The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has announced that they will be deaccessioning a bronze sculpture in their collection, which will be sold at Christie’s this May. Whilst the estimate of the work is only available upon request, it is anticipated that it could fetch around $30 million, which would make it by far the highest valued object the museum has ever sold.
The deaccessioning of objects in museum collections is a controversial topic, and since the beginning of the pandemic it has been a hot topic in the US. In April 2020, the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) announced that, in “recognition of the extensive negative effects of the current crisis” on museums, institutions will not be sanctioned for using the proceeds of deaccessioned art “to pay for expenses associated with the direct care of collections.” This is in contrast with the normal policy in the US, which states that money raised from deaccessioning works of art is to be used solely to buy more art.
The sculpture which will be coming up for sale is Pablo Picasso’s Tête de femme (Fernande), which was made from a model executed in clay in 1909. There are 20 known casts of the sculpture, and Leonard Lauder, one of the world’s top collectors of Cubist art, has just donated another version of it to the Met, meaning they now have two in their collection. It is a hugely important object in Picasso’s oeuvre, as it is the first sculpture by the artist ever produced in the Cubist style. Max Carter, Head of Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Department, said in a statement that it is “Cubism’s definitive early sculpture”, and that “its revolutionary architectural faceting, which Picasso sliced and sharpened after modeling in clay, suggests Vesalius as much as it does Frank Gehry. To offer this extraordinarily rich, beautiful cast on behalf of The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the ultimate honor.” Marc Porter, Christie’s Americas Chairman, echoed Carter’s sentiments on the work, saying that it represents “an absolutely crucial moment in the development of Picasso’s artistic practice, Cubism, and the art historical canon at large.”
The version coming up for sale had been donated to the Met in 1995 by the philanthropist Florence M. Schoenborn. Despite the hardships caused by the Covid-19 pandemic on the museum, the Met has recently received a few substantial donations. Patrons Oscar Tang and Agnes Hsu-Tang have recently donated $125 million to the museum, the money from which will be used to renovate the modern and contemporary wing. Other recent donations include Barbara and Jon Landau’s gift of a rare Poussin painting. Despite the AAMD’s policy on the use of money from deaccessioned items, which is in place until April 2022, the museum have announced that the proceeds from the sale of the Picasso will go exclusively to the purchasing art. This comes only a few weeks after the Met acquired a Renaissance Roundel for $23 million, the highest price they have ever paid for an acquisition.