Monday, May 16, 2005

When A Painting Is Sold, Who Notices? 

Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times laments the recent sale of Asher B. Durand's "Kindred Spirits" to a member of the family that founded Wal-Mart.

It was a sad day last week when New Yorkers lost one of the city's cultural treasures, Asher B. Durand's "Kindred Spirits." The 1849 painting of the artist Thomas Cole with the poet and journalist William Cullen Bryant standing on a ledge overlooking the Catskills is a landmark of the Hudson River School, and probably Durand's best picture. Sotheby's auctioned it off for the New York Public Library, which owned it for decades.

The library sold it along with other American paintings to raise money for endowment and books. It had every right to do so, and responsibility to get a good return. But it was lamentable that a city museum like the Metropolitan didn't have a better shot at buying it, for which we can partly fault an auction that provided little time or opportunity for a public institution to compete with deep-pocket private collectors. A widespread popular indifference to our cultural heritage is also to blame, but that's hardly news. The question now is what to do next time. And there is an answer.

His solution is that when a public institution, which receives public funding, is planning to sell a precious piece of art then local art museums should be given an opportunity to match the sale price. This sound reasonable to me.

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