Art works from La Salle museum go on the New York auction block beginning Wednesday

The first sales of art held by the La Salle University Art Museum will take place Wednesday and Thursday at Christie’s auction house in New York City, as scheduled.

A spokeswoman for Christie’s said there had been no changes to the plan for auctioning off the first batches of work removed from the  museum at the behest of  La Salle trustees and the school administration over winter break.

Administrators and Christie’s identified 46 works to be sold from the college collection in a controversial move that upset faculty members, students, and alumni, and earned the university condemnation from professional museum associations.

The school said the proceeds from the sales, estimated to be as much as $7.3 million, would fund new teaching initiatives and capital improvements.

Formal letters of protest from faculty members in the departments of philosophy, art history, religion, and, most recently, English were delivered to university president Colleen M. Hanycz and members of the board of trustees, who made the decision to sell what are generally seen as the museum’s best artworks.

Writing on March 15, in response to a petition opposing the sale signed by more than 300 La Salle alumni, Hanycz and Stephen T. Zarrilli, head of Safeguard Scientifics and chair of the university’s board of trustees, said the decision to sell was final.

“We are confident this decision is the right one for La Salle and its students, and as such, the trustees’ decision will not be reversed,” they wrote.

On March 26, the tenured members of the English department sent a collective letter to the administration that gives a strong sense of the passion behind opposition to the sale.

“This decision — made by the president and the board of trustees, without respect for the university’s core values or pedagogical mission, without respect for disciplinary expertise and proper consultation, and for the purpose of dubious initiatives —  is at odds with the central educational goals of La Salle University,” the English faculty members wrote. “All aspects of our university — not just our art museum and the art history faculty — are affected by this major loss.”

The office of the state attorney general reviewed the university’s plan for the sale. Joe Grace, spokesman for Josh Shapiro, the attorney general, said Tuesday that the review found “no legal grounds which prohibit La Salle University from moving forward with its decision to sell the specific pieces of art currently scheduled for sale.”