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Dallas Museum of Art to Artist Chapman Kelley: ‘Your Work is Not for Sale’

You may remember that last week artist Chapman Kelley, whose work, “Sand Dune,” is featured in the Dallas Museum of Art’s Coastlines exhibition, wrote Dallas Museum of Art Director Bonnie Pitman and asked for the museum to remove his painting from the exhibition and sell it back to him. Kelley objected to a sound installation that accompanies the exhibition.

Pitman has responded to Kelley, rejecting his offer of repurchase.

In a letter from Pitman to Kelley dated June 4, which the artist has shared with FrontRow, Pitman asks Kelley, “to consider the broader goals of the exhibition to involve our audiences with works of art in new and compelling ways.”

“In response to your request to have ‘Sand Dune’ returned to you, it is not the policy of the Dallas Museum of Art to sell back to artists works of art in our permanent collection,” Pitman concludes.

Needless to say, it was not the response Kelley was looking for, and the artist has written a second letter to Pitman:

“If ‘Sand Dune’ is to remain a prisoner, may I request that it share a cell with the iconic Claes Oldenburg-Coosje van Bruggen ‘Stake Hitch’ sculpture?” Kelley writes, referencing the commissioned work that was removed from the museum’s barrel vault in 2002. Williard Spiegelman writes about the “Stake Hitch” in the May edition of D Magazine.

This is by no means the first institutional spat that Kelley has found himself in. The artist made headlines in 2006 when he sued the Chicago Park District for the reconfiguration of his outdoor work, Wildflower Works I, located in Chicago’s Grant Park. In that case, the artist invoked protection under the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, which protects artists’ work against mutilation and distortion. In his second response to Pitman, Kelley points again to the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, referencing a Massachusetts appeals court case that upheld an interpretation of the Visual Artists Rights Act that “protected an artist’s work from being publicly exhibited as unfinished . . . and that the museum curators were not coauthors,” as Kelley summarizes in his letter.

“I am similarly protected under VARA because I considered ‘Sand Dune’ to be finished in 1960,” Kelley writes.