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Dia Founders Blast Art Disposals: “Complete Betrayal of Trust”

Philippe Vergne, director, Dia Art Foundation

Philippe Vergne, director, Dia Art Foundation

Last Monday, in my second post lamenting the Dia Art Foundation’s planned sale of some about 30 works (including all its Cy Twomblys, its only Barnett Newman and two John Chamberlains displayed in the Guggenheim Museum’s 2012 retrospective), I wrote that Philippe Vergne, the foundation’s director, had “offered to speak with me on Monday [that is, today]. I’ll report on that conversation, if and when it occurs [emphasis added].”

As I anticipated might happen (hence, the “if and when” proviso), today’s scheduled conversation never happened.

At 12:25 p.m. today, this e-mail from Melissa Parsoff, Dia’s director of communications, darkened my inbox:

I apologize for the short notice, but Philippe is tied up this afternoon and will not be able to speak today. I will be back in touch.

Given the successive publications on Tyler Green‘s Modern Art Notes blog, yesterday and today. of a letter deploring the sale written by Paul Winkler (who, as the Menil Collection’s former director, had partnered with Dia to create the Menil’s Twombly Gallery) and an even more forceful letter by Dia’s three founders (Fariha [formerly Philippa] de Menil Friedrich, Heiner Friedrich and Helen Winkler, Paul’s sister), I would have been pleasantly surprised if the interview had gone on as scheduled.

Paul Winkler deplored the sale as “an outrage” and “counter to the unique vision and spirit of Dia.”

The three founders blasted the disposal this way:

Any intention to put artwork up for sale from the original collection, using it as a money pouch to fund other projects, is a complete betrayal of trust toward some of the great artists of the 20th century. It is a betrayal of the Foundation itself, which was formed to gather and preserve these artists’ work, and it is a betrayal of trust toward the public to which the Foundation is beholden.

Contacted by me by phone after I received Vergne’s no-go notice, his assistant told me he was in back-to-back meetings all day. Even she hadn’t yet seen him.

I suspect at least some of those meetings involve damage control, at the very least, or (we can only hope) a reversal of the ill-considered plan to cast off works from Dia’s core collection (including some of indisputable importance, as I detailed in my top-linked second post about these disposals).

A savvy, diplomatic director would surely have anticipated the founders’ reactions and done them the courtesy of consulting them in advance. If Vergne, in fact, did so, then he should have thought more than twice about going ahead with a sale that was almost certain to backfire, harming Dia’s reputation and its future ability to garner support from donors and artists alike, at a time with the foundation is hoping to raise funds and build its collection for a new facility in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood, to complement its cavernous digs in Beacon, NY.

an ArtsJournal blog