Tyler Green
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Tyler Green Modern Art Notes

Opposition to Dia deaccessioning goes public

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On June 27, the New York Times’ Carol Vogel published the Dia Art Foundation’s announcement of intent to deaccession a significant amount of art from its collection so that it can create an acquisition fund. The sale is to be held Nov. 13-14 at Sotheby’s. MAN has learned that significant opposition to Dia director Philippe Vergne’s announcement has emerged in the Dia circle, most notably among the organization’s former leaders and collaborators.

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 (Sheet 16 is at right), as well as 13 other Twomblys.

Many former Dia-ites 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 ad hoc group coalescing around opposition to this new planned Dia sale also opposed the 1985 sale. Among the works Dia tried and failed to sell at Sotheby’s in 1985 and that it is trying to sell again is Barnett Newman’s Genesis — The Break (1946). The Sotheby’s catalogue for the 1985 sale is here. Eighteen of the 23 works offered in 1985 were sold.

The first circle-of-Dia administrator to go public with his opposition to the sale is Paul Winkler, the former director of the Menil Collection and the brother of Dia co-founder Helen Winkler. It was under Winkler’s directorship that the Menil and Dia (led at the time by Charles Wright) collaborated with Twombly to create the Menil’s Cy Twombly Gallery, which opened in 1995. (Winkler tells the story of that partnership in his essay in the new book Cy Twombly Gallery,” published by the Cy Twombly Foundation and The Menil Collection in association with Yale University Press. Parts of that essay were previously published in the 2010 “Art and Activism: Projects of John and Dominique de Menil,” published by the Menil and distributed by YUP.)

On June 28 Winkler wrote to Vergne to urge Dia to re-consider the deaccessioning. MAN has acquired a copy of his letter, which is published in its entirety below.

Dear Philippe:

I was more than disappointed to read in today’s New York Times of your decision to sell works from the Dia Foundation Collection. Cy Twombly considered “Poems to the Sea” to be one of his greatest sets of drawings. It is a masterwork, not a minor piece to be sold to beef up an acquisition fund. The same can be said of the exceptional Chamberlain work in your care and Newman’s “Genesis — The Break.”

To sell art works at the core of the ideas and collections of Dia is an outrage and to do so for the purpose of acquiring works by other artists is counter ot the unique vision and spirit of Dia. If you wish to expand the collections at Dia, do so by raising funds from persons who are commited [sic] to your mission.

You mention that “Dia cannot be a mausoleum, it needs to grow and develop.” The primary purpose of Dia has been to collect and present bodies of work by a select group of artists in permanent installations and to realize site-specific commissions, also in permanent situations. It is uninformed and disrespectful of your history to equate permanence with mausoleum. Past directors have expanded Dia’s breadth by adding major works by artists they believed were essential to our times. They did so with new funding, not by depleting the core collection.

Your remarks about having too few Twomblys and too many Chamberlains are facile. Cy believed that all his drawings, collages, sculptures and paintings at Dia and Menil that were not installed at the Cy Twombly Gallery should form a reserve to be used by both institutions and should never be sold. “Poems to the Sea” is enough to fill an entire gallery itself. It has been done before, beautifully. It would be brilliant at Beacon and could easily rotate with a selection of Twomblys in reserve at the Menil Collection that complement the Cy Twombly Gallery. One obvious installation would be “Treatise on the Veil” and the attendant drawings that Cy gave to the Menil. I should think that the Twombly Foundation would consider giving some sculptures as well. A little creative thinking goes much further than a trip to the auction house and does not damage your integrity and reputation. Artists and collectors will be reluctant to give works to Dia if this sale occurs.

I hope that you and your board will consider withdrawing the proposed works for sale.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Winkler

cc: Fariha Friedrich, Heiner Friedrich, Michael Govan, Josef Helfenstein, Brice Marden, Nicola del Roscio, Charles Wright

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  1. […] 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. […]

  2. Jim VanKirk says:

    I certainly concur with the sentiment expressed here.

  3. […] of the Menil Collection in Houston, which has one of the best Twombly collections in the world, wrote to the foundation urging it to rethink the sale, which includes Twombly’s “Poems to the Sea,” […]

  4. […] of the Menil Collection in Houston, which has one of the best Twombly collections in the world, wrote to the foundation urging it to rethink the sale, which includes Twombly’s “Poems to the Sea,” […]

  5. […] Friedrich, are 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 […]

  6. […] a lawsuit to block the auction, which they subsequently withdrew; a brother of one of the founders wrote Vergne a letter of protest that became […]

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