Council for Artists Rights CBS televised video errs in reporting $400 million art collection gift to Dallas

Museum of Art, Texas
January 29, 2010 Dear ally of artists’ rights: After watching the entire episode of the CBS Sunday Morning Show, "Bringing Art To The People," which aired on January 17, 2010, I feel compelled to bring to your attention the falsehood that is being perpetuated by the program's producer-editor Douglas W. Smith and CBS' reporter Sandra Hughes. The program mistakenly leads viewers to believe that some couples had donated their entire collections at a worth of $400M to the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA). These so-called donated works were included in the exhibition called “Fast Forward: Contemporary Collections for the Dallas Museum of Art.” That is simply not true. And it reveals a museum practice which is unethical and calls into question the proper--if not outright illegal-use of taxpayer monies. What has happened--and is not mentioned in the CBS program--is that the exhibition was barely over when Cindy and Howard Rachofsky pulled their "gifted" piece, Jeff Koon's sculpture Balloon Flower (Magenta) 1995-2000, out of the museum's future and put it up for auction. It sold for an eye-popping $25.8 million. The work had been purchased in 2001 by the Rachofskys for $1.2 million. According to page 4 of the exhibition's catalogue (actually it should be called a book, for it is much too large to be called a catalogue) “Fast Forward: Contemporary Collections for the Dallas Museum of Art”--published by the DMA in 2007 in conjunction with the show--about the Rachofsky's donation to the museum, "Unless otherwise noted, all works illustrated in this catalogue are either partial or promised gifts to the Dallas Museum of Art or are currently in the permanent collection." Koon's Balloon Flower (Magenta) 1995-2000 was reproduced twice in the catalogue. And in another section of the book, page 21, the DMA's own director states "The grand utterly transforming moment came in 2005 when the...Rachofskys...joined to commit to the Museum by irrevocable (emphasis added) bequest their entire collections..." When asked about the museum gift by Alan Peppard of the Dallas Morning News, which included Balloon Flower (Magenta) 1995-2000, Howard Rachofsky replied "It was a testamentary gift of whatever our collection was when we die..." He is telling us, in plain words, that he and his wife had not promised the museum anything that could possibly warrant the museum exhibition, "Fast Forward" book, museum advertising and public relations time and expense, and even the museum's reputation itself. If the addition of these collections totaling $400 million was to really make this museum of major international importance then why did the director and three curators promptly leave-pretty embarrassing, eh?

Lest we forget the real patron of the arts--via a museum's not-for-profit status--in the United States is the U.S. taxpayer, not the shrewd speculator or cunning investor. Every museum gift artwork donation by these investors (really what I call "institution manipulators") is taken as a deduction on their annual income tax return at the highest value. The value being the result of a purely commercial promotion and not at all the result of artwork being vetted and therefore valued through a series of professionally juried shows. That is not to mention that artists can only deduct the cost of materials used in creating art, and not one red penny more. In the past, works of art entered museums in a different fashion. There is no longer the truly professional recognition system that existed in the U.S. for more than 150 years. The system I am referring to is the juried show. Juried shows at local, state, regional and national levels which culminated in the inclusion of work in regular museum exhibitions and collections. Thereby, a very real recognition was available to everyone equally and thus the works included in public collections of not-for-profit museums had a substantial claim of quality and future significance granted by professional jurors and recognized by the artists themselves. Currently, in the absence of juried shows, a single wealthy speculator--often a museum board member--or a unified group of speculators, may be the only factor in stocking museum collections. Do museums as not-for-profit institutions have the right to spend their money, which is really public money, to profit a few individuals? Does this scenario sound suspiciously like the recent Wall Street debacle? We are not alone in voicing this concern about the art world in the U.S. The nonprofit Rand Corporation in 2005 published "A Portrait of the Visual Arts: Meeting the Challenges of a New Era" which echos the concern of many. In its conclusion the Rand Corporation states "We suspect that as long as museums, in particular, continue to respond quickly and concertedly to each controversy with public reprimands and new policies and guidelines, new government regulations of museums are unlikely." Another way of putting it: if visual arts organizations do not police themselves, toothy government regulations will do it for them. Moreover, on November 10, 2007, the New York Times published an article "Museums Solicit Dealers' Largess" which throws light on a questionable practice by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. That article was followed up with an editorial written soon after by Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts - New York attorney Sérgio Muñoz Sarmiento called "Private Contributions and Public Museums." He posted the editorial on his personal website As recently as 2008, Heather Hope Stephen's wrote an incisive "Visualizing The Path Forward - The Visual Artists Rights Act Of 1990 And Recommendations For A Response By American Museums" which says that asking artists to waive their rights may be ethically and legally indefensible and she challenges museums to consider the rights of living artists. U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley has in the past championed investigations into the operations

of nonprofit organizations. We expect that you will begin a dialogue with Senator Grassley's office about this incident at the DMA. Needless to say, it is an important museum and taxpayer issue. The American Association of Museums--via its President Mr. Ford Bell--has recently been made aware of the sale of “irrevocable” promised museum gift. These and other issues important to the health of the arts in this country are being addressed or soon will be. These scandals must stop. A very prominent museum director has publicly called for art museums to be operated "transparently." Bravo. The Council for Artists Rights is based in Chicago, IL USA. Its thrust is to educate the public about artists' rights and advocates for artists whose work is in distress. CFAR was spontaneously born in 2004 when devotees of public art learned a city park district had irrevocably altered--without its creator's permission--a 20 year old work of public art. Recognition of CFAR founding member John Viramontes: Honoree, Huffington Post blogger Esther J. Cepeda's Chicago Latino List 2009. Make a Tax-Deductible Donation The Council for Artists Rights is fiscally sponsored by Fractured Atlas, a 501 (c)(3) public nonprofit. Making a small donation is easy and can be done safely online. All contributions are tax deductible to the extent permitted by law.

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