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Berkshire Museum finishes controversial art sales, raising $53 million

The Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield
The Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield(Ben Garver /The Berkshire Eagle via AP/File 2017)

The Berkshire Museum has completed its controversial sale of artworks. According to an announcement by the Pittsfield museum on Tuesday, it has sold 22 pieces of art for a total of $53.25 million, including Norman Rockwell’s “Shuffleton’s Barbershop” and “Blacksmith’s Boy,” two of the museum’s most famous works.

Funds from the sale will be used for refurbishing and repairing the building, as well as for the museum’s endowment. On Monday, the board of trustees approved work starting those repairs.

“We are moving forward having secured the future of this museum for generations to come,” Elizabeth McGraw, president of the board of trustees, said in a prepared statement. “Our work ahead is focused on making this Museum ever more interesting, inspiring and engaging to the broad community in the region it serves and consistent with our unchanged mission.”

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Numerous groups, including some of Rockwell’s heirs, had publicly opposed and attempted to block the sales over the past year. The Association of Art Museum Directors imposed sanctions on the Berkshire Museum in May, stating that “selling art to support any need other than to build a museum’s collection fundamentally undermines the critically important relationships between museums, donors and the public.”

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ultimately ruled in favor of an agreement, reached with the state Attorney General’s office, allowing the museum to sell up to 40 works for up to $55 million. The Berkshire Museum’s collection currently contains more than 40,000 pieces of art.

In June, the museum announced that executive director Van Shields was retiring, with David Ellis stepping up as interim executive director during a nationwide search for new leadership.

The AAMD at this time “has no further statement on the activities of the Berkshire Museum,” Christine Anagnos, executive director of the AAMD, said via e-mail Tuesday.

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“Our goal is to transform a more than 100-year-old building in need of repairs and upgrades to function as a 21st Century Museum,” McGraw said in the statement. “The museum will continue to include, art, science, and history. Objects from our collection will be presented in a new way that allows these three areas to combine in exhibits that provide new interpretations and relevance to historical objects.”

LILLIAN BROWN


Lillian Brown can be reached at lillian.brown@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lilliangbrown.