As museums across the US grapple with the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Palm Springs Art Museum in California has announced that it will sell a work by the Abstract Expressionist painter Helen Frankenthaler as part a multi-year collection review and deaccessioning effort to help fund operating costs.
Frankenthaler’s Carousel (1979)—a monolithic 17 ft-wide acrylic painting—is being offered by Sotheby’s at its contemporary art evening sale on 28 October, with an estimate of $2.5m to $3.5m.
“This is the highest estimate for a Frankenthaler at auction and follows the success we had over the summer, when we sold Royal Fireworks (1975) for $7.9m and Tunis (1978) for $2.9m,” says a spokesman for the auction house.
Carousel was bequeathed to the museum in 1994 by the philanthropist and designer Steve Chase. The museum owns one other Frankenthaler, April Screen (1972).
Funds from the sale of Carousel will be used for the maintenance and conservation of existing works in the museum’s 12,000-piece permanent collection and 50,000-piece special collections, and will also be used to diversify and bolster its holdings.
The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) opened the way for such sales in April to help museums cope with the financial duress associated with the pandemic. Previously it had stipulated that works could be sold only to finance further art purchases, and not to cover collections care and operating costs, but those rules have been suspended by the AAMD until April 2022.
“Collection planning including consideration of future acquisitions is underway and will reflect the diversity of our community and the art of our times with a goal of greater inclusivity,” a spokesman for the museum tells The Art Newspaper, adding, “As a result of the pandemic, these funds will help support and sustain the museum through April 2022.”
While deaccessioning has been a lightning rod in the museum field in recent years, a spokesman for the AAMD says that the museum’s plan is consistent with the revised ethical standards outlined by the organisation in April.