Thursday, August 26, 2010
Dallas Museum of Art director’s not-yet-released book reignites controversy over artists’ rights
The book explores ways to engage museumgoers, and an arts activist group doesn't like it one bit.
DALLAS A Chicago arts activist recently wrote a critical email circulated to artists and media about the Dallas Museum of Art's reputation and the museum director's upcoming book.
The author, John Viramontes of the Council for Artists' Rights, disagrees with the premise of DMA director Bonnie Pitman's not-yet-released book, which explores ways to engage art audiences. Viramontes alleges in the email and on the phone Monday that curators shouldn't need to “better” the art experience with smartphone tours, added text, or other enhancement features.
A spokesperson from the DMA said the museum defends the book's premise: “Museums always strive to offer their visitors the best experience possible with works of art,” says Jill Bernstein, director of public relations for the DMA, in an email Tuesday. “This is part of our mission as an educational institution and one that the Dallas Museum of Art wholeheartedly embraces.”
Pitman's book is the result of a museum study from 2003-2009, where the DMA found that “new experimental initiatives” have made for better museum participation. The book will be called called Ignite the Power of Art: Advancing Visitor Engagement in Museum Experiences. The crux of the controversy, in Viramontes' mind, dates back to spring 2010, when the DMA and arts activists disagreed on whether artists or curators should control their work.
He means, specifically, the tiff between Pitman and artist Chapman Kelley, when the artist asked for his painting "Sand Dune" to be removed from the Coastlines: Images of Land and Sea exhibition. The museum allowed students and faculty from the University of Texas at Dallas add sound to his artwork “without [Kelley's] permission or collaboration,” Viramontes writes in the email, and Pitman defended the choice to add audio. (See this letter from Pitman to Kelley where she explains her decision.) The DMA confirmed via email that the work was not removed from the exhibition, which ended Sunday.
The email also questions Pitman's “canceled” book release -- Viramontes' words. A New York Times article featuring Pitman in March printed the release date as June 2010. Nearly 90 days after that date, Viramontes alleged that Pitman's book is unfinished or canceled because of media stories “questioning the proper management of the DMA.”
In reply, Bernstein says the museum never announced June as the publication date. The book will be published “this fall,” says Bernstein in an email Tuesday. The Yale University Press website lists the release date as November 15, 2010.
The email from the Council for Artists' Rights was sent to an undisclosed number of “allies of artists' rights” and is posted in full below. The Council for Artists' Rights is not a non-profit. Viramontes says the group is fiscally sponsored by Fractured Atlas, a non-profit organization that serves artists. Viramontes is an accountant by trade but also acts as an arts activist, he said by phone.
"Dallas Museum of Art Director's Outrageous Book Proposal" written by the Council For Artists' RightsDallas Museum of Art Director's Outrageous Book Proposal
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