Museum InfoStaff Picks
Graham W. J. Beal — Director
In these financially tough times, I am asked why the DIA doesn't sell some of its art to help pay the bills. On the surface, it seems like a sensible business proposal, but therein also lies the problem. While I hope we run the DIA in a businesslike fashion, we are primarily not a business. We are a public trust. The DIA exists to collect, care for, and present art to the public. We do sell art from the collection, but all proceeds must be used to acquire more art. There are serious consequences--some quantifiable, others less so--for using the money for anything else.
The DIA belongs to the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), an organization comprising the approximately two hundred largest art museums in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Under its code of professional practices and ethics, using proceeds of art sales for operations or programs is strictly prohibited. Had I been writing this a year or so ago, my language would have been more conditional but, in the past eighteen months, two actual examples of sales for those purposes occurred. One was fairly straightforward. An art museum announced simultaneously that it was resigning from the association and that it had sold two paintings to help pay for operations. As a result, it has been excluded from the AAMD community. Member museums will not cooperate with it in any way: no loans of art for their exhibitions, no collaborative programs, no staff interactions. The result has been far more detrimental than the leaders of the organization anticipated. I was told on good authority, "They're really hurting."
The other example is perhaps even more dramatic. To compensate for losses caused by the 2008 downturn, the president of a university announced his intention to close its art gallery (not a member of the AAMD) and sell the collection. Presumably, to him, it seemed like a sensible business decision, but others felt strongly that more was at stake than a stock portfolio. Students, faculty, and alumni were outraged; the public outcry was instant and prolonged. Donors of art demanded the works back, potential donors clearly would have to go elsewhere, while yet others announced their intention to withdraw financial support. There was an overwhelming sense that the university was betraying its core values. The president's efforts to backtrack were unavailing and, after a few months, he was forced to resign.
In 1920, the DIA was the first U.S. art museum to acquire a Van Gogh. Imagine if, in the teeth of the Depression, when staff was reduced to a handful, the museum had opted to sell the Van Gogh, and then in the tough times of the 70s and the 90s, sell more. Each time the DIA would have been diminished by the loss of masterpieces that we could never hope to retrieve! We are working hard to solve the DIA's financial problems, and we know that things are unlikely to change any time soon. But short of an unimaginable catastrophe, the art so carefully acquired over the years will sit safely in the DIA, held in trust for you--the public.
Graham W. J.’s Picks
This “stool” is a throne for a chieftain, but it's also a celebration of his female ancestors. The ferocious-looking woman holding up the seat commands high status — signified by the scarification pattern on her stomach and the roles of fat ringing her neck. The man who sat on this throne was proclaiming his noble descent from a line of powerful women, as well as invoking their continued support.
Rembrandt is celebrated as a painter of expressive light, and in this work he concentrates a burst of super-natural light on Mary, newly pregnant with Jesus, and her cousin Elizabeth, who will soon give birth to John the Baptist. The light illuminates the central figures and suffuses the picture with a sense of spirituality. The peacocks at lower left symbolize Jesus' immortality based on a myth that peacock flesh never decays.
In a letter Matisse described this picture: "Through the window of the drawing room one sees the green of the garden and a black tree trunk, a basket of forget-me-nots on the table, a garden chair and a rug." Simple? Not really. Matisse flattened the parquet floor and turquoise walls into one unified line. Add the tilted table top and the skeletal chair, and you have a painting that carefully balances Matisse's desire to reproduce the world accurately in a harmonious two-dimensional painting.
late 13th/early 14th Century
Sakyamuni, the founder of the Buddhist faith, is shown after fasting and meditating for six years in search of enlightenment. This work dates to China's Yuan Dynasty, a period renowned for exceptional realism and exquisite ornamentation. Sakyamuni's meditative pose, bearded face, and bald head are characteristic of the period and combine with Buddha's universal attributes — the monk's robe and forehead bump symbolizing spiritual awakening — to reveal a Buddha of profound peace and insight.
Angelico, a Dominican monk, dedicated himself to representing God's glory with stunning simplicity.
Bruegel's lively painting is certainly a celebratory scene, but it may also carry moralizing overtones warning against drinking, dancing, and lust.
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