Ansel Adams’ Family Goes After Bankrupt Fresno Museum to Block Auction of Donated Prints


Ansel Adams‘ son Michael has found himself in a similar position to that of the Georgia O’Keefe estate last year as they fought Frisk University to stop them from selling off donated paintings by the artist. Following their familiar plight of a forced closure due to a lack of funding, the Fresno Metropolitan Museum is now in the process of auctioning off its collection to help pay off its bankruptcy debts. These auctions are set to include several of the famous photographer’s prints, which Michael Adams and his family are now trying to fight. The issue, an likely upcoming court battle, is over whether Adams himself originally donated the prints without any strings attached, or if there was some other form of agreement made:

…Adams’ son Michael Adams, and his wife, Jeanne, contend that a “declaration of gift” signed by the family and Met officials at the time specifically removed from the document any permission for the Met to dispose of the prints. A sentence that said Met directors would be “at liberty to use or dispose of this property at their … discretion” was stricken, the complaint says.

But also in the original agreement, a copy of which is attached to the complaint, Adams agreed to “irrevocably” give all rights to the work to the Met. One of the Adamses attorneys, Melody Hawkins, said she could not comment on the agreement. Fresno bankruptcy lawyer Riley Walter, who represents the museum, could not be reached to comment.

The O’Keefe estate, you might recall, ultimatelywound up on the losing side of this kind of fight, even with a similar declaration of “this is just a loan” (though in far more complicated legalese).