshire Museum for all it provides its visitors, young and old, in art, history, and science,” Carol Bosco Baumann, the museum’s spokesperson, said in an email.

The Berkshire Eagle, which first reported the request for an extension, writes that the similar statements may be “evidence the parties want to work it out” and that talks are in some way occurring between them.

The Berkshire Museum, which is based in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, has argued that it need to sell the works, including two prized Norman Rockwells, in order to boost its dwindling endowment, make renovations, and redirect its focus. Museum groups have hammered the institution’s board for supporting the plan, since professional guidelines prohibit museums from selling artworks from their holdings, except in cases where funds are used to purchase other artworks or to support the collection.

Michael B. Keating, a lawyer representing the sons of Rockwell and other plaintiffs aiming to halt the sale, noted in a phone interview that the AGO may have asked for the extension because it needs time to complete a “thoughtful report” on a complex case. And Nicholas O’Donnell, a lawyer for another group of opponents, said that the museum agreeing to the motion for a one-week extension may be a matter of “professional courtesy.”

The case is being closely watched by museum board members, directors, and other arts professionals, and its final outcome could have major implications for practices in the museum industry.

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