Real-Estate Questions Bedevil the Chelsea Art Museum and Drawing Center

Real-Estate Questions Bedevil the Chelsea Art Museum and Drawing Center

As the American Folk Art Museum worksto survive a debt crisis stemming from a major expansion, two other New York museums are making headlines with announcements related to real estate. First the bad news: because of what some deem irresponsible administrative decisions, the Chelsea Art Museum is at risk of losing its charter, according to the Wall Street Journal. And now the neutral (and more or less non-news) news: the Drawing Center has announced that it plans to stay in its current home in SoHo, after considering a relocation for a time, reports the New York Times

Why is the Chelsea Art Museum at risk? It seems that it pledged its entire permanent collection — a modest selection of work by artists like Sam Francis, Jean Arp, and Robert Motherwell that is valued at $2.5 million — as collateral for a loan used to pay its mortgage. Unsurprisingly, this is not considered an example of best practices in the museum world, and it violates key components of state law. If the museum is found to have acted improperly, the attorney general could withdraw its charter, harming its ability to qualify for nonprofit status.

Making matters worse for the museum, the holding company that owns its home filed for bankruptcy on Friday. The institution, which opened just eight years ago, is the brainchild of Dorothea Keeser — who acknowledged the difficulties but told the Wall Street Journal she planned to perservere. "The museum and the people who work here have to survive also," she said. "It is a difficult thing." Keeser hopes to turn the institution’s roof into a high-end restaurant to raise revenue for funding.

On the other hand, stalwart downtown nonprofit the Drawing Center has decided to avoid the drama of a big move. Times reporter Robin Pogrebin writes that after real-estate hunting for a number of years, the institution has decided to stay put in its storied neighborhood, which has been rejuvenated of late by the New Museum — and, according to art critic Roberta Smith, a revitalized Artists Space. "We’re like a nice small jazz club — the scale of what we do is intimate, drawings tend to be pretty small," Drawing Center director Brett Littman told the Times, citing economic and curatorial reasons for staying in its current locations.

There is one tiny nugget of news buried in Times' blog post, though. It seems the satellite space that the Drawing Center runs across from its main galleries is obtained via a lease, which has to be renegotiated every two years. Littman says that he may seek an alternative to that current arrangement — meaning that some type of move, expansion, or redesign may still be in the works in the near future. Stay tuned.