Friday, March 25, 2011

Dallas' D Magazine and arts writer Peter Simek get a letter to the editor: Historical Truth Does Count

Last January 4th, D Magazine arts writer Peter Simek posted on FrontRow that he had read the first installment of Dallas Art History blog and promised to follow up and share his reaction. Well, nearly 60 days later he finally did it.

The following unedited letter to the editor was sent by the Council for Artists' Rights to D Magazine regarding Peter Simek's article "Art Cops." The article is not currently available on the Internet; it can only be accessed via the March 2011 print version or by becoming a magazine subscriber.

The letter needs no set up other than to say that today CFAR received a confirmation email from D Magazine thanking CFAR and that the letter had been received. It is anyone's guess whether or not the letter will ever get published.

Council for Artists' Rights

March 4, 2011

D Magazine
Letters to the Editor
Dallas, Texas

Dear Letters to the Editor:

Much thanks to arts critic Peter Simek for alerting your readership to the existence of Sam Blain's respectable Dallas Art History blog and for informing them of the resurrection of the artists' rights movement in Dallas/Ft. Worth via Simek's D Magazine March 2011 article, "Art Cops."

Peter, several points in your article need clarification. Regarding the "immobilized" Alexander Calder sculptures, prior to meeting your magazine deadline you were supplied the personal contact information of the Nasher Sculpture Center exhibit's two museum-goers who initially reported their shock at the lack of movement of those mobiles. To our surprise, your article omits their first-hand report and involvement. This particular couple are long-time Dallas residents who are respected visual arts professionals in their own right. To support their contention that the Calder mobiles were not moving, ironically, arts critic Lucia Simek (your wife) previously wrote about that exhibition for D Magazine and declared the artwork was "perfectly still" (emphasis added). Obviously it is a struggle to argue against those three eyewitnesses.

Another item needs more explaining, the Booker T. Washington School for the Performing Art outdoor sculpture, Pegasus. The artist who collaborated on that sculpture was not contesting the mere 'repositioning' of it, which you focused upon, rather he was disputing the weightier issue of its form being altered without his or others' consent.

Regarding your take on the Dallas Art History blog, because Sam Blain's blog is offering a 'first-time ever' reporting of Dallas' past, no published references exist for the purpose of comparing notes. And as you probably learned first hand, witnesses who can corroborate Blain's reporting of those historical events, those folks are most likely reluctant to step forward to voice their agreement. A Dallas arts blacklist is alive and well--the blog will deal with those 'stilled' voices.

Your section about the secret sale ($31.4 million value) of the Rothko painting needed expansion. You cast some sunshine on the issue in May 2010 in your D Magazine article
"In Wake of Rothko Sale, Questions Loom Over 2005 Donations' Impact on Museum's Future."  Your readership needs to be reminded the Rothko painting was part of three art collections worth $400 million which were irrevocably promised as gifts to the Dallas Museum of Art, as described in the DMA's "Fast Forward" museum catalog. Similarly, art collectors Howard and Cindy Rachofsky pulled from the DMA's future a sculpture made by Jeff Koons, that one was also in the museum catalog billed as an irrevocably promised gift. The Rachofkys sold it for $25.8 million after he had paid $1.2 million for it in 2001. Another casting recently brought only about $16 million; expectations were for it to bring between $25M and $50 million.

Recently you wrote of Christo's visit to Dallas. He told you his and Jeanne Claude's work was "the freedom of art when it exists outside of corporate, institutional, or gallery contexts.' That description is a perfect fit for someone in Dallas' own backyard. It is precisely the form of outdoor public artwork Dallas resident Chapman Kelley pioneered in the 1970s--Wildflower Works--when he installed it at the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport and later on the grounds adjacent to the Dallas Museum of Natural History. Further, in the mid-1980s Kelley installed his double ellipse 66,000 sq. ft.Chicago Wildflower Works (1984 - 2004) in Chicago's lakefront park at Daley Bicentennial Plaza. Identical to Christo's belief in self-funding work--all three of Kelley's public works were noncommissioned--Kelley financed them by selling off his Henry Moore bronze1960, a 1957 Calder mobile, a 1968 Jules Olitski, a 1969 Frank Stella Protractor, his last three Franz Klines, and liquidated much of his personal art collection. Your article misstated Chicago Wildflower Works as a being a "public commission," again, it was not.

A little known historical fact is that in the early 1970s, right after "Valley Curtain" was installed, Kelley spent an evening with Jeanne-Claude and Christo. During the 1980s the iconic duo traveled to cities in the U.S. By coincidence Kelley crossed paths with them several times. In 1984 Christo and Kelley worked at adjoining tables and created prints at the Jack Lemmon Gallery in Chicago. Kelley recently said of Christo-Jeanne Claude "they gave me the heart to embark on such ambitious projects artistically and environmentally and to self-fund them."

Finally, your article attempts to marginalize the Council for Artists' Rights, as if somehow its work does not merit a place at the table. That assassination attempt is a classic case of "to hell with the message, let's kill the damn messenger!" The maiden installment of Dallas Art History blog leaves much unfinished business on your plate, the many unanswered questions and issues, for example the vigorously contested $4.5 million Virginia Lazenby O'Hara bequest. Peter, why ask hostile museum officials--who you say demand absolute secrecy--about CFAR? The bottom line is that CFAR garnered the fiscal sponsorship blessing of New York City's Fractured Atlas, is proud of its work and continues to have an unblemished track record.

I realize that your bosses may have muzzled you in your attempt to grapple with the Dallas Art History blog, its Hydra-like potential and the rest, as that the bosses have to 'make nice' as they deal with Dallas' prominent art collectors, art museum officials, and monied advertisers of D Magazine.

So, Peter, in the spirit of the recent Southern Methodist University project sponsored by Creative Time, let's consider this letter to the editor a courageous contribution to that forum.

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