More on Maier

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Let’s get back for a moment to financially troubled Randolph College in Lynchburg, Va., which has been thinking about selling or sharing some of the collection of its Maier Museum as a way to raise money. The school has asked a judge to determine whether the will of Louise Jordan Smith, who donated some of the Maier’s most valuable works, would permit a sharing arrangement — assuming they can find a partner.

Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, who is building a museum in Bentonville, Ark., is also known to have her eye on the Maier, which holds paintings by Belllows, O’Keeffe , Hopper and Winslow Homer, among others. Which is why I was struck by a passage in a farewell letter that was sent recently to Randolph faculty, staff, alumni and trustees by Ginger Worden, the school’s outgoing interim president. At one point she turns to the possibility of leveraging the art collection, preferably through a sharing arrangement, as a way to raise money. Then she says this:

The goal would be to share ownership of a select number of our top paintings as partners with another institution, preferably in Virginia….. We are actively working toward a sharing agreement involving some of our art that would include internships and educational enhancements for all involved. As is true in most
negotiations, there are days of optimism and others where the goal seems
extremely elusive. So, I remain enthusiastic about this possibility but need
to remind myself and all of us that if we are not successful in bringing
about such a sharing arrangement, our trustees will have to consider the
sale of a small number of our treasured pieces of art.

People familiar with the Randolph talks tell me that one Virginia institution contemplating a deal to share the art is the Virgnia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. But the cost to an outside museum of a sharing arragement with Randolph would almost certainly be in the tens of millions. In its request to the court concerning the Louise Jordan Smith bequest, Randolph says that those works alone, which are just part of the Maier holdings, may be worth $40 million.

So any kind of sharing deal would require a very heavy fundraising effort for the Virginia MFA, a museum that doesn’t have access to as many deep pockets as institutions in larger cities. Remember that even in Philadelphia, where Eakins’ The Gross Clinic was put on the market last year by Jefferson University, it required two museums jointly to come up with the $68 million purchase price — and that one of them had to sell one of its own Eakins to raise the cash.

Does the difficulty of finding an in-state museum with that kind of money help to account for Worden’s words that there are days “where the goal [of concluding a sharing arrangement with a Virginia institution] seems extremely elusive”? If Virginia falls through, I would count on an offer from out of state. For instance, Arkansas.