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Wednesday, 16 January 2013 14:33

Brooklyn Museum Burdened by Problematic Gifts

In 1932, Colonel Michael Friedsam, president of the New York City-based department store, B. Altman, bequeathed a huge portion of his estate to the Brooklyn Museum. It recently came to light that nearly a quarter of the 926 gifted works were fakes, misattributions or lacking in terms of quality. The Brooklyn Museum must now come up with a plan for the 229 pieces it no longer wants, which range from Dutch and Renaissance paintings to Chinese porcelains, jewelry, and furniture.

The museum is unable to sell the works for even the smallest profit because Colonel Friedsman’s will contains a clause stating that the museum must gain permission from the estate’s executor before deaccessioning works. Unfortunately, the last executor of Friedsman’s estate passed away in 1962. The Brooklyn Museum is currently working with the New York State attorney general’s office to maneuver around the clause. However, another clause in Friedsman’s will is proving problematic as it states that if the collection is broken up, the works should go to his brother-in-law and two friends. The museum has not yet started looking for the descendants of these three individuals as they are still working with the attorney general’s office to decide how to proceed.

The unwanted works are becoming more difficult to deal with, as the Brooklyn Museum is short on storage space. If the institution is unable to relieve itself of some of these works, they will be forced to rent additional storage spaces, which could cost the museum hundreds of thousands of dollars.  

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