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UC Berkeley mistakenly sells acclaimed New Deal artwork for chump change

Monday, February 20, 2012


Ouch. There’s a newly-acquired 22-foot-long carved panel by the late San Francisco African-American artist Sargent Johnson on display at the Huntington Library down in San Marino that they’re understandably proud of. Commissioned by the Works Progress Administration during the 1930s, it’s valued at more than $1 million. But here’s the kicker: UC Berkeley mistakenly sold it for $150 plus tax, the New York Times says:

The circuitous tale of Sargent Johnson’s huge redwood relief involves error, chance and a partnership of unlikely art-world figures, including an art and furniture dealer who stumbled upon the panels at the university’s surplus store; an antiques dealer who was on a first-name basis with Michael Jackson and his chimp Bubbles; and a lawyer whose hobby is buying lighthouses and who convinced the government that even though the art was commissioned by the Works Progress Administration, it could still be sold publicly.

Add: The head of the National New Deal Preservation Association calls UC Berkeley’s miscue “astounding,” “amazing incompetence” and a few other things.

Image: Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

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