Following last month’s news that the Rene and Veronica di Rosa Foundation in Napa, California, would begin selling off pieces from its 1,600-work collection, a group of artists, curators, and dealers have gone public with their opposition to the center’s strategy, which it has said will allow it to become a financially stable non-collecting institution.
In an open letter shared with ARTnews on Tuesday, more than 120 individuals said that they opposed the foundation’s decision to start deaccessioning its holdings. They call on the center, whose collection is rich in work by artists hailing from Northern California, to name an alternative institution that would safeguard the collection. “Failing to do so,” the signees contend, “would lead to an irretrievable loss to the international art community.”
Among the signees are artists Luis Cruz Azaceta, Kathy Butterly, Mark di Suvero, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Judith Linhares, Barry McGee, Ruby Neri, Peter Saul, Sally Saul, Wayne Thiebaud, and Mungo Thomson; curators Dan Nadel, Jenelle Porter, and Ingrid Schaffner; and dealers George Adams, Rena Bransten, and Nancy Hoffman. More than 60 signatories are artists or representatives for estates with works in the di Rosa Foundation’s collection.
The di Rosa Foundation announced its move to become a non-collecting entity in July. Brenda Mixson, the president of the foundation’s board of directors, previously said in a statement that selling a large portion of the collection would allow the institution to work on “commissioning and supporting working artists and expanding the artistic experiences available for visitors.” Robert Sain, the foundation’s executive director, previously told ARTnews, “We’ve got a great program to deliver to the community, but in order to keep doing it, the board has made these important decisions.”
According to the plan laid out in July, the institution will continue to hold several hundred works. One of its founders, Rene di Rosa, died in 2010, and the institution has not acquired any works since then.
Update, August 21: On Wednesday, the foundation responded to the signatories in a letter, saying that it does not have adequate funds to support itself but believes it is supporting its founding mission by taking steps to remain open. “Unfortunately the simple reality is that the organization was never set up with sufficient funds to properly care for the collection and the physical plant long-term much less offer meaningful contributions to our community,” Sain wrote. “Despite our efforts of many, we have not found enough donors to provide major support for a museum that many thought was funded by Rene’s endowment.” Sain said in the letter that “efforts have been made” to find an institution that can take care of the works currently owned by the di Rosa Foundation.
The open letter signed by artists, curators, and dealers follows below.
August 20th, 2019
To whom it may concern,
We the undersigned wish to express our opposition to the dismantling and commercial sale of the di Rosa Collection.
Amassed over an extended and historically important period of Bay Area art making (1960-2010), it is a significant achievement in and of itself, providing a rare opportunity to understand the dynamics and history of the emergence of Bay Area art as an internationally significant phenomenon. It is the only collection in the world dedicated exclusively to the history of post-World War II art in Northern California in all its diversity of media, gender, race, and philosophy. It is a collection that has served and should continue to serve generations of artists, scholars and curators.
The collection was borne from the relationships Rene and Veronica di Rosa had with the artists and curators of the Bay Area. The collection benefitted from those relationships in the form of gifts of work or substantially discounted purchases made with all participants in agreement that the acquisitions were to be part of a museum collection, meaning that they would be properly stored, conserved, made available for viewing, loans, and exhibition. Rene di Rosa wanted the collection preserved as a whole above all other institutional concerns.
We respectfully ask the director and the board to acknowledge and honor these unique circumstances by identifying an alternative institution to house, preserve, and appropriately utilize this unique collection. Failing to do so would lead to an irretrievable loss to the international art community.
(Signatures as of noon, August 20th, 2019)
George Adams / George Adams Gallery
Emily Davis Adams
Kirk Arneson / Robert Arneson Archive
Estate of Robert Arneson* / Sandra Shannonhouse
Artists Legacy Foundation / Gary Knecht Treasurer
Luis Cruz Azaceta*
Estate of Wallace Berman* / Tosh Berman
Dona Kopol Bonick*
Rena Bransten / Rena Bransten Gallery
Trish Bransten / Rena Bransten Gallery
Ruth Braunstein Trust / Marna Braunstein Clark
Estate of Joan Brown*/ Michael Hebel and Noel Neri
John E. Buck*
Catharine Clark / Catharine Clark Gallery
Ryan Conder / South Willard
Leah Levy, The Jay DeFeo* Foundation
Mark di Suvero*
Adrienne Fish / 871 Fine Arts
Greg Flood / Brian Gross Fine Art
Ed Gilbert / Anglim Gilbert Gallery
Brian Gross / Brian Gross Fine Art
Jacob Stewart Halevy
Nancy Hoffman / Nancy Hoffman Gallery
Todd Hosfelt / Hosfelt Gallery
Lynn Hershman Leeson*
Richard McLean* Estate / Caitlin McLean Silver
Gerard O’Brien / The Landing
Sam Parker / Parker Gallery
Mel Ramos* Estate / Rochelle Leinenger
Mary Leonard Robinson
Nancy Toomey / Nancy Toomey Fine Art
Shannon Trimble / Anglim Gilbert Gallery
William T. Wiley*
Mary Hull Webster*
The di Rosa letter in response follows below.
Dear Sandy and signors of the recent letter regarding the di Rosa collection:
Thank you for taking the time to share your opinion and perspective, along with all those who signed your petition. I agree that the di Rosa collection gives insight into a “historically important period of Bay Area art making (1960-2010).” The board, staff and all of us involved in di Rosa share your deep concern for the collection and for Rene’s and Veronica’s legacy. We wish that when Rene established the Foundation, that he had also provided enough funding to endow the di Rosa in perpetuity. Such an endowment would
have provided for the care and upkeep of the grounds, the buildings and indeed the collection, much of which was stored in barns on the property that lacked basic climate control during his lifetime and until I joined as Executive Director.
It would likewise have been wonderful if additional donors beyond our board, membership, and strong base of supporters had responded to our fundraising efforts with contributions to the endowment sufficient to sustain the organization so that it might have avoided this difficult situation. But, unfortunately the simple reality is that the organization was never set up with sufficient funds to properly care for the collection and the physical plant long-term much less offer meaningful contributions to our community. Despite our efforts of many, we have not found enough donors to provide major support for a museum that many thought was funded by Rene’s endowment.
It is unfortunate that di Rosa has been inadequately funded since it opened its doors, and that we finally had to face the reckoning – grow the endowment to provide a sustainable future for the organization, including the proper care of the art that will remain in the collection, which has now, at great expense, been safely housed in climate controlled storage — or close our doors forever.
We determined that Rene would want us to keep the doors open and to continue to honor his legacy by presenting the artists of Northern California – both those in the current collection along with new to-be-commissioned works – to our community. During our extensive review, a number of people who knew Rene personally shared that Rene clearly and repeatedly spoke during his lifetime of the need to “prune” the collection.
Our plan, of course, calls for maintaining a legacy collection of several hundred works that will showcase the history of the time, and Rene’s broad interests in Northern California artists. It is important to stress that our decision to take this course of action was not made easily or lightly, and it is the only viable solution that will allow for the organization to continue to remain open and serve our community.
With regard to your suggestion that the collection should go to another institution, efforts have been made and will be continue to be made to forge a partnership with another appropriate institution. And, of course, other museums will have the opportunity to purchase works over the course of the deaccessioning process. We are open to
discussing the potential to work with another institution to continue to meet our mission to serve our community with the unique assets we own. We also welcome financial support from groups or individuals to provide these much-needed funds to secure the future of di Rosa.
Again, the board and I thank each of you for sharing your view.
Update 8/21/19, 5:55 p.m.: This article has been updated to include a letter sent by the di Rosa Foundation's executive director, Robert Sain, in response to Tuesday's missive.