Mass resignation of Ben Uri Gallery International Advisory Panel as it sells key Jewish artworks

Members including ex-Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota called the decision to sell off key works from the collection 'a grave mistake'


Eleven members of the International Advisory Panel of the Ben Uri gallery have resigned in response to the institution selling off major Jewish artworks, calling it “a grave mistake.”

In a joint statement, the members, including former director of the Tate Galleries Sir Nicholas Serota, and Bruce Boucher, director of Sir John Soane’s Museum, said the works “make up the very heart of the Ben Uri Collection" and their sale "will undermine the ability of the trustees to secure future gifts and a future home for the Collection”.

As reported by the JC, the Ben Uri gallery, which was founded to showcase Jewish artists' work, plans to sell around 700 works of art, as part of efforts to rededicate itself to the art of immigrants of all faiths and nationalities.

Among the works being sold are pieces by Mark Gertler and David Bomberg. Five by the latter were auctioned off at Sothebys on Tuesday night. Four were sold, for a combined total of more than £1 million.

As they announced their resignation, the advisory panel members said another nine works would be sold on Wednesday, including paintings by Mark Gertler and Alfred Wolmark and "important early drawings by Frank Auerbach".

More works from the 19th century will be sold in December.

“We were not consulted in advance on the proposed sales and believe that sales of such important works from the Collection are a grave mistake,” they said.

David Glasser, the executive chair of the Ben Uri, had described the “overall response” to the planned developments as “incredibly positive and heartening”.

He said: “Obviously we consulted quite widely during the last number of years when we were developing this strategy”.

But the advisory panel members, who also include artists, art academics and commentators  such as Sir Norman Rosenthal, Shulamith Behr, Andrew Renton and Norman Lebrecht, wrote: “Despite our efforts to persuade the Trustees to postpone the sale so these matters could be discussed more fully, they have decided to proceed."

They said they had "no choice" but to resign.

They continue: “We admire and are grateful for the way that the trustees of the Ben Uri have sustained the organisation over the past fifteen years. There have been many achievements with some important exhibitions and publications."

Mr Glasser responded, saying "we regret this news and respect our eleven colleagues views and thank them for their new scale of interest, which was only formally presented last Friday afternoon - two and a half working days before the sale at Sotheby's and many weeks after receipt. 

"However, the seven strong Ben Uri management and trustee team fundamentally disagree.

"All 26 members of the advisory panel were sent printed copies and explanatory notes, in advance of auction sale cut off dates and public circulation, which clearly invited them to contact us and discuss. Apart from one member in particular we had not recognised any evidence that there was a broad level enthusiasm to engage at the strategic planning and detailed implementation level of our operation."

The executive chair also rejected the suggestion that the works being sold represented the heart of the collection, saying that view "is simply long out of date. 

"We have in the past 16 years increased the holdings of Bomberg by ten works... we have added two major works by Auerbach, one of Gertler's recognised masterpieces and three early seminal rabbinical scenes by Wolmark."

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