The Marguerite Hoffman case against David Martinez and the sale of the Rothko in question earlier this month has provoked some debate in Dallas about the nature of bequests, Peter Simek writes in D Magazine:
although Hoffman’s Rothko brings new attention to the in-flux nature of the donations, the sale isn’t very significant to the museum’s potential collection. According to a source, the Hoffmans possess a second Rothko of better quality than the one recently auctioned. In this case, unloading the painting made both economic and curatorial sense.
However, the Rachofsky sale of a balloon sculpture by Jeff Koons (Balloon Flower (Magenta)) two years ago is another matter. The Koons piece was one in an edition of five, and it was both representative and a high quality example of the work from the Neo-Pop Art movement of the 1990s, an art movement for which the DMA possess few if no significant holdings to my knowledge. The sale of the Koons made sense in market terms at the time – fearing the Neo Pop bubble was going to burst with the rest of the economy. But the sale didn’t make sense in terms of creating a representative and significant collection for the Dallas Museum. The DMA is now out a significant work by a major artist. If the collection was being cared to by a museum curator, and not an independent collector, that kind of sale simply wouldn’t have happened.
So there’s the issue: do the terms of the donation agreement create a situation in which the DMA is unable to fulfill its function as a public museum with the more academic and archeological aim of collecting works that, as the DMA’s own mission statement puts it, “contribute to cultural knowledge.” It is this mission, after all, that allows for the museum’s non profit status, which allows it to leverage tax deductions as incentives for major donations in the first place.