Sunday, November 24, 2013

New York Times' Roberta Smith, you were right. Case: Dallas Museum of Art's integrity drowning in money.

New York Times' Roberta Smith was right. Case: Dallas Museum of Art's integrity drowning in money.

     The Council of Artists' Rights recently sent out an eblast to inform and educate the taxpaying public about U.S. public museum issues.  Here's  the email:

November 20, 2013

Dear ally of artists' rights:

      One can imagine Dallas arts critic Peter Simek's jaw dropping open as he read a portion of a Dallas Museum of Art press release about that museum's recent return of looted antiquities belonging to Italy.
     What gave Simek great pause was the DMA's acknowledgment of its joined-at-the-hip dealing with the secretive and powerful Foundation for the Arts (FFA).  Reporting for D Magazine's FrontRow, in his October 31, 2013 article, "After Returning Looted Antiquities, Dallas
Museum of Art Scores Long Term Loan of Etruscan Treasures," he revealed his uneasiness with the arrangement, "...this sentence jumped out at me in the press release: 'The transfer was completed in collaboration with the Foundation for the Arts and Munger Fund, which held ownership of three of the works for the benefit of the Museum.' He continued, "...But this little detail does highlight the
complications that arise when you have a private foundation acting on behalf of a public museum." So now we learn that the 50-year old FFA, an entity whose original purpose was handling contemporary art, is also involved in stolen antiquities. Altogether, the machinations of this
circumspect and private group is to control the publicly-owned Dallas Museum of Art...shame, shame!

     The FFA. was founded in 1963 at the time of the merger between the Dallas Museum of Fine Art and the Dallas Museum of Contemporary Art. Its announced goal was to hold the DMCA's small art collection independently and only until the "wedded" museums were proved successful as one unit. In the event the DMFA/DMCA merger did not work out, the FFA was to be dissolved. And everyone expected the DMCA's separate art collection to be donated to the DMFA within a short period of time. The leadership of the Friends of the DMFA, Charles Miles (then-sales executive with IBM) and Dr. Vernon Porter (then-scientific researcher with Texas Instruments) were startled to learn that in
the 1970s, the FFA began soliciting monetary donations via the DMFA's annual report!

     Simek's long term wariness of the FFA is justified. In the 1970s, When Virgina Lazenby O'Hara mistakenly named two separate legal entities, the DMFA and the FFA as recipients of some $4.5 million Dr. Pepper stock, a lawyer of the Friends of the DMFA advised that the DMFA's fiduciary responsibility was to seek sole public ownership by the DMFA instead of jointly with the private FFA. Unfortunately for the public's interest, warnings by the local Artists Equity and the Friends of the DMFA were not heeded. Actually, the DMFA denied having any interest in the stock gift, the largest one until that time for any Dallas arts organization. An audiotape of the dishonest means of duping the Dallas city council investigation and the public's interest can be accessed here. The tape was created and archived by Dallas artists' rights activists. Now fast forward a half century to the present: witnesses--those who were there--from across the country are willing and able to step forward to testify at a moment's notice about FFA shenanigans.

     In 2002, Christine Biederman wrote about the then-current DMA's exhibition, "European Masterworks: The Foundation for the Arts Collection at the DMA." The incisive article appeared in the Dallas Observer, titled, "Butt Nekkid," subtitled, "The DMA presents a fig leaf of an exhibition that hides little and reveals much, none of it good." In it, Biederman boldly described the FFA as a "legal fiction."

     In 2006 a DMA exhibition featured works culled from a 2005 "irrevocable bequest"--valued at $400 million--by three prominent Dallas families. The exhibition was barely over when the donors Rachofskys pulled their "gifted" piece, a Jeff Koons sculpture, "Balloon Flower (Magenta) 1995-2000," out of the museum's future and put it up for auction. It sold for an eye-popping $25.8 million. The artwork had been purchased in 2001 by the Rachofskys for $1.2 million. The FFA was no doubt aware of that DMA acquisition, but how much of their clout influenced the museum's decision to allow such an "irrevocable bequest" to transpire in the first place? According to page four of the
exhibition's catalogue, "Fast Forward: Contemporary Collections for the Dallas Museum of Art"--published by the museum in conjunction with the show--regarding the Rachofsky's bequest to the museum, "Unless otherwise noted, all works illustrated in this catalogue are either partial or promised gifts to the Dallas Museum of Art or are currently in the permanent collection." "Balloon Flower" was reproduced twice in the catalog. And on page 21, in former DMA director Jack Lane's own words, "The grand utterly transforming moment came in 2005 when the...Rachofskys...joined to commit to the Museum by irrevocable bequest their entire collections..." (emphasis added).

Balloon Flower (Magenta) 1995 - 2005 Jeff Koons

    On May 18, 2010, Michael Granberry of the Dallas Morning News surfaced the disconnect between theory and reality in his article, "Dallas art collector's suit says Rothko resale violated secrecy." What triggered Granberry's interest was a 2007 secret sale of a Mark Rothko work and
resulting scandalous U.S. District Court lawsuit. The Rothko work, too, had been a part of the $400 million "irrevocable bequest" and featured in the DMA's "Fast Forward" exhibition. The Rothko piece fetched $31.4 million at auction.

     On May 23, 2010, Granberry, in his article, "What does an 'irrevocable gift' mean to DMA?" jumped all over the sale of "Balloon Flower, (Magenta 1995 - 2005)" with a pointed interview about it with then-DMA director Bonnie Pitman.  To say the least, the sale was a financial windfall for two art collectors, the Rachofskys.

     On May 25, 2010 Simek did some good analysis in his FrontRow piece,"In Wake of Rothko Sale, Questions Loom Over 2005 Donations' Impact on Museum's Future." Referring to the Neo-Pop Art movement of the 1990s and with Rachofsky pulling of Koons "Balloon Flower, (Magenta)" out of the museum's future, Simek said, "The DMA is now out a significant work by a major artist."  Simek raised the legitimate point about the DMA's possible future appetite for a Koons sculpture and what one might cost at that point.  (Actually, a week ago a Koons "Balloon Dog (Orange) sold for $58.4 million.  New York Times' Roberta Smith was spot on in her article of November 13, 2013, "Art is Hard to See Through the Clutter of Dollar Signs.") Simek ended his article with, "Again, like Granberry, I am raising questions here. Answers will require more time and space." There has been no follow up by Simek, so it is safe to conclude that his final sentence is code that screams: my
bosses won't allow me to reveal the whole truth about this and the FFA.

Untitled, Mark Rothko

     In late 2010, the introductory chapter of art historian Sam Blain's Dallas Art History blog raised questions about the FAA's involvement with the DMA.  That blog's scope is deeper and broader in looking at the ongoing issues at the museum.   Among other questions posed to the DMA, the blog weighed in about the O'Hara bequest, Blain asked, "Why is the Foundation for the Arts even allowed to exist as part of a publicly-funded institution (DMA)...considering, for this reason lone...Foundation for the Arts board member Fred Mayer's having conned Mrs. O'Hara on her deathbed into changing her will, leaving her millions of dollars to his foundation, rather than the DMFA (her original

      Once the Council of Artists' Rights (CFAR) became aware of the museum's search to replace outgoing DMA director Bonnie Pitman, on May 11, 2011, we sent an eblast, "Part" - U.S. Art Museums Must Follow This Leader," which also targeted contacts at the DMA and its search committee.  The note strongly recommended for them to add then-Indianapolis Museum of art director Maxwell Anderson as a search committee member.  We never imagined the best scenario in which Anderson would accept the DMA directorship. On hindsight, that was an uncanny "call to action" that CFAR made to the DMA's headhunters!

     And Immediately after Anderson assumed the directorship at the DMA in 2012, a small group of local visual artists requested a "meeting of support" with him.  That meeting reached fruition in January of 2013. The overarching purpose of it was to express their solid backing of Anderson. The FFA was among the topics discussed.  Anderson received a handout copy about the meeting's structure which consisted of A Clear View: The Case for DMA Transparency and its Future, a Presentation Synopsis, and Participant Biographies.

     As recently as February 6, 2013, Simek brought up the issue of transparency at the DMA in an interview with Anderson that appeared in D Magazine called, "Interview: Maxwell Anderson on Turkey, Art Exchange, the Arts District, and the Market (Part 3)." Citing examples of ethically questionable behavior by the DMA, such as how it allowed a Rothko painting, an "irrevocable gift," to secretly leave the museum and which later fetched $31.4 million at auction. Simek challenged Anderson.  Anderson's reply was that he is comfortable with the concept, which he characterizes as "a new model." But what exactly is the "new model?"  Museum staff and savvy contributors know that only a very tiny fraction of offered artwork will ever become part of a museum's permanent collection. And what of the federal income tax deduction angle and the implications for the well-heeled donors of the several hundred million dollar bequest? Are the museum and the tax-paying public being taken advantage of by three prominent Dallas families?  And what of the families with lesser means, who cannot reap tax deductions of the magnitude of those who are better off financially?  Is the general public being forced to make up paying the difference of such wealthier
donors who take mammoth federal income tax deductions?  Is the DMA giving select patrons a license to steal?

     Anderson's "new model" posture does not dovetail well with his previous declarations about how art museums should be run as when he detailed the guidelines in his wonderful paper, the well worth reading "A Clear View: The Case for Museum Transparency."

     A strong negatively-tinged perception of the DMA is born out of repeated missteps by it; that the FFA was aware and knowingly participated in the "looted antiquities" transactions.  Successive generations of DMA museum trustees have allowed such a blemished culture to flourish for 50 years. And it is such a culture that is on track to thrive into the foreseeable future.

     So, in a nutshell, does the FFA call the museum policy shots behind closed doors, or is it the DMA director?  Should the DMA board of trustees immediately sever its ties to the FFA? It is these and other questions which begin to percolate whenever another DMA "questionable behavior" item makes headlines.

      It is well known that U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has in the past championed investigations into the operations of 501(c)(3)nonprofit organizations like the DMA. In a recent press release Grassley delineated some of his goals, "That to-do list includes my efforts to ensure the nation's tax laws strengthen Americans' longstanding tradition of charitable giving and protect taxpayers from subsidizing wrongdoers who misuse nonprofits for their own good."

     What will Sen. Grassley do with all this evidence and testimony about a private foundation's 50-year run of power and influence over a public museum?

Senator Charles "Chuck" Grassley                     via U.S. Postal Service
135 Hart Senate Office Building                        7008 1140 0000 7276 0265
Washington, DC 20510                                      Certified Mail
Tel. (202) 224-3744
Fax: (202) 224 6020