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What’s It Worth?

Thursday, May 9, 2019 - 6:00pm to 7:15pm
Reception to follow
Registration is requested

Members $20 and Visitors $35

What's It Worth?

​Suzanne Preston Blier, Stephen S. Lash, Akili Tommasino, and moderator Murray Whyte

For many, art has an essential worth independent of commercial value. It exists in its own priceless realm of cultural heritage and personal meaning. And yet, artworks are also subject to commodifying forces that often take them away from the public eye or the peoples who created them. For instance, at auction houses private collectors pay stunning sums for artworks that are then whisked behind closed doors. Meanwhile, museum curators must negotiate the value of artworks according to a unique set of acquisition practices and parameters quite different from private collectors. And then some artists’ works--however brilliant--never gain recognition while others’ become virtually priceless. Join us for an evening with four experts who will examine the “value” of art in its myriad forms.

Suzanne Preston Blier, Allen Whitehill Clowes Professor of Fine Arts and of African and African American Studies, Harvard University. Two of her articles appeared in Art Bulletin’s Centennial Anthology of top 33 art history articles from the last century. Her publications include, most recently, Picasso’s Demoiselles: The Untold Story of the Origins of a Modern Masterpiece [Duke University, 2019] and forthcoming: 1325: A History of Modernity’s Origins in Africa and the Western Islamic World (Yale University Press).  Other books include Art and Risk in Ancient Yoruba (2015 Prose Prize in Art History and Criticism), African Vodun: Art, Psychology and Power (1995 Charles Rufus Morey Prize), The Anatomy of Architecture: Ontology and Metaphor in Batammaliba Architectural Expression (1987, Arnold Rubin Prize), and The Image of the Black in African and Asian Art (2017) with D. Bindman and H.L. Gates, Jr. Blier is Chair of the International Advisory Committee, for WorldMap, an electronic interactive mapping database she help found at Harvard University. From 2017-18 she  served as President of the College Art Association, and currently is on the Board of the National Committee for the History of Art.


Stephen S. Lash is Chairman Emeritus of Christie’s Americas, having served as Chairman for nearly a decade. After nine years as a Vice President at S.G. Warburg & Co. in London and in New York, he joined Christie’s in 1976, and was a member of the team responsible for launching the firm’s New York salesroom on Park Avenue a year later. During his 39 year tenure at Christie’s, Mr. Lash has been involved with virtually every major historic and record-setting auction at the firm, including the sale of Vincent van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr. Gachet for $82.5 million in 1990 (at the time the most expensive object ever sold at auction) and the sale of the Nicholas Brown desk for $12.1 million in 1989 (which remains the record price for a piece of American furniture), the 1997 sale of The John and Frances L. Loeb Collection, and the sales of The Collection of Thomas Mellon Evans and The Doris Duke Collection sold to benefit The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation in 2004. His relationship with Maria Altmann led to the November 2006 landmark auction of Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II, Birch Forest, Apple Tree I and Houses at Unterach on the Attersee. Adele Bloch-Bauer II was sold for $87,936,000, the third highest price ever achieved at auction for any painting at the time. Mr. Lash’s relationship with Elizabeth Taylor was instrumental in Christie’s auction of The Collection of Dame Elizabeth Taylor in New York in December of 2012, one of the most anticipated sales in international auction history, fetching $156,756,576 with every single lot sold.

Mr. Lash serves as acting President and Trustee of the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, and as a Trustee of the Museum of the City of New York and the New York Landmarks Conservancy, where he was Chair for several years. He is current co-Chair of the American Friends of the Israel Museum, for which he served as President for six years. He is on the Board of Stanhope Capital in London, and has served on the Board of the Preservation League of New York State, and the Board of Overseers for and co-Chair of the Maritime Visiting Committee at the Peabody Essex Museum.

An avid collector of transatlantic passenger steamship memorabilia, Mr. Lash was the Founder and First President of the Ocean Liner Museum, now part of the South Street Seaport. He holds a B.A. from Yale College, and is a former President of the Association of Yale Alumni of Metropolitan New York. He received an M.B.A. in International Business from Columbia Business School.


Akili Tommasino joined the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston as Associate Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art in fall 2018. An advocate of emerging artists and scholar of the twentieth-century avant-garde, he has curated and collaborated on numerous exhibition projects at institutions internationally. Previously, he was a curatorial assistant at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, where he organized 2017 exhibition Projects 107: Lone Wolf Recital Corps, and a Fulbright Fellow at the Centre Pompidou - Musée national d’art moderne in Paris, where he pursued research for his dissertation on the machine aesthetic of Fernand Léger. He is completing a PhD in History of Art and Architecture through Harvard University, where he earned his MA and BA. Summer 2018 marked the second iteration of the Prep for Prep/Sotheby's Summer Art Academy, which Tommasino founded with the support of Sotheby's to give New York City high school students of color an early window into the art world and to promote diversity in the field.


Murray Whyte is the art critic for the Boston Globe. Prior to taking up his post earlier this year, Murray was the long-serving art critic at the Toronto Star, Canada's largest daily newspaper, where he won a National Newspaper Award for his critical writing in 2017. A graduate of New York University, Murray has criss-crossed the U.S.-Canadian border for most of his adult life, living in New York, Vancouver, Seattle, Toronto and now Boston, where he makes his home with his family on the North Shore. A devotee of contemporary art and its resonance with the most trenchant issues in the world today, he's just begun to discover the vast troves of historical art that New England has to offer and is constantly amazed at its riches.



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