The Atlantic has a fascinating article in its June issue about the Brooklyn Museum’s efforts to sell off a collection of important terra cotta decorative carvings salvaged by a donor from construction sites around Brooklyn and Manhattan in 1950s. Ivan Karp, an 83-year-old art dealer who spearheaded the salvage effort and later donated hundreds of pieces to the Brooklyn Museum, is now understandably distraught that the museum, which has left many of the pieces exposed to the elements for the past decade, is planning to sell a large part of the collection off through the Harlem salvage dealer Evan Blum of Demolition Depot. This despite a 2007 letter from Arnold Lehman to Karp assuring him that whatever pieces the museum did not use in its redesigned sculpture garden would be returned to Karp, who started a small museum in Charlottesville in 1985 to house these types of objects. Here’s the part of the story when the writer informs Karp of the “deaccessioning” plans:
When I told him that the Brooklyn Museum was planning to auction off so many ornaments through Blum, Karp was astonished. If they’re deaccessioning to sell, that’s very discomfiting, he exclaimed. They should have offered them to me first to buy! As it happened, Karp had phoned Blum, whom he’d known and liked for decades, just the day before. Blum had told him that he was consulting with the museum about the expansion of the sculpture garden, but he did not mention anything about auctions.
Shaking a little, Karp began to leaf through a copy of the binder the museum had sent Blum, which I had brought to the gallery. Good grief! he cried at the sight of a carved brownstone tenement plaque of Abraham Lincoln, which had once been a centerpiece in the sculpture garden. That’s one of the most valuable pieces they have! It’s an historic American figureâ€”how many like that have ever been carved by an anonymous person in homage to Lincoln? This is heartbreaking. A moment later, after peering at a majestic red terra-cotta boy, he said, They’re making serious blunders in many cases.
As he inspected the images, Karp shrank into his chair, until at last, looking very old and defeated, he announced he simply couldn’t look anymore.
Update: After the jump, check out the letter to the editor of the Atlantic that was just sent by the Brooklyn Museum.
Ghosts of New York [The Atlantic]
Re: John Freeman Gill article in The Atlantic Monthly on the Brooklyn Museum Collection of Architectural Fragments
The Brooklyn Museum regrets that the author’s comments do not reflect the substantive content of his hours of conversation with Museum staff, or of the extensive and detailed information subsequently provided in response to his questions. The Brooklyn Museum always investigates a range of possibilities for public disposition of works that have entered the deaccession process (the first step in releasing objects from a Museum’s collection), but currently has no agreement with any sales venue regarding the sale of recently deaccessioned architectural fragments. The Museum looks forward to continuing our plans for the full installation of the architectural sculpture collection, in consultation with specialists in the field who in recent years have contributed to the first qualitative assessment of these holdings.
Arnold L. Lehman, Director Brooklyn Museum
Teresa A. Carbone, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of American Art, Brooklyn Museum