Cedar Rapids walks fine line in selling artwork

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Say that you were the Cedar Rapids Chamber of Commerce, and say that for decades you have had in your possession four important and valuable pieces of art.

Further, say that those pieces could, if sold, go a long way toward funding local initiatives desperately in need of the cash, thereby meeting your civic responsibilities. A decision to sell, however, results in a public outcry that these paintings – which have local ties – should remain local and available for public viewing.

You’d have the makings of quite an interesting predicament. This is the dilemma faced by the Cedar Rapids chamber.

The four paintings in question are Marketplace Nuremburg/Indian Creek, a double-sided canvas, and Terraced Mountain/Midsummer, both by Grant Wood, with minimum price tags of $45,000 and $113,500, respectively; Sky Pageantry by Marvin Cone, with a minimum bid of $113,500, and Election Day, by Norman Rockwell, with a minimum bid of $228,000. Any proceeds realized by the sale of the art will be placed in the Chamber’s Special Projects Reserve Fund.

The chamber decided to sell the paintings through Bonhams auction house in its Nov. 28 sale in New York. The decision, however, sparked a public debate of such intensity that the organization reconsidered its decision and instead is offering the paintings for sale locally in the form of a sealed-bid auction on Nov. 20. rockwell.jpeg

Norman Rockwell (American, 1894-1978) Norman Rockwell Paintings America at the Polls including Election Day; Now, Dad, You Listen to Us; Have a Cigar, Junius. Now…; Wimple Alone with his Conscience; Hurray! My Man Won!: five one signed ‘Norman Rockwell’ (lower right)
watercolor and goauche paper

The only catch, though, is that the paintings – with a minimum price tag of $500,000 for all four – if bought locally must then be donated to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, or a similar local organization.

“We’ve owned these paintings for decades,” said chamber president and CEO Lee Clancey, “and as a business organization we believed that we could make the value of these assets put to better use in the community by selling them. Our hope was always that we would be able to sell to someone local and keep them in the area. This gives us the best chance to do that.”

This sentiment was seconded in a press release sent out by Ralph Russell, the chamber board chairman.

“We want to make this issue a win for both our organization and for the cultural life of our community,” he said. “There are so many projects in our community that need financial assistance and there are many initiatives that the money would help launch.”

cone.jpegAs this issue of Antique Trader goes to press, there is no word on the number of bids the chamber has received for the artwork, if any.

Marvin Cone (American, 1891-1964)
Pageantry, 1928
signed ‘Marvin D. Cone’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
28 inches by 32 inches

Clancey did say that the Chamber would like to sell all four of the works together and keep them local, but that the organization is also open to selling any of them individually. The balance of the paintings will then be sold in the Nov. 28 Bonhams sale.

The process has put a national spotlight on the Cedar Rapids Chamber of Commerce, and helped bring to light the decisions that some communities are facing in trying to make progress with social initiatives at a time when both the national and local economies are struggling to find creative ways to generate much needed revenue.

“We’re trying to balance responsibility to the chamber members and then to community,” Clancey said. “It’s about quality of life in the community and having a vigorous cultural entity like the chamber. That fine line is what you see in this recommendation.”

wood.jpeg“There is no progress in communities without change, and we must be open to change because communities cannot improve without it,” Russell added.

Grant Wood (American, 1891-1942)
Marketplace Nuremburg and Indian Creek:
a double sided work

signed ‘Grant Wood’ (lower left reverse)
oil on canvas
22 inches by 17 3/4 inches

Clancey pointed out that the minimum bids on the paintings are necessary in order to keep the paintings available and on display in a local institution, and that the Chamber cannot subsidize the artworks for private ownership, hence the stipulation that the buyer in the closed-bid auction turn around and donate the paintings back to the city.

“This is the only way we feel we can guarantee the artworks will actually stay on public display,” she said.

“If the artwork is not purchased locally,” said Russell, “a national auction is the most fair, equitable and transparent way to make these works available to all interested investors. If any pieces go to the auction, local investors desiring to own the art are invited and encouraged to participate, and should contact Bonhams directly.”

Ten percent of the proceeds of any of the paintings that go on the block for national auction at Bonhams will go to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art in recognition of its stewardship of the paintings.

“Bonhams has bent over backwards to work with us,” Clancey said, “and we appreciate everything they have done to help us sell these paintings.”