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Tacoma Art Museum and Young family resolve art donation issue; Chinese collection still to be auctioned with some items donated

Post by Rosemary Ponnekanti / The News Tribune on March 5, 2013 at 5:36 pm with No Comments »
March 5, 2013 5:40 pm
A Qing dynasty surcoast and skirt, part of the disputed Young collection and estimated by Bonhams at $1,000-$1,500, may be one of the items rescued from sale next week. Courtesy photo.
A Qing dynasty surcoast and skirt, part of the disputed Young collection and estimated by Bonhams at $1,000-$1,500, may be one of the items rescued from sale next week. Courtesy photo.

After a lawsuit, a community meeting and many hours of legal wrangling, Tacoma Art Museum and the Young family came to an agreement Tuesday afternoon about the museum’s sale of a donation of Chinese artifacts by the family over three decades ago. A hearing at the Pierce County Superior Court Tuesday morning was postponed, then eventually cancelled as both parties resolved the issue outside the courtroom.

While the museum will continue with the second phase of the sale of the collection at auction at Bonhams, San Francisco on March 12, it will withdraw several items that will be donated to a Northwest institution in the near future, the joint press release said.

“We regret that the conversation between us, the museum and the community took the direction that it did,” said Al Young, son of Col. John and Mary Young who donated their collection of Qing dynasty robes and jade to the museum in 1976. “We appreciate the museum hearing our concerns and we will work together to address them.”

“(The Youngs) have a rich legacy which the museum will continue to recognize,” said TAM director Stephanie Stebich. “We are pleased that all has been resolved…We regret that the Young family heirs had the impression that the museum did not value the gift of their parents.”

“It’s been resolved to mutual benefit,” added Shakespear Feyissa, the Young’s Seattle attorney who helped with the negotiations at the Pierce County Court. “Everybody’s satisfied.”
The resolution came after a lawsuit brought last week by Al Young against the museum, Stebich, board president Kathy McGoldrick and Bonhams auction house for misrepresentation.

The museum was also invited to attend a community meeting held Monday night at the Asia Pacific Cultural Center, but declined due to the litigation. After negotiations between the museum and the Young family on Monday night and Tuesday morning, the court hearing was adjourned twice, and finally cancelled as both parties resolved the issue outside the courtroom.

Neither party would elaborate on exactly how many or which items would be withheld from the sale, or which institution they would be given to, saying those details would be announced in 30 days.

Among the museums contacted by The News Tribune, Seattle’s Wing Luke Museum and Tacoma’s Asia Pacific Cultural Center have both expressed a willingness to accept the items.

The controversy between the museum and the Young family began last December, when one-third of the collection donated by their parents was sold at auction for nearly five times its estimated value. There are 82 more items slated for sale on March 12. You can read all the details in my Sunday story, here.

The Youngs’ children Al Young and Connie Young Yu objected both to the discrepancy in value and the way the museum has handled the process, calling it inaccurate, deceptive and culturally disrespectful. They asked the TAM in letters to withdraw the remaining items from sale in order to come to an agreement.

Stebich and McGoldrick said the museum had conducted the deaccessioning with every effort at transparency, and that the family was originally happy with the sale. They refused to withdraw the items due to financial penalties imposed by the auction house.

An open letter signed by nearly 50 community members requested the museum attend the meeting Monday night to discuss the issue. The museum sent a statement reaffirming its position and refusing to attend due to the lawsuit which Young filed last Wednesday.

“I don’t want a cent of it,” Young said at the meeting. “Nothing can happen if we don’t pull this stuff out of auction. That’s why we’re filing the lawsuit.”

Around two dozen community members attended the meeting. Many supported Young.

“If I didn’t know Stephanie Stebich, I would say this is a slap in the face,” commented Theresa Pan, a member of Tacoma’s Chinese Reconciliation Project at the meeting. “The museum’s mission is education. To focus on one area is too narrow.”

Julio Quan, a Tacoman with a background in professional mediation in South America, was at both the meeting and the cancelled court hearing.

“It’s not about the dollar value,” he said. “What’s important is the healing of the community. We don’t want the image of our museum to be tarnished. At the same time we want representation of the many cultures that are in Tacoma.”

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