Botched auction keeps Pollock painting in Rio’s museum

. Nov 16, 2018
jackson pollock rio museum Jackson Pollock's No.16

Earlier this year, Rio de Janeiro’s Modern Art Museum (MAM) shocked the art world when it decided to auction its most celebrated work,  No. 16 (1950), by Jackson Pollock — the only work of the artist on public view in Brazil—to fund its operations. The painting was a gift from American magnate Nelson Rockefeller, as part of a soft power strategy.

As a businessman, Mr. Rockefeller had dealings in several areas, such as steel, agriculture, and construction. As a member of the U.S. federal administration, he saw Brazil as an important ally in Latin America. During the Cold War, Mr. Rockefeller believed in the power of cultural influence and, as chairman of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, he encouraged the creation of similar museums across Latin America, having donated important artworks to these institutions. In 1952, he donated a canvas by Robert Motherwell and Pollock ’s No. 16 to MAM.

</span></p> <div id="attachment_11528" style="width: 1034px" class="wp-caption alignnone"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-11528" loading="lazy" class="size-large wp-image-11528" src="" alt="jackson pollock rio museum" width="1024" height="1024" srcset=" 1024w, 150w, 210w, 375w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 120w, 1200w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><p id="caption-attachment-11528" class="wp-caption-text">Jackson Pollock&#8217;s No.16</p></div> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">With debts of BRL 4 million, MAM has become unable to finance its operations. The museum’s chairman, Carlos Alberto Chateaubriand, met three times with Sérgio Sá Leitão, the Minister of Culture, only to hear the same thing: there was no money available because MAM is a private institution. Estimated at USD 25 million, the sale of No. 16 could help guarantee 30 years of operation for MAM. The Ministry of Culture had filed a lawsuit asking the auction to be suspended but offered no other solution to fund the museum. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Eventually, the ministry caved, and the canvas went on auction on November 15 at the Phillips auction house. The museum expected to raise at least USD 18 million &#8211; which would fund its operations for the next 30 years. However, as the value given by the auction house didn&#8217;t go past the USD 15.7-million mark, the sale was not concluded. Despite auctioneer Henry Highley&#8217;s best efforts, there was never an atmosphere of competition for No.16. Just two days prior, though, Pollock &#8216;s &#8220;Composition with Red Strokes&#8221; was auctioned for USD 55.4 million.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">MAM now hopes for an unlikely private sale.</span></p> <h2>Brazil&#8217;s depleted museums</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">MAM is just one of the many Brazilian museums struggling to remain open. Over 100 museums (of Brazil&#8217;s 3,200) are closed due to a sheer lack of money and qualified labor. And there was, of course, the case of <a href="">Rio de Janeiro&#8217;s National Museum</a>, which was destroyed by a massive fire in September. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">It was a dramatic turn of events for a museum which, for long, couldn&#8217;t sustain itself. The financial situation of the National Museum was so dire that its administration was forced to set up a crowdfunding campaign to be able to display its Maxakilisaurus skeleton to the public, the largest dinosaur skeleton ever to be found in Brazil.</span></p> <div id="attachment_8259" style="width: 890px" class="wp-caption alignnone"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-8259" loading="lazy" class="wp-image-8259 size-full" src="" alt="national museum fire loss egyptian collection" width="880" height="495" srcset=" 880w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 880px) 100vw, 880px" /><p id="caption-attachment-8259" class="wp-caption-text">Rio&#8217;s National Museum on flames</p></div> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Another emblematic symbol of how little Brazilian authorities care for our museums is the Ipiranga Museum, erected at the site of Brazil’s independence proclamation on September 7, 1822. The building, designed by Italian architect Gaudencio Bezzi and inaugurated in 1890, is a UNESCO historic and cultural heritage site. Five years ago, it was shut down due to an imminent risk of collapse. It is only set to reopen in 2022, during the celebration of the 200 years of Brazilian independence.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Part of the blame, however, is on us, Brazilian citizens. According to Ipea, Brazil’s Institute for Applied Economic Research, 70 percent of Brazilians have never been to a museum.</span></p> <h2>How good management can save museums</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP) is an example of a struggling museum which managed a turnaround. In 2013, MASP was close to <a href="">bankruptcy</a>, immersed in debts and with revenues that barely covered its costs—some bills were months overdue. In 2006, the museum’s electricity was cut, and it needed rescuing by the city’s jet set.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Since then, <a href="">MASP underwent a process</a> similar to those implemented in failing companies. Between 2013 and 2016, its annual revenue quadrupled and reached close to BRL 40 million. As expenses are estimated in BRL 38 million per year, it means that the museum started to record a surplus. Its debt was slashed from BRL 75 million to BRL 40 million.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The turnover was piloted by a group of hot-shot executives, who started to focus more on the financial aspect of the museum&#8217;s administration, renting our spaces for events and dealing sponsorship deals with private corporations.

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