Two committees of the Association of Art Museum Directors are investigating the Denver Art Museum’s recent partial deaccessioning of Charles Deas’ Long Jakes [right] to a nebulous non-profit controlled by Colorado billionaire Philip Anschutz, MAN has learned. At question is whether the DAM-Anschutz arrangement is in compliance with AAMD guidelines as outlined in AAMD’s “Professional Practices in Art Museums.”
AAMD executive director Mimi Gaudieri confirmed AAMD’s interest in the DAM-Anschutz transaction, as did Denver director Lewis Sharp and Peabody Essex Museum director Dan Monroe, the chairman of AAMD’s art issues committee. A separate AAMD committee, professional issues, is also examining the DAM situation. The chairman of that committee, Georgia Museum of Art director William Eiland, did not reply to an email yesterday.
“I complied with the Denver Art Museum’s bylaws for the deaccession and acquisition of works of art and with AAMD’s ‘Art Museums and the Practice of Deaccessioning,’” Sharp told AAMD in a May 19 letter that the museum made available to MAN. Yesterday Sharp affirmed to me that he still believes that his museum is in compliance with both its own guidelines and AAMD’s.
The AAMD inquiry stems from DAM’s April announcement that it had deaccessioned 50 percent of Charles Deas’ Long Jakes to an Anschutz-controlled non-profit. In return, that non-profit
gave the museum funds with which the museum purchased 50 percent of a Thomas
Eakins painting, Cowboy Singing [below] and two related drawings from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Anschutz Collection also bought the other 50 percent Cowboy Singing. The Anschutz Collection and DAM agreed that each would take physical possession of Cowboy Singing and Long Jakes for six months of the year.
website describes the Deas as “[t]he crown jewel in the
collection,” “the single most influential image in Rocky Mountain
iconography,” and claims that “Deas established the mountain man as an
icon.” The museum is planning a major Deas exhibition for the summer of 2009.
Sources tell MAN that AAMD is especially interested in whether the relationship between the Denver Art Museum and Anschutz, the Anschutz Foundation, and a third non-profit, The Anschutz Collection, violates this section of AAMD guidelines:
“No member of a museum’s board or staff, or anyone whose association
with the institution might give them advantage in acquiring the work,
shall be permitted to acquire directly or indirectly a work
deaccessioned by the museum, or otherwise benefit from its sale or
Anschutz is not a DAM trustee, but he has an association with the institution as a major donor through
Foundation. According to a DAM spokesperson, since 2000 the Anschutz
Foundation has given “approximately” $7.6 million to the
museum. Anschutz, an investor whose portfolio includes AEG Live, the company that is traveling the current ‘King Tut’ exhibit, ranks No. 41
on the Forbes 400 with a net worth of an estimated net worth of $7.6
The Anschutz Collection is a non-profit organization which had just $1,047 in
assets at the time of the filing of its most recent publicly available
tax return. (Between 2002 and 2006 the Anschutz Collection’s assets
were never more than $1,047 nor less than $1,041.) Between 2001 and 2006 the Anschutz Collection left blank the sections of its tax filing pertaining to its most recent charitable
activities, and programmatic activity. The organization’s
mission is not explained in its IRS filings. MAN attempted to phone the
Anschutz Collection for more information and for its most recent tax
return, but the phone number listed in the Anschutz Collection’s IRS
filings goes directly to an automated recording at The Anschutz Corporation, Philip Anschutz’s business conglomerate.
AAMD sources said that other issues surrounding the half-deaccessioning
of the Deas are troubling, but that the relationship
between Anschutz and the museum are under special scrutiny. (A post tomorrow will examine other areas in AAMD’s ‘Professional Practices’ that AAMD may choose to examine.)
The AAMD investigation
While the Deas-Eakins deals are a critical moment for DAM, they are
also a key test of AAMD, which in recent years has failed to
aggressively challenge questionable art museum transactions such as deaccessionings and museum collection rentals to private companies
affiliated with casinos. (The Wall Street Journal recently called AAMD
a “toothless watchdog.”) At a time when Congress has become more aggressive in looking for abuses in the
non-profit sector, the DAM-Anschutz case is the first test of new AAMD
president Michael Conforti’s ability to ensure the industry is in
compliant with its own guidelines. (Conforti, the director of the Clark Art Institute, declined comment for this post.)
“I think that the field is more watchful of these issues,” AAMD’s Gaudieri told me. “Times are changing in in terms of all sorts of administrative
issues. We need to be totally up to date on current thinking and
AAMD first requested that Sharp and Denver provide written explanation
of unknown aspects of the Anschutz transaction in advance of its June
meeting in Detroit. Sharp complied in a May 19 letter, and issues
surrounding the Denver transactions and Sharp’s letter were discussed
in Detroit by the two relevant AAMD committees. (Sharp did not attend
the Detroit meeting.) Monroe and Sharp followed up on that conversation late last week.
“Dan feels comfortable with what I’ve done and so we’ve finished our conversation,” Sharp told me yesterday. “What I understood from Dan was that with the additional info that I had given him, he felt comfortable reporting back to [his] committee. And we’re good with that.”
When I asked a Peabody Essex Museum spokesperson to confirm that account, she demurred. Through a spokesperson, Monroe (who was away from the museum with an illness yesterday) indicated that the conversation between his committee and DAM was still ongoing: “Two of AAMD’s Committees… are working directly with Dr. Lewis Sharp… to gather pertinent facts regarding this transaction,” Monroe said in a prepared statement. “Dr. Sharp and the Denver Art Museum have been very forthcoming and responsive. After acquiring and considering all of the relevant facts, AAMD will, in a timely manner, determine its response to and assessment of the transaction.”
Multiple museum directors (and AAMD members) have told MAN that the Denver-to-Anschutz partial
deaccessioning was a major topic of discussion at AAMD’s Detroit meeting. Several sources told MAN that it wasn’t just one or two hardcore
director-ethicists who were alarmed by the DAM-Anschutz deal, but that
the AAMD membership was unusually unified in raising questions, in part because museum directors do not wish to further arouse the attention of the Senate Finance Committee. Multiple sources expressed confidence that Denver and Sharp
will have to make changes to the deal with Anschutz or face some kind
of undetermined AAMD action. A museum spokesperson told MAN that the
museum is not considering changes to the deal.
AAMD’s Gaudieri says the Denver situation continues to be an ongoing focus and
that there is no timetable for the resolution of the issues that AAMD
has raised with Sharp and with the museum.
Later today: DAM director Lewis Sharp on whether he considers the Anschutz transaction a “deaccessioning.”
Tomorrow: Examining AAMD’s “Professional Practices” in the context of the DAM-Anschutz transaction.