The Baltimore Museum of Art announced Friday that it is selling seven artworks by such 20th-century masters as Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Franz Kline to make way for pieces by contemporary artists of color and women.
Going up for sale at Sotheby’s in May are two artworks by Warhol (“Oxidation Painting” from 1978 and “Hearts” from 1979) and one each by Kline (“Green Cross” from 1956) and Rauschenberg (“Bank Job” from 1979). Rounding out the seven are three paintings by lesser-known artists: Kenneth Noland’s “Lapis Lazuli” from 1963 and “In-Vital” from 1982, along with Jules Olitski’s “Before Darkness II” from 1973.
Kline’s painting alone is expected to fetch between $6 and $8 million, while Warhol’s “Oxidation Painting,” should bring in between $2 million and $3 million, according to a spokesman for Sotheby’s in New York, which is handling the sales. Five works will be sold at auction on May 16 and 17, while two extremely large artworks — Warhol’s “Hearts” and the Rauschenberg — will be put up for private sale.
Museum director Christopher Bedford pointed out that the museum owns many other, and stronger, works by each of the artists who created the pieces leaving the collection. For instance, the BMA owns more than 90 artworks by Warhol, roughly a dozen by Kline and about two dozen by Rauschenberg.
The process of selling artworks from a museum collection, known as deaccession, “is a necessity to ensure the greatness of the collection going forward,” Bedford said. “All the major museums in this country deaccession annually as a matter of routine.”
Selling museum masterworks might not be an everyday affair, but Nina del Rio, head of museum and corporate art services at Sotheby’s New York, said it’s also not unusual.
“Museums usually deaccession works in areas of the collection in which they have great depth,” she said. “You’re not raiding your collection or depriving the public if you own better examples by the same artists.”
For example, in 2013, New York’s Museum of Modern Art sold “Cagney” by Warhol for $4.9 million. Two years earlier, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts put on the market artworks by Claude Monet, Pierre-August Renoir, Camille Pissaro and Paul Gauguin. The BMA sold a Mark Rothko painting, “Olive Over Red” for $950,000 in 1988 after receiving another Rothko as a gift.