For more than a year, the Dallas Contemporary has sold prints by some of the area’s most accomplished artists for basement prices on eBay, sparking a backlash from local artists and galleries. In a letter addressed to Director Peter Doroshenko and the board of the Dallas Contemporary (included below), nine artists and five gallery owners have asked for their donated art work back from the non-profit art institution after records of sales on eBay shows limited edition prints by museum-collected artists like Vernon Fisher and Annette Lawrence selling for as little as $25. Fisher was the subject of a 2010 solo exhibition at the Fort Worth Worth Modern, and Lawrence is in the collection of many major museums and her work is included in the Cowboys Stadium contemporary art collection.
“We were shocked and dismayed to learn that The Contemporary would have such little regard for the artists who have supported them over the years,” the letter reads “We were further disappointed to discover that editioned work donated by artists has been sold by The Contemporary for over a year on eBay and perhaps longer.”
When asked about the eBay sales, Doroshenko called it a “stupid mistake.”
“The staff went and opened up an eBay shop, not just to sell prints but to sell books,” Doroshenko said. “Most recently some of the prints were undervalued. As soon as I found out, we closed that up.”
Doroshenko said he was alerted to the eBay shop last Friday, not by the letter, but from a phone call from an artist.
“In my opinion it was a dumb move,” he said.
The prints were part of a series of projects undertaken since the late-1990s in which artists created limited edition prints for the Contemporary as a way of helping to raise money for the institution. The Contemporary has since stopped commissioning and selling the print series to raise money, but the overstock from previous years was placed on eBay.
“A lot of them had sold out but when I started there were a small group that were left,” said Doroshenko, who became the Contemporary’s director in 2010. “We were once again trying to get them out to the public. But I have a number of staff members who don’t know what it means to be an artist.”
The artists have asked that the remaining prints be returned to the artists. Doroshenko said he estimates there to be between 10 and 12 pieces left. He said he would continue to give them away to high-level members, but they would no longer sell prints.
“I don’t want to be an edition business,” he said. “It is an injustice for artist to make work and it just sits around.”
Here is the letter from the aritsts:
Dear Peter Doroshenko and Dallas Contemporary Board,
We are writing regarding a very unfortunate situation. As you may be aware, artwork donated over the years by artists in support of The Dallas Contemporary was recently posted for sale on eBay without the knowledge or permission of the artist/donors or the galleries that represent them. We are grateful to the board members Sally Warren and Shelby Wagner for their quick action over the weekend to take the artist donated artwork off of eBay Saturday evening.We were shocked and dismayed to learn that The Contemporary would have such little regard for the artists who have supported them over the years. We were further disappointed to discover that editioned work donated by artists has been sold by The Contemporary for over a year on eBay and perhaps longer. The “seller’s history/feedback” shows sales and monthly activity, dating back to February 2012. According to eBay, over twenty editioned works have sold in the past eleven months by Vernon Fisher, Linnea Glatt, Ted Kincaid, Annette Lawrence, Melissa Miller, Tom Orr, Ludwig Schwartz, Julie Speed, and James Surls. A record of sales of artwork by each of these artists is accessible on the eBay website.
The artists would like an immediate explanation for The Contemporary’s
Photo: Peter Doroshenko,executive director of the Dallas Contemporary (Daniel Baum for D Magazine)