Museum of Latin American Art is selling dozens of works from its collection

The Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach.
(Richard Hartog / Los Angeles Times)

In a virtual fire sale of art from its permanent collection, the Museum of Latin American Art is in the midst of an online auction of paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints and photographs.

The unprecedented bulk-removal of works from the museum’s collection, known as deaccessioning, raises the specter of serious financial stress at the Long Beach institution.

Among 121 works on the block, most donated by artists and collectors expressly for the fundraising auction, nearly 50 are from the museum’s own collection. They include examples by internationally known artists Roberto Matta, Rodolfo Morales, Walter Goldfarb and Wifredo Lam, together carrying a high estimate of nearly $500,000.

The sale is the second since the summer, when MOLAA announced an online auction of 167 artworks from Latin American and Latino artists to benefit a COVID-19 recovery fund. The museum has been shuttered since March.

The pandemic has been taking a toll on revenues at many cultural institutions. According to financials posted on the museum’s website, in 2019 MOLAA already faced a deficit of $340,617 on an annual budget of nearly $3.7 million.


A MOLAA spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

A fiscally robust museum plans to fund operations by selling $73 million of its art. The scope of the move threatens to accelerate a troubling trend.

Oct. 19, 2020

Artists in the sale hail from Central and South America as well as Cuba, Mexico and the United States. Six works by Matta, including a 1943 suite of 10 etchings made after the Chilean Surrealist settled in Paris, comprise the largest body of material by a single artist.

Also among the prominent works being sold are four paintings by Mexican artist Rafael Coronel (1932-2019), including the atmospheric 1965 oil “La Familia.” The picture is representative of his commitment to painting figures without the heroic posture of better-known mural painters or a more common Surrealist twist.

A major three-panel painting from 1986 by Mexican American Neo-Surrealist Ray Smith, born in Texas in 1959 and whose work is in the collection of the Broad museum, is on the block. Deaccession of art by a living artist is widely frowned upon, since the museum puts the artist’s reputation in jeopardy.

Controversial plans to sell off art have rocked museums in New York and Maryland since the pandemic began earlier this year. MOLAA’s sale appears to be the first in Southern California connected to the health crisis.

Props from a beer commercial are being displayed as sculpture.

Dec. 1, 2020