Museums can now raise money — and keep their art, with Maecenas.
Berkshire to sell 40 artworks despite opposition
Words by Jerome Croisier, Maecenas Chief Art Officer
Imagine the angst of an art curator trapped in a dilemma over how to
raise funds to revamp a museum. That is exactly what the Berkshire
Museum in Pittsfield, USA faces — and it has decided to sell 40
artworks, including two important paintings by Norman Rockwell. That is
not a decision to be taken lightly. Rockwell, popular for his reflection
of American culture, had donated the pieces himself and his own family
opposes the sale.
But the Board of Trustees hopes to cash in $50 million from the “American Art” sale November 13 at Sotheby’s, which this month valued one of the Rockwells alone at $20 million. The board plans to use the money to transform its museum into an inter-disciplinary center where “connections between science, history and the arts are explored.”
Regardless of how inspiring that new mission is, it is clear the Berkshire art offering will be far poorer after the sell-off. This is unfortunately the kind of problem the art world has labored over for centuries.
Fine art may appreciate long-term but owners are too often burdened by illiquid assets and too often resort to established auction houses — and their 25 percent fees — to realise the value of their property.
But it does not have to be this way. Now there is a solution for museums, collectors and investors who need to raise cash — and want to keep their art.
At Maecenas, we are building a decentralised gallery that democratises access to fine art investment by allowing museums to auction shares of famous paintings. Anyone can own a piece of a Picasso.
Maecenas divides up an artwork into fractions so that the original owner
can sell off up to 49 percent, raise money — and still get to show off
the masterpiece in its collection. Or, to give a real-world example, the
Berkshire Museum could choose to auction its Rockwells in the Maecenas
marketplace, achieve its financing and continue to bring in crowds of
art lovers to admire one of America’s most appealing painters. Plus, can
you imagine the thrill of buying a share and then visiting the museum
knowing you are a part-owner of the masterpiece on show?
At Maecenas, we want to inject a modern market dynamism to the $65
billion annual art industry, which remains dominated by monopolistic
auction houses and opaque transactions.
The current alternatives are grim for the likes of the Berkshire Museum.
The American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Art Museum
Directors criticised the institution, hitting at its reputation by
emphasizing that artworks should be sold only to finance new
acquisitions, or to care for existing collections. “One of the most
fundamental and longstanding principles of the museum field is that a
collection is held in the public trust and must not be treated as a
disposable financial asset” the associations said in a joint statement.
And museums must also be wary of the perils of such sale processes,
where they can end up not only losing artworks but also visitors.
For example, the Delaware Art Museum sold in 2014 a painting by William
Holman Hunt (1827–1910) to help to settle a $20 million debt. The
auction result was, however, disappointing. The price of $4.25 million
barely represented half of the lower estimated value. More serious was
the sanction from the Association of Art Museum Directors which
blaclisted the museum and asked its members not to lend it artworks or
assist with its exhibitions.
On the other hand, the Maecenas marketplace will allow the institution
to bring in cash for any purpose — without any reputational concern —
because the artworks remain under the full control of the museum. And the public can continue to enjoy the art.
We are named after ancient Roman patron who helped finance struggling artists. Now, in the 21st century, we trust we can make our own contribution by providing a marketplace to help museums with their modern-day financing.
If you want to help make fine art accessible to everyone, contribute to Maecenas now to bring the best fine art masterpieces to the blockchain community, and tell your art enthusiast friends about Maecenas.