OCMA's Sketchy Deal Raises Eyebrows

OCMA's Sketchy Deal Raises Eyebrows

Laguna Art Museum
"Silver and Gold" by Granville Redmont

In this troubled economy, it's no surprise that many things are going on sale. Yet, the last thing I expected to find a reduced price for were pieces of art--let alone 100-year-old pieces of original art.  If anything, art is one of those rare things--like a vintage Chardonnay--which seems to increase in value over time. The recent auction of a late Picasso, which fetched a hefty $11.5 million (the artist painted it in 1969), is an example of this concept.

Another more local example is an event that happened at the Orange County Museum of Art. In March of this year, OCMA sold a series of 18 California Impressionist paintings from its collection, dated from the early 1900's, to an unnamed buyer. The price: $963,000. For all 18 paintings.

If the price had been that for a single painting, things would not be as controversial. Take for example, the crown jewel of the collection: "Silver and Gold" by Granville Redmont. It was said to be worth $1 million--"Economy be damned," says Whitney Ganz, a retired NYU art professor who specializes in early California paintings, to the LA Times

Yet it's not just the low price tag that has the art critics fuming, it's also the sketchiness (that's the word the Times editorial used) of the whole affair. The transaction was conducted in private and the details behind it was not known until a Times reader tipped off the paper. The paintings are now in the possession of a private collector whom OCMA art director Dennis Szakacs declines to name. Sketchy indeed.

A public auction probably would have fetched the museum at least double what they received from the collector, as well as would have saved them all the criticisms over lack of transparency--especially if they wanted to use that money for new acquisitions.

With many art museums going through financial hurdles (such as LACMA and MOCA), OCMA probably would have benefited from a public auction, if only for practicality and for the sake of reputation. 

I wonder if the OCMA museum board is hitting themselves over the head for making such a financially foolish move. I certainly would.


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