Bless his heart, Dallas “wildflower artist” Chapman Kelley has a problem, er, lots of problems, with the Dallas Museum of Art. The DMA wound up with one of Kelley’s paintings in 1960 when he won a Texas State Fair competition. That painting, Sand Dune, (1960) was included in the “Coastlines: Images of Land and Sea” which closes this Sunday, August 22. The staid exhibition of coastal landscapes from 1850 to the present is, to quote the press materials “enhanced by an evocative sound installation relating and responding directly to the works on display.” The sound works were created by faculty and graduate students in the Arts and Technology (UTEC) program at the University of Texas at Dallas. It’s a nice idea but the combination of audio and framed pictures hanging on the wall was pretty awkward.
So it isn’t exactly the greatest show but the audio element so incensed “wildflower artist” Chapman Kelley that he demanded his painting be returned to him. John Viramontes of the nonprofit Chicago-based Council for Artists Rights sent out a June 1, 2010 press release with the following:
“The Council for Artists Rights has obtained a copy of a letter written by Dallas wildflower artist Chapman Kelley to Bonnie Pitman, Director of the Dallas Museum of Art. He asks that she remove his 1960 Texas Annual winning painting from the museum’s current exhibition:
‘June 1, 2010
Dear Bonnie Pitman:
Please remove my painting of 1960, ‘Sand Dune’ from your exhibition ‘Coastlines: Images of Land and Sea.’
If I had intended for it to include such added-on effects, I would have made it an installation piece or a ‘happening’ with audio and visual effects of my own choosing. Or perhaps have it submitted to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
This same ‘Sand Dune’ painting is the one which you declined to loan in 2008 to the Longview Museum of Fine Arts (in East Texas).
Since you and your staff do not feel that my work can stand alone on its own merits, for that, and for many other reasons, I can no longer feel honored being in this museum’s collection. Please return ‘Sand Dune’ to me I will refund the purchase price.
Viramontes and the Council for Artist Rights (CFAR) send frequent press releases to Glasstire and other publications. Sometimes they address legitimate and important issues, like the sale of a Rothko promised to the Dallas Museum of Art and featured in the DMA’s 2007 exhibition "Fast Forward: Contemporary Collections for the Dallas Museum of Art". (CFAR releases have been referred to by various Texas publications, among them Glasstire, the Dallas Morning News and D Magazine.) But more often than not the emails have a cranky, elderly guy, hey-you-kids get off my lawn tone. Viramontes’ dominant themes are criticism of the Dallas Museum of Art and championing the work of Dallas “wildflower artist” Chapman Kelley. It seems odd that a Chicago-based organization is so fixated on the DMA and a Dallas “wildflower artist.”
But apparently Kelley is the organization’s raison d’etre. According to information in the Council’s press releases, “CFAR was spontaneously born in 2004” when Chapman Kelley’s self-funded public artwork in a Chicago park was “irrevocably altered–without its creator’s permission.”
So the organization apparently came into being to defend Kelley, and, if their press releases are anything to go by, to attack those who offend Kelley.
The first email Glasstire received from CFAR contained a diatribe against the current state of the art world that championed juried exhibitions (like the ones Kelley won) while it damned the DMA. Whew. It used “art historian Sam Blain, Jr.s” Facebook wall post for its content.
“John Viramontes: Sam Blain Jr., is Dallas wildflower artist Chapman Kelley getting any factual ink in the textbook(s)? Or do major art movers & shakers like Kelley get ignored or worst, BLACKLISTED?
Sam Blain: John, it appears the only contemporary artists who do get "any" ink at all, appear to get it as a result of their dealer/gallery/collector promotional handiwork or through their publicity agents. With the absence of true juried regional exhibitions, as were held throughout the country up through the early to mid 1960s, our American artists have lacked any honest means by which to become "credentialed" as professional artists. A good example of this is the Texas art scene. When the Texas Annuals were in-place, Texas artists were juried by highly esteemed professional artists and well respected museum professionals brought in from across the country…
The 1930s and 1940s were the "ideal" time, it appears. From the late 1940s through the early 1960s, Jerry Bywaters of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts kept the state scene "alive" by bringing in the other major Texas art museums as co-sponsors of the Texas Annuals… up until the DMFA’s board of directors replaced him with Merrill C. Rueppel, who can be credited with turning the DMFA into a private showroom for private-collectors who had become private dealers. We all know how that went!…”
Apparently having artists enter their work in the State Fair is the solution to the art world’s ills and the DMA (formerly DMFA) has been on a downhill slide since Merrill C. Rueppel took over in 1964. (?!?!) I wonder how many artists working today, especially African American and Latino artists, would consider Texas circa 1930 and 1940 an “ideal” time?
It’s a bizarre situation. You have angry old guy rantings and petty grudges alongside legitimate issues like the Rothko sale in press releases by a nonprofit that, at least from the emails I get, seems to function as a PR agency/mouthpiece for “wildflower artist” Chapman Kelley.
One wonders what they’ll send next. In the meantime, check out “Coastlines” and see if you think the audio had an adverse effect on Mr. Kelley’s painting of sand.