Tyler Green
Art-focused Journalism by Tyler Green

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Dia Art Foundation founders oppose Dia sale

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The three founders of the Dia Art Foundation — Heiner Friedrich, Fariha de Menil Friedrich and Helen Winkler — have sent a letter to the board of Dia and to director Philippe Vergne opposing the deaccessioning of significant work from Dia’s collection, a source tells MAN. The full letter is below.

Last week, Winkler’s brother and former Menil director Paul Winkler also wrote a letter to Vergne opposing the sale. MAN published that letter on Friday.

The new letter is a significant escalation in what appears to be a campaign to halt Dia’s plan to deaccession a significant amount of art from its collection so that it can create an acquisition fund. The sale, announced in the New York Times on June 27, is scheduled to be held Nov. 13-14 at Sotheby’s. Among the works Dia plans to sell is Cy Twombly‘s 1959 “Poems to the Sea,” a suite of 24 drawings considered among the most important Twombly works on paper, as well as 13 other Twomblys, art by John Chamberlain and others.

As MAN noted Friday, many Dia alums consider Dia’s 1985 deaccessioning — which included many of the same pieces Vergne has announced Dia’s intention to try to sell again — one of the institution’s worst moments. The Friedrichs and Winkler also opposed that sale. The Sotheby’s catalogue for the 1985 sale is here. Eighteen of the 23 works offered in 1985 were sold. Several of the unsold works, Barnett Newman’s Genesis — The Break (1946, above), on Dia’s new planned-sale list.

To the Board of Trustees of the Dia Art Foundation and to Philippe Vergne, Director

As the founders and original board of the Dia Art Foundation, we are writing to inform you of our complete disapproval of your intention to sell works of art at auction from the original collection of Dia in order to generate funds for other projects. The original collection was formed to preserve the great art of our time from the ravages of the art market and to present it to the public in the most beautiful way. Selling at auction any part of this historical collection is absolutely out of the question for any responsible director and board member of the Foundation. The artworks in this collection represent an artistic value that cannot be measured. It was put together over years of intimate working collaboration with the artists, with the exception of Barnett Newman who had already passed and who was represented by his widow Annalee Newman. The artists trusted the original board of Dia to guard and preserve their work. They felt inspired by the commitment of the board, which was acting as a patron of art and a supporter and defender of art. With this new level of collaboration they created work especially for the Foundation collection. They also allowed the board to purchase works from their own holdings which they had kept out of the market in the hopes that these special works would go to an institution which would properly value, preserve and present them to the public.

Thus, 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 twentieth 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. Barnett Newman, Cy Twombly and John Chamberlain are masters of the art of the twentieth century, representing two generations of brilliance. We know that this collection can never be gathered together again. This collection is a public trust, and public trusts cannot be bandied about in trades and speculation.

Fariha de Menil Friedrich

Heiner Friedrich

Helen Winkler

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  1. […] “a complete betrayal of trust toward some of the great artists of the twentieth century.” [MAN] Paul Winkler has expressed similar […]

  2. […] and former Menil Collection director Paul Winkler also expressed his opposition to the sale. [MAN, […]

  3. […] has announced a massive, troubling deaccessioning, and the organization’s founders have publicly come out against it. The NYT has yet to run so much as a word. […]

  4. […] “In The Studio: Takesada Matsutani” – The Independent Dia Art Foundation founders oppose Dia sale […]

  5. […] suing Dia over its attempt to auction off works from its collection. MAN was the first to report on their opposition to Dia director Philippe Vergne’s attempt to deaccession major works from Dia’s […]

  6. J. Hall says:

    I am on the fence about this situation. On one hand I feel for the authors of the letter. They had a specific intention, and it was a noble one. Keep these brilliant works of art available to the people to see in a public forum.

    On the other hand, time passes, and these works represent history, not progression. I would rather see them go to a museum, but if the sale would give the Dia liquidity enough to introduce works of later generations to the public; works which can represent a contemporary eye, I would find that very refreshing.

    Art observes the permanence of change. Twombly’s work, unfortunately, and for obvious reasons, is now static. What if we embrace dynamism and let the private collectors pay millions for these works. We can now view the works as reproductions if we want to explore art history.

    Is it a shame to view a reproduction rather than the real work? Maybe. But maybe its an even bigger shame to lock the monetary value of these works up and not use it to further the cause of supporting the creation of contemporary art works.

  7. […] Heiner Friedrich and Fariha de Menil Friedrich, two founders of the Dia Art Foundation who were suing the institution in order to block a sale of deaccessioned works through Sotheby’s — pieces by John […]

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