It’s as final a word as any could be about the often up-in-the-air business. Sotheby’s will offer the 212 pieces of folk art formerly at New York City’s American Folk Art Museum at a public auction at the end of this year or early in the next. The possibility that private offers might prevail over the arrangements made by creditors of the museum’s former president, Ralph Esmerian, as detailed in our last issue, has been scrapped.
Bankruptcy liquidation trustee Jay Teitelbaum tipped observers to his decision in a monthly operating report filed with the court on April 16. Teitelbaum reported that he had paid, via a wire transfer, $1,372,269.29 to Sotheby’s on March 29. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain had approved the payment in an earlier court order.
Teitelbaum noted on April 19 in his overall monthly report to the court, “It is expected that a sale of the Trustee Art will occur through Sotheby’s in December of 2013 or January of 2014.”
That note may signal the beginning of the end of the Esmerian affair for the beleaguered American Folk Art Museum. That institution has endured a very long string of bad luck. After it defaulted on nearly $30 million in bonds used to finance its new building in 2011, the building was taken over by its next-door neighbor, the Museum of Modern Art, which recently announced plans to demolish the 12-year-old edifice and expand its own footprint. (The Architectural League of New York has mobilized to protest that action.)
What else could happen? The museum lost its home, and now plans have been made to demolish it; 212 of its highly valued and near iconic examples of American folk art have been removed and will be sold at auction; and Esmerian, its former president, member of the board, and largest donor, now sits in a federal prison and can plan on spending the next five years there.
Originally published in the May 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest