Internal problems plague city museums
At the last minute, however, when the painting was already on a pallet at the airport, museum staff learned that they would be subjected to a nonrefundable customs fee amounting to $35,000. To resolve the matter, "the decision is to have Maria issue a new Pro Form [sic] Invoice with a value of $15,000 so that the French customs fee would be lower," Director of Registration Therese Chen wrote in an email to several staff members including Maria Reilly, then a senior registrar. Reilly, another staff member who has since been let go from the museum, balked. "With all due respect, I am quite uncomfortable working with two sets of values for one painting," she responded via email, documentation shows.
Orr, the European exhibits curator, was also included on that thread. "I think $15,000 is absolutely unacceptable," she wrote in an email in response. When asked during a telephone interview about this email thread, Orr confirmed to the Guardian that the exchange was authentic, and added that she had been overruled.
Ken Garcia, spokesperson for the museums, told us: "For security reasons, we do not disclose information about the value of works in the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco's collection. Although we can't discuss the value of specific works in our collections, we can say that prior to expert authentication, the estimated values of art works naturally fluctuate and may be difficult to determine."
An undated statement sent to the Guardian expressing "points of great concern amongst a broad range of professional staff" at FAMSF suggests that, while no one is prepared to come forward and say so publicly, some employees are unhappy with the way things are going at the museums. "While recognizing and appreciating the dedication and support of all the Board of Trustees, members of FAMSF staff are alarmed with recent decisions made and the current lack of clear direction of the museums," the statement begins. It concludes with, "The general morale among staff is at a low point. Many believe that the recent personnel decisions ... will make it difficult to attract the caliber of staff that is needed to move the Museums forward in the coming years."
Garcia declined to discuss personnel issues, citing employee privacy. There's no evidence that Dede Wilsey had anything whatsoever to do with the dismissals, the morale problems, or the financial issues. But she is the president of the board, and it's happening on her watch.