The Dia Art Foundation says that it believes its lease payments for the land on which Robert Smithson’s iconic Spiral Jetty sculpture sits are up-to-date, and that the death of a Utah Department of Natural Resources offical with whom Dia had been discussing the renewal of its lease may explain confusion that erupted yesterday when a Utah newspaper reported that Dia’s lease for the land under Spiral Jetty had expired.
The Salt Lake Tribune reported that the Utah Department of Natural Resources claimed Dia had missed a deadline to renew the lease for the 10 acres of land on which Spiral Jetty sits, and that as a result it was up to the DNR’s Division for Forestry, Fire and State Lands as to whether a lease for the land would go back up for bid. Smithson’s widow, artist Nancy Holt, transferred the work and the relevant lease to the Dia Art Foundation in 1999. The lease was for 20 years. [Image: Spiral Jetty on May 17, 2011 via Flickr user sphansen47.]
“Last February we received an invoice from the Department of Natural Resources asking for the lease [to be paid],” Dia director Philippe Vergne told me today. “We paid it just as we’ve done since 1999. It was ‘business as usual’ until yesterday, until we got a phone call from a journalist. In the meantime, we received a fax from Utah saying that the lease is up, you haven’t renewed it.”
Vergne said that Dia believes that the confusion likely dates to about a year ago, shortly after Dia began to discuss lease renewal with the DNR. “There was an understanding we would renew the lease and there was some nitty-gritty details we were discussing,” Vergne said, adding that while Dia was in the midst of that conversation, the DNR official who was Dia’s contact died. As a result of his death, contact between Dia and DNR was cut off.
That conversation did not resume with a new DNR official. (Vergne says that Dia never heard from that person.) However, Dia continued to receive invoices from DNR and Vergne says that Dia paid those invoices in both 2010 and 2011, and that the Utah DNR cashed both checks. Vergne said that should demonstrate Dia’s intent to renew the lease even if lines of communication faltered.
“We understood that since they sent us an invoice, that was a sign we were continuing the lease,” Vergne said. “So we paid it.”
Then, yesterday, DNR told the Salt Lake Tribune that Dia was no longer a leaseholder.
“We called them right away and we told them that this is strange,” Vergne said. “We’d been working together for many years and there was no question about any of this. We have all these correspondences with you [pertaining to lease renewal]. They acknowledged that. We are talking with them now and we assume that’s going to be solved swiftly today or tomorrow. My understanding is that it was an administrative or computer glitch. We are aggressively trying to solve it. They were very apologetic and told us that there’s a process in place that they’d need to go through.”
DNR spokesperson Jason Curry confirmed Vergne’s account, except to say that he wasn’t sure that the situation would be resolved as soon as Friday. “We hope to get it done as soon as possible,” Curry said. “We have a lot of rule-of-law to go through to make sure everything’s in compliance.” Curry confirmed that the division’s sovereign lands program coordinator had received numerous phone calls from individuals interested in the lease, but said that the DNR wasn’t making any kind of list of interested bidders.