Palm Springs Art Museum to Deaccession $2.5 M. Helen Frankenthaler at Sotheby’s

Palm Springs Art Museum to Deaccession $2.5 M. Helen Frankenthaler at Sotheby’s

Yet another American museum has announced a move to deaccession a major work from its permanent collection after industry recommendations for selling art from institutional holdings were relaxed earlier this year.

The Palm Springs Art Museum in California will sell Helen Frankenthaler’s Carousel (1979) at Sotheby’s this fall. The house has yet to officially announce dates for its contemporary art evening sale, though a representative for Sotheby’s said that the work is expected to achieve a price between $2.5 million and $3.5 million.

In a release, the museum said the decision to sell the Frankenthaler, a large canvas filled with overlaid red brushstrokes and color fields, comes after a recent review of its permanent collection this summer, which was conducted as a part of a years-long initiative to diversify and expand its holdings. Funds from the sale will be put in a restricted account, and will be used for both collection maintenance and future acquisitions, in keeping with newly relaxed guidelines from the Association of Art Museum Directors, a key industry group. The museum said future deaccessions will be made, but did not further detail its financial plans for the fund.

Measuring 7 feet in height and 17 feet in width, Carousel has been in the museum’s collection for almost three decades. It is one of 132 works donated by philanthropist and interior designer Steve Chase upon his death in 1994, alongside others works from his collection by David Hockney, Ellsworth Kelly, Ed Ruscha, Sam Francis, and Nathan Oliveira. He also gifted a $1.5 million gallery wing, named for him in 1996. The work is one of only two Frankenthaler works dated from the 1960s to 1970s in the museum’s holdings.

“While this was a difficult decision, it has the unanimous approval of the museum’s board of trustees, longtime chair of the museum’s Collections Committee, Marilyn Loesberg, and the Collections Committee,” Steve Maloney, chair of the museum’s board of trustees, said in a statement. “It is the right choice for [the] Palm Springs Art Museum today.”

Museums are beginning to take advantage of the 24-month window for loosened deaccessioning guidelines from the AAMD. Recently announced sales of blue-chip art from prominent museum collections across the country have sparked controversy—the Baltimore Museum of Art’s plans to sell $65 million in works by Clyfford Still, Brice Marden, and Andy Warhol, as well as the Brooklyn Museum’s decision to part ways with $2.3 million in Old Masters and European art, have been met with an outcry. The majority of those works are expected to be sold this fall.

Signs that the controversial deaccessioning of works could potentially bring in large sums of money have already arrived. On Tuesday, a 1946 Jackson Pollock drip painting from the Everson Museum of Art sold in a Christie’s evening sale for $13 million. That work remained it the collection for 30 years prior to the sale.

The Palm Springs Art Museum is the latest institution to sell work in the hopes of diversifying its collection—a move that has also been undertaken by the Baltimore Museum of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Frankenthaler has long been undervalued in the market sector, along with many other female Abstract Expressionists, though her prices are quickly rising. Across the marquee evening sales at the top three auction houses this past summer, Frankenthaler’s sales volume totaled $15 million, doubling her $7.5 million total from last year’s equivalent spring season. The sale of her 1975 orange canvas Royal Fireworks, from the collection of Ginny Williams, at Sotheby’s in June set a record, selling for $7.9 million.

“We’ve seen the market for Frankenthaler recalibrate,” said David Galperin, Sotheby’s New York head of contemporary art evening auctions. Galperin said Carousel exhibits the “full range of her expressive painting,” including the artist’s signature impasto, her broad gestural marks, and the soak-stain technique she engineered in the postwar era. Sotheby’s also recently sold a comparable work, Tunis (1978), from the Anderson collection in June for $2.96 million. Carousel is the highest-estimated work by the artist ever to come to auction.

The AAMD enacted its loosened guidelines this past April. When it announced the new rules, the AAMD said that directors were allowed to sell works if the funds went to the “direct care of collections” without any fear of consequences.


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