The Cost of Losing Artwork

UC Berkeley Loses Artwork, Can't Afford to Repurchase

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    NEWSLETTERS

    UC Berkeley officials say they can't afford to buy back an historic piece of artwork valued at over $1 million that was mistakenly sold for less than $200.

    UC Berkeley Risk Manager Andrew Goldblatt tells The Daily Californian the artwork, a series of carved redwood panels sculpted by renowned African American artist Sargent Johnson, were created in the 1930's as organ screens for the old California School for the Deaf and Blind. The work was commissioned as part of the Work Progress administration under the New Deal.

    When the UC Board of Regents bought the old school and renamed it the Clark Kerr Campus in the 1980's, the panels were lost in storage.

    Goldblatt says the panels turned up again in 2009, when an art and furniture dealer named Greg Favors discovered them in the campus' surplus storage. Not knowing who the artist was or what the panels were worth, the dealer bought them from the school for about $165.

    The artwork was then sold to the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, where they're set to go on permanent display in 2014.

    The University didn't even realize the artwork had been sold until Gray Brechin, a visiting scholar in geography at UC Berkeley and project scholar for the Living New Deal, contacted them. Favors had sent photos of the artwork to Brechin, hoping he would be able to identify the artist.

    Goldblatt says UC Berkeley considered repurchasing the artwork, which an appraiser estimated at $215,000. But due to shrinking budgets, administrators determined they couldn't afford it.

    The panels have since been valued at more than $1 million.