Friday, February 17, 2012

Chapman Kelley's Memoirs - Chapter 8

          I expect that most people reading this are familiar with the life histories of artists like Pablo Picasso, Rembrandt, Monet and Jackson Pollock.  As in other professions an artist’s stature outside of the professional community, in addition to how the artist is perceived by the art community, can tell us more about them as individuals and artists as well as the cultural sophistication of the community in which they flourished. At a 2010 art and law colloquium led by Megan Carpenter (Associate Professor of Law and Director for the Center for Law and Intellectual Property at Texas Wesleyan School of Law, Texas Wesleyan College), I was introduced to one of the lawyer/panelists by Patricia Meadows of the family of Algur H. Meadows.  Algur was a major supporter of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts (since renamed Dallas Museum of Art), Southern Methodist University’s art department and the Meadows Museum.  Patricia Meadows explained that, “When I was a young art student and later young matron, Chapman was THE artist whose work everyone collected, THE art teacher, and owner of THE art gallery.” 

          At the time some Dallas artists of the highest caliber were gaining recognition in New York and elsewhere in spite of individuals who, through ignorance or malice, sought to gain control of the Dallas art world.  Two artists who stood out were James Surls and Bob “Daddy-O” Wade, both of whom, to our great loss, left Dallas many years ago. 

          Unfortunately, the die was cast.  Other Dallas artists of similar stature, such as Arthur and Jeannie Koch, achieved recognition and early acclaim in Dallas, and their work was included in significant collections here and elsewhere.  However, our local museum, DMFA, and media had become so compromised that the big breaks did not follow for them.  The quality and originality of Jeanne’s work was brought to the forefront during her first solo exhibition at my gallery, Atelier Chapman Kelley, where her work sold out prior to the opening.  The great collector of American art, Joseph Hirshhorn, saw the exhibit but had to wait in line to buy her work!  Arthur Koch’s daringly original exhibits at the Atelier also sold very well.  Furthermore, I felt he was the best and most popular art teacher around. Artists seldom gain broad national recognition without the support of local museums and art media.  The DMFA’s support for local artists ended with the 1964 cancellation of the juried Texas Annual and its statewide system of recognition.

          In the early 1970s, Janet Kutner, art critic for The Dallas Morning News, confided that there were only two local galleries worthy of regular coverage in her column.  One was my gallery.  Other galleries were receiving only sporadic coverage, mainly none.  I cautioned Kutner against such a narrow focus, which was, in my opinion, biased and not supportive of the Dallas art community as a whole.   I disagreed with her refusal to be more inclusive and gave her fair warning that I planned to complain to the newspaper unless she changed her attitude.  After several weeks, I wrote to Jim Moroney of The Dallas Morning News, stating my objections and asking that Janet Kutner not be allowed to cover Atelier Chapman Kelley in her columns.  Her lack of coverage after that cost us neither acclaim nor sales.  Although Lorraine Haacke, art critic with the Dallas Times Herald, was always fair, The Dallas Morning News was the predominant Dallas newspaper.

          Art historian Meyer Shapiro wrote that the artist’s world had descended from one of high professionalism to one of careerism and then to amateurism.  I add to that, “ambitious” amateurism.  Critic Harold Rosenberg wrote that the artist had been demoted.  Unfortunately, both statements are true.

          The level of professionalism among Dallas artists, dealers and collectors, although diminished, somehow managed to survive into the 1970s in spite of the machinations of people like Merrill C. Rueppel, Douglas MacAgy, Janet Kutner and Betty Marcus.  Sadly, an asp was sown into the fabric of the 1963 merger of DMFA with the Dallas Museum of Contemporary Art (DMCA). 

          One evening around 1974, while having dinner at Patry’s Restaurant, Larry Kelly, General Manager of the Dallas Opera, came over to my table and told me about his inoperable cancer and that he would be leaving Dallas to spend his last days.  He added that since Gene McDermott had died (1973), we likely could no longer count on his wife Margaret to defend the artists as she had in the past.  He predicted that detractors, who did not want local artists to achieve widespread recognition or have the attention and ear of the general public, would win Margaret over by offering to memorialize Gene by attaching the McDermott name to his philanthropic legacy.  Larry Kelly believed Margaret would eventually desert the cause of professional fairness.  Not only did his insightful predictions about her ring true, but we now have McDermott Road, McDermott Halls at both the symphony and opera house, various DMA internships, and the McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art; Richard Brettell currently serves as the Margaret McDermott Distinguished Professor of Art and Aesthetics at the University of Texas at Dallas.  In addition, Dallas will shortly have the McDermott Bridge spanning Trinity River, which was initially to have been a faux twin suspension bridge.
          After Merrill Rueppel’s departure, Harry Parker, who was then in the education department of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, interviewed for the directorship of the DMFA.  I was asked by Margaret McDermott if the professional community would welcome him without Parker having curatorial credentials or related experience.  After consulting   with the professional community, I reported to Margaret that Parker would be acceptable only if he agreed NOT to undertake roles involved with making curatorial, aesthetic decisions.  At that time, there were discussions in the art world about having dual museum directors:  One that would be responsible for administration and fund raising, and the other with curatorial education and experience for aesthetic decisions.  It was understood that Parker’s role would be business/administrative oriented since he was not qualified to make aesthetic determinations. 

          By the mid-1970s Artists Equity had grown to include almost all the serious artists in the Dallas area.  Friends of DMFA had also been established and included interested citizens.  Charles Miles (a sales executive with IBM) and Dr. Vernon Porter (scientific researcher with Texas Instruments) were the co-chairs of the Friends group.

          I was asked to attend a museum party as a show of solidarity for the new DMFA Museum director.  I responded that I must first meet privately with Harry Parker, and I invited him and his wife for dinner at Patry’s.  I explained to him that my support was contingent upon his pledge to not compete with the artists and dealers in private sales.  His reply was that he had just lived through the Metropolitan’s scandal about de-accessioning and wasn’t about to deal in any way with private collections. 
          Some six months later, I learned that Harry Parker had a Frank Stella “Protractor,” like one I had at my gallery, shipped to DMFA for collector/Museum Board member James Clark’s consideration for purchase.  It was then re-crated and returned by DMFA.  I called and reminded Parker of his promise.  He pleaded extenuating circumstances.  I replied that exceptions to our agreement had not been discussed, and that his actions were deliberate and unacceptable to me.  I also learned that Parker was accepting offers to jury exhibitions of Texas artists.  If his role at DMFA was restricted to administrative and fundraising responsibilities, then why was he permitted to make aesthetic decisions elsewhere when he was not qualified to do so? 

          Two groundbreaking art world events took place in Washington, D.C. in 1974.  The first was the grand opening of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in the spring, followed by the opening in the fall of the new I.M. Pei designed East Wing of the National Gallery, whose assistant director had come to Dallas and asked me for advice about which local Dallas collectors should be invited to be on the East Wing Committee.  I was invited to the two most significant openings at the Hirshhorn Museum, including the first night opening gala event reserved for the President of the United States, U.S. Supreme Court justices, members of Congress and the diplomatic corp.  I had a discussion that evening with former Vice President Hubert Humphrey about my having been President Lyndon B. Johnson’s last social visitor.  I commented that the new Hirshhorn Museum would have made Johnson proud and that it was a big plus for his administration. 

          The second night opening celebration was reserved by Joe Hirshhorn for the art professionals.  This was the “real opening” and the most important art world event since the 1959 opening of the Frank Lloyd Wright Guggenheim Museum in New York.  Tickets for the Hirshhorn opening were being scalped for $1000 and more!  Printmakers had even screened some fake tickets for sale.  Upon being asked what should be done, Joe Hirshhorn responded that if they would donate two autographed copies of the fake tickets for the archives, they would be welcome to attend.
George Goodenow, artist and president of Artists Equity, also went to Washington D.C.  I introduced him to the Hirshhorns who gave us a private tour of the new museum on the afternoon of the first opening.  They also “found” a precious ticket for George to attend the second night opening for art professionals. 

          While in Washington, George and I visited with our congressman and U.S. Senator John Tower, whose niece, Mimi Webb Miller, had worked for a while at Atelier Chapman Kelley.  We discussed our concerns over widespread abuses and conflicts of interest that threatened the integrity of American art museums and cited specific examples that included:  (1) museum staff giving professional advice, art market information, shopping and other services to select individuals, including the museum’s own board members--at public expense--a patent violation of 501C3 rules; and (2) museums showcasing art owned by board members in museum exhibits, thus using museum prestige to add to the provenance of the board member’s art and inflate its market value.  The art could then potentially be sold for much more than its original cost or donated to a museum, giving the board member the advantage of a generous tax deduction. 

          We also told our elected representatives that it is totally unacceptable for public museums - entrusted as both educators and arbiters of aesthetic quality and consequently, the value of works of art - to be in market competition with private sector artists and dealers.  Public endowments and tax-exempt status give museums an unfair advantage over the private sector, and we shouldn’t have to compete with our own publicly funded, tax-exempt institutions.  If museums are to continue to enjoy their exempt status in addition to being allowed to advise, market and sell works of art, then artists and dealers should be granted the same tax-exempt and funding privileges.
          The only Dallasite I recognized at the art professionals opening was Courtney Sale, who had studied with artist John Cunningham (Olga Hirshhorn’s son) at Skidmore College.  Cunningham’s beautiful and unique hand-carved plexiglass sculptures sold well at Atelier Chapman Kelley.  I had purchased six pieces of his work for my own collection.  Courtney eventually opened her own gallery in Dallas before relocating to New York.

          Having been appointed a National Gallery East Wing Committee member, Margaret McDermott was invited to Washington for the opening of the East Wing. She offered to take along my wife Joan and me, as well as art student and collector, Jan Smyser, to view museums.  At my request, we stayed at the beautiful Hay-Adams Hotel across from the White House.  The assistant director of the National Gallery later chastised me when he learned that my spouse Joan, Jan and I had cooled our heels at the Hay-Adams during the opening.  He assured us we would have been welcomed to attend the opening with Margaret.  As we drove away from the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport on our return trip from Washington, Margaret suddenly asked me who, among travelers on a DMFA-sponsored trip to Peru, had complained about art antiquities (purchased on the trip) not having been delivered.  I had no choice but to respond, since I had consulted with a few of the tour members about their complaints.  I suspected that this was the real reason Margaret asked us to accompany her to Washington–in order to grill me about the Peruvian tour members’ complaints. 

          At this point, it’s necessary to interject a rundown of sequential events leading up to Margaret’s query.  In the late 1960s, Howard John Lunsford was named Curator of Pre-Columbian Art at DMFA after receiving a Masters Degree in Pre-Columbian Art from Columbia University made possible by a grant from a DMFA women’s organization.  He had also attended some of my classes at the DMFA museum school. 

          In the early 1970s, Lunsford guided a DMFA sponsored tour group to Peru for the apparent purpose of visiting historical sites.  Tourists on the trip were informed by the authorities that they could no longer purchase antiquities from South American countries because of recently passed international treaties designed to curb the tide of international trafficking in ancient artifacts.  (Museum exhibitions were an exception to this new law, but loaned works on display were to be returned to their countries of origin.)  In spite of this warning, Lunsford took them to museums by day and local dealers by night. One couple on the tour, who were clients of mine, reported that Lunsford had assured them that whatever they purchased would be shipped to DMFA in order to avoid the ban.  He promised to authenticate the purchased artwork and if they wanted, they could sell it in New York for twice what they paid for it.  Such assurances on the part of a DMFA curatorial staff member, acting in his official professional capacity, encouraged tour members to purchase art antiquities from South American antiquities dealers.  It is my understanding that some people spent over $10,000 each on purchase.  Bear in mind these are 1970s dollars. A year later, the purchased art antiquities still had not been delivered to the buyers on the tour.  In addition, neither their phone calls nor their money had been returned by John Lunsford and the DMFA.  Did Lunsford also knowingly and unlawfully purchase South American art antiquities for the DMFA and for himself?  In any event, his assurances to the tour group members placed DMFA in the untenable position of willfully participating and encouraging the smuggling of ancient art antiquities in violation of international treaties and law.

          Artists Equity and Friends of DMFA made a number of artist and citizen complaints to the Dallas Park Board and subsequently, Dallas City Council, which formed an arts committee to hold hearings and investigate these accusations.  We were forced to shed light on these improper activities at a time when the Dallas Art Association’s contract with the City to operate the Museum was about to be renewed.  As a consequence, their contract was put on hold.  Since we all liked John Lunsford personally, it fell to my unhappy lot to explain these serious allegations to the arts committee.  Library director Lillian Bradshaw was asked to investigate the charges for the committee and reported that no people had complained. 

          By contrast, we just learned that our new DMA director, Dr. Maxwell Anderson, although only here since January 9th, has voluntarily contacted Italian authorities about antiquities purchased over the last several years by DMA from New York antiquities dealer, Edoardo Almagla, who is under  investigation for trafficking in looted antiquities as reported by Chasing  In addition, both the Metropolitan and Princeton University Museums have already returned over 200 works purchased from Almagla.

          The question is, why didn’t the DMFA step forward early in the U.S. Customs Department’s investigation as did other museums, especially in light of the hushed and hidden DMFA Peruvian scandal of the 1970s?  For some time, it has been de rigueur in the international art community for museums and collectors to NOT purchase antiquities without a verified and well-documented provenance.  Bravo! Bravissimo! to Maxwell Anderson for taking decisive, responsible action on this issue where the DMA is concerned!

          On another subject, I was very familiar with a certain Monet “Poplar Series” painting that became available for sale at Wildenstein Gallery in New York.  I immediately attempted to interest W.R. “Fritz” Hawn in purchasing it as a memorial to his wife Mildred, who was well known in Dallas for her dedication to the arts.  He traveled to New York to view it and liked it but did not want to donate it to DMFA.  Instead, he acquired and donated the large three-piece Henry Moore sculpture that still sits in front of the I.M. Pei designed City Hall. 

          I then strongly recommended the Monet “Poplar Series” to Margaret McDermott who wanted to see the painting.  I called to ask gallery director Louis Goldenberg when the painting would be shipped.  To my disappointment, he responded that Margaret had requested the painting be shipped to her via the DMFA.  Her actions harkened back to Larry Kelly’s prediction that Margaret would intentionally shun the local arts community (artists and dealers).             

          Nevertheless, there were some very sincere, sensitive, knowledgeable and supportive Dallas leaders, such as the dynamic Mildred Hawn and Evelyn Lambert, who understood what the arts were truly about and who encouraged and inspired many other Dallasites to support the local professional community and new art on the basis of originality and quality, regardless of fashion. 

          After the death of Virginia Lazenby-O’Hara, it was announced that she had left $4.5 million worth of Dr. Pepper stock shares in her will to the “Foundation for the Arts-Dallas Museum of Fine Arts”, which are two totally separate entities.  The consensus of Artists Equity and Friends of DMFA was that the Museum Board, commensurate with its public fiduciary responsibilities, should oppose the Foundation and defend the Museum’s rights to the gift.  The Friends’ lawyer, Tim Kelly (no relation), and others argued that in such a dispute between a public and private institution, the public entity should prevail over the private one.  In defiance of common sense, the DMFA abdicated its right to accept this largest single gift to any Dallas arts institution, insisting instead that the stock should go to the private Foundation for the Arts! 

          Back in 1963, when DMFA and the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts merged, the DMCA formed the Foundation for the Arts purportedly for the purpose of holding its small collection under separate ownership until it could be determined whether the marriage would last.  There was concern among the Artists Equity and Friends groups that art later donated to the private Foundation could eventually end up in another arts institution (and even in another city) rather than the publicly owned DMFA.  Conflicts of interest were rife from the beginning since all of the private Foundation Board members were also on the Board of the DMFA.  To this day, the Foundation, as a private entity, operates in secret and remains unaccountable to the public as to what it owns in art and funds and who insures, houses, guards, conserves, etc. its holdings.  Are we taxpayers paying to support this private Foundation?  I’m aware that the Foundation has even used DMFA publications to appeal to and solicit gifts of art and/or money in competition with the DMFA, our publicly owned institution - with no Foundation transparency or accountability! 

          In 1975, Margaret McDermott and DMFA Director Harry Parker appeared before the Dallas City Council arts committee.  Both of them testified that Mrs. O’Hara would not have given this gift to DMFA because it was a public institution and must answer to the people, and that we were fortunate to have this private Foundation to receive the gift. 

          The Friends’ attorney, and Arthur Koch representing Artists Equity, clearly outlined the glaring conflict of interest to the arts committee, which nevertheless found that since the DMFA had actually declined the gift, it would go by default to the Foundation.

          Since the public’s ownership interest was not being represented by its own Museum Board members, the Friends’ attorney filed a class action suit asking that he be allowed to defend the public’s interest in court by acting on behalf of a representative group of us professional artists, dealers and other citizens.  There could have been hundreds of plaintiffs but because of the time and monetary expense involved in keeping larger numbers informed of legal actions, Kelly chose a representative group of twenty-six individuals.  In spite of this lawsuit, the Texas attorney general, the only other authority who could represent the public’s interest, ruled that the matter was undisputed so he could not step in.

          So the First National Bank was holding the Dr. Pepper stock shares pending a court decision.  The judge ruled that since all parties – the DMFA, the Foundation for the Arts and the City - were represented, no other individuals or groups could be represented in court proceedings. 

          From the depositions of O’Hara’s attorney who drafted her will, we learned from his testimony that in a previous will O’Hara had indeed left a substantial gift to the publicly owned DMFA without any mention of the Foundation; and that she later changed her mind.  Fred Mayer, a longtime member and at times officer of both DMFA and the Foundation for the Arts, testified that O’Hara, who lived in the same building and rode to Museum meetings with him, had been advised by him to change her will because the Foundation was run by sound businessmen and the Museum, on the other hand, was run by political appointees of the Dallas City Council.  Of course, this couldn’t have been further from the truth. The Dallas City Council made no appointments to the DMFA Board, and several of the DMFA Board members were also on the Board of the private Foundation.  It soon became clear that the true intent of the Foundation was to privatize control of the city-owned institution by usurping nontransparent, unaccountable, unrestrained and unquestionable control.  However, depositions revealed that O’Hara clearly did not understand this connection between the two, nor did she even know that they were distinctly separate legal entities.

          In spite of Tim Kelly and Arthur Koch’s reports to the City Council’s art committee, it chose to ignore our protests.  Consequently, the small group of Foundation Board members, who also served on the DMFA Board, was able to unduly influence or actually control the public Museum through Foundation ownership and solicitation of significant works of art and moneys that the Museum would otherwise have received.  Through such a fait accompli, the Foundation would hold the Museum hostage so-to-speak. The asp had struck. 

          You, dear friends, can verify all that we have said by actually listening to the taped (free of charge) appearances of Margaret McDermott, Harry Parker and Tim Kelly before the official art committee of the Dallas City Council.  You can also hear Friends of DMFA representative Charles Miles reading from the court transcript of the testimony of Fred Mayer and O’Hara’s attorney that disproved McDermott’s and Parker’s testimony. 

          The insidious results of our efforts to speak out on behalf of the public’s interest have taken a disastrous toll on the Dallas art community.  Professionals who stood up have been blacklisted and remain blacklisted to this day.  Private financial interests served by the public sale of valuable art works irrevocably promised to the renamed DMA, along with recurring dealings in looted antiquities, demonstrate that a major house cleaning is long overdue at DMA.

          We are most fortunate to now have Dr. Maxwell Anderson at the helm as the new Director of DMA, where he is continuing his international campaign for transparency in art museum operations. All citizens, and particularly art professionals, should support this Council for Artists’ Rights-designated Museum Director of the Decade in his Herculean tasks.

Coming up in Chapter 9:

I was the President's very last visitor at the LBJ Ranch.

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