News

‘An Irretrievable Loss’: In Open Letter, Artists, Curators, Dealers Decry Selling Off of di Rosa Foundation Holdings [Update]

The di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art.

The di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art.

COURTESY DI ROSA CENTER FOR CONTEMPORARY ART

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
Terry Allen*
Kirk Arneson / Robert Arneson Archive
Estate of Robert Arneson* / Sandra Shannonhouse
Chester Arnold*
Artists Legacy Foundation / Gary Knecht Treasurer
Luis Cruz Azaceta*
Ray Beldner*
Jerrold Bellaine*
James Barsness*
Estate of Wallace Berman* / Tosh Berman
Jennifer Bolande
Dona Kopol Bonick*
John Bonick*
Robert Brady*
Rena Bransten / Rena Bransten Gallery
Trish Bransten / Rena Bransten Gallery
Ruth Braunstein Trust / Marna Braunstein Clark
Pegan Brooke*
Joy Broom*
Estate of Joan Brown*/ Michael Hebel and Noel Neri
Jaime Brunson*
John E. Buck*
Deborah Butterfield*
Kathy Butterly
Dean Byington*
Squeak Carnwath*
John Casey*
Enrique Chagoya*
Catharine Clark / Catharine Clark Gallery
Marna Clark
Ryan Conder / South Willard
Eleanor Coppola*
Leah Levy, The Jay DeFeo* Foundation
Mark di Suvero*
Hilarie Faberman
Donald Feasél*
Adrienne Fish / 871 Fine Arts
Greg Flood / Brian Gross Fine Art
Diana Fuller
Jack Fulton*
Ed Gilbert / Anglim Gilbert Gallery
Brian Gross / Brian Gross Fine Art
Peter Gutkin*
Jacob Stewart Halevy
Gordon Huether*
Wanda Hansen
Mike Hebel
Jackie Hines
Nancy Hoffman / Nancy Hoffman Gallery
Tom Holland*
Todd Hosfelt / Hosfelt Gallery
Mildred Howard*
Cannon Hudson
Robert Hudson*
Gordon Huether*
Randy Hussong*
Mavis Jukes
River Jukes-Hudson
Sahar Khoury
David Korty
Paul Kos*
Amelia Lang
Zachary Leener
Lynn Hershman Leeson*
Jerry Leisure*
Tony Ligamari*
Charles Linder*
Judith Linhares
Kara Maria*
Tony May
Alicia McCarthy
Barry McGee
Richard McLean* Estate / Caitlin McLean Silver
James Melchert*
Charlie Milgrim*
Richard Misrach*
Dan Nadel
Ron Nagle*
Ruby Neri
Jan Nunn*
Gerard O’Brien / The Landing
Deborah O’Grady
Sono Osato*
Gay Outlaw*
Sam Parker / Parker Gallery
Marian Parmenter
Jenelle Porter
Nathaniel Price*
Janis Provisor*
Mel Ramos* Estate / Rochelle Leinenger
Leta Ramos*
Richard Reisman
Gregg Renfrow
Jock Reynolds*
Rigo 23
Mary Leonard Robinson
Walter Robinson*
John Roloff
Annabeth Rosen
Meridel Rubenstein*
Peter Saul*
Sally Saul
Art Schade
Ingrid Schaffner
Cornelia Schulz*
Juana Schurman
Sandra Shannonhouse*
Joan Simon
Sandy Simon
Lily Simonson
Patterson Sims
Richard Shaw*
Shawn Smith*
Travis Somerville*
Jeremy Stone
Inez Storer*
Rachel Teagle
Wayne Thiebaud
Mungo Thomson*
Nancy Toomey / Nancy Toomey Fine Art
Shannon Trimble / Anglim Gilbert Gallery
Ethan Wiley
William T. Wiley*
Franklin Williams*
Mary Hull Webster*
Ron Zak*

*collection artist

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.

Sincerely,
Robert Sain

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.

© 2019 ARTnews Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved. ARTnews® is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.