The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Clevelanders to get a glimpse at what an East Coast museum is preparing to sell


Steven Litt
Plain Dealer Art Critic

It isn't every day that an important American art museum liquidates its entire permanent collection. But that day has come for the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Ridgefield, Conn., and it means Cleveland art lovers will have a highly unusual shopping opportunity.

On Friday, Corcoran Fine Arts Ltd. will open a two-day exhibit in Shaker Square focusing on roughly 30 of the 307 works the Aldrich is selling.

The show will feature a who's who of Modern and contemporary art, including Fernand Leger, Grace Hartigan, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Audrey Flack, Richard Lindner and Malcolm Morley. Most of the works are limited-edition prints.

The exhibition, technically an auction preview, will take place from 3 to 9 p.m. Friday and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at 13210 Shaker Square.

The auction itself will take place Nov. 8 in Binghamton, N.Y., at the Showplace in Binghamton Plaza, 33 West State St. Robert Connelly of Binghamton, in partnership with art dealer and appraiser James Corcoran of Cleveland Heights, is organizing the auction.

The Aldrich has shipped all works to Binghamton, except those items coming to Cleveland next weekend.

Proceeds from the sale will benefit the exhibition program of the Aldrich, which is changing its mission to focus entirely on temporary exhibitions of emerging and midcareer contemporary artists. The museum, about two hours northeast of New York, is in the midst of a $9 million expansion and renovation aimed at giving it more room for exhibitions.

The museum's decision to sell what remains of its permanent collection has not generated controversy in the art world. Some contemporary art museums have permanent collections, but many, including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland, do not.

Jill Snyder, the director of MOCA Cleveland, was the former director of the Aldrich. She could not be reached for comment about the sale.

Staff members at the Aldrich say that in selling off their collection, they are following the wishes of their late founder, Larry Aldrich (1906-2001), once a designer of women's fashions, who established the museum in 1964.

Throughout his involvement with the museum as benefactor and trustee, Aldrich assembled collections and then sold them to focus on the newest and latest creations by contemporary artists.

Aldrich bankrolled the museum originally by selling his valuable collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist art for $1.3 million, then a considerable sum. In the 1980s, he sold off yet another collection of work by contemporary masters who had achieved blue-chip status in order to sharpen the focus on younger up-and-coming artists.

Selling the remainder of the collection "is a way of finishing a process that Larry Aldrich started," said Richard Klein, assistant director of the Aldrich museum.

Klein said the museum is trying to conduct the sale in an ethical and sensitive way. The museum contacted all living artists whose works would be sold and offered to return the works to them free of charge.

The museum also wanted to sell all 307 works at one time, so that sales of works by famous artists might enhance prices for works by lesser-known artists. Auction houses in New York, including Sotheby's and Christie's, wanted to sell only the cream, Klein said. But Connelly was eager to sell works by all the artists, regardless of their reputations.

One important detail could make the auction attractive to bargain hunters: In this sale, there will be no reserve, or minimum, prices. Everything will be sold, no matter how low the final bid.

"We don't want anything back, because we're really moving forward here," Klein said.

Copyright © 2003 The Cleveland Plain Dealer