Cash-strapped museums that attempt to quietly sell off chunks of their collections to raise funds in the aftermath of the global economic crisis have come under fire in recent years. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that the Weserburg Museum für moderne Kunst in Bremen, Germany, is citing motives other than financial gain for its decision to sell Gerhard Richters 1966 painting "Matrosen (Sailors)" in a November auction held by Sotheby’s, where it is expected to bring in an estimated $6-8 million.
Officials at the institution were careful to impress upon attendees at a recent press conference that the photorealist work is being sold only so that the museum can focus on its core mission of being a "collector’s museum" — showcasing private collections rather than individual masterpieces, and offering the visions of collectors instead of curators.
"Our wonderful museum was established in 1991, as a venue for the exhibitions of important private collections, which was at the time an absolute novelty in Europe," the institution’s director Carsten Ahrens said at the press conference. "Over the ensuing years, however, as we received works as gifts and also acquired works, we moved beyond our original mission, holding exhibitions of separate works unrelated to the private collections. With our twentieth anniversary approaching next year, the board and I felt it was time to review our mission, to examine the current state of the museum and to consider the best path forward."
Richter’s 1966 painting, which employs his signature sfumato effect to recreate a newspaper photograph, will appear on the block at Sotheby’s contemporary art evening sale in New York on November 9. Measuring six feet across, it is one of the artist’s largest paintings from the period, and will be shown at Sotheby’s Hong Kong and London locations before coming to New York for display and auction. Within the next year, the museum also plans to sell Franz Gertschs 1975-76 "Portrait of Luciano."