Demolition of Mary Miss’ “Greenwood Pond: Double Site” Could Start in April, Des Moines Art Center Director Says

The national and local support continues to grow for restoring and maintaining land art leader Mary Miss’ nationally significant, site-specific installation Greenwood Pond: Double Site, commissioned for the permanent collection of the Des Moines Art Center, which is threatened with demolition. Since the work opened in 1996, the Art Center appears to not have properly maintained and conserved the artwork and it’s now in a diminished condition. The Art Center’s leaders blame the installation’s materials, the site’s ecology, and even the weather for the decay, and they claim it’s too expensive to repair. None of these claims have been substantiated and the Art Center’s leaders have repeatedly ignored the artist’s questions and document requests. Rather than engaging in consultations with the artist, as the Art Center is contractually obligated to do, the work is slated for demolition as early as April, which is less than a week away. To make matters worse, Art Center Director Kelly Baum told Miss on December 1, 2023: “we do not and will not ever have the money to remake” the artwork. In other words, we’re not even going to try.

Since The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) first made the Art Center’s secret plan to demolish the site public on January 16, 2024, dozens of letters from art patrons and philanthropists, artists, former museum directors and others have been sent to Art Center Director Kelly Baum calling for consultations with the artist and a halt to the proposed demolition.  One writer, a former National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) employee of 35 years stated: “As a grant recipient of federal funds from the National Endowment for the Arts to support “Greenwood Pond,” a permanent public art project, the Des Moines Art Center is legally obliged to maintain it as part of the museum’s collection.” On March 16, TCLF contacted Wendy Clark, the NEA’s Director of Museums Visual Arts & Indemnity | Visual Arts, who acknowledged receipt two days later and promised to “get back” to TCLF. In addition, TCLF has contacted the American Association of Museums inquiring whether demolition of the installation would imperil the Art Center’s accreditation.

On March 13, TCLF hosted a webinar – Mary Miss and Women of Land Art – featuring Mary Miss, moderator Nancy Princenthal (above), curator Leigh Arnold, Nasher Sculpture Center, Susanneh Bieber, Texas A&M University, and respondents Alice Aycock, Jody Pinto, and Max Anderson (below) who spoke about the artist, the women of land art, and the importance of the Des Moines commission. In her introductory remarks the artist noted that works she created in the 1980s, a decade before Greenwood Pond: Double Site, and constructed from similar materials, have been well maintained. One of them, South Cove in Battery Park City, survived 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy. Moderator Nancy Princenthal, former Art In America executive editor, said the Des Moines installation “helped establish a paradigm for public projects that promote deep understanding of the natural environment.” One of the respondents, former Whitney Museum of American Art Director Max Anderson, said Mary’s Greenwood Pond: Double Site “enjoys an importance and a prominence in public art second to none in this country.”

Along with the national activities and advocacy, there’s also local activism. In Des Moines David and Stephanie Joiner, outraged by the Art Center’s plan, formed and are soliciting petition signatures; they’re advocacy was featured in the Associated Press. David recently spoke before the City Council and on March 23 the two helped to organize an event at the site that attracted dozens of diehard despite very chill weather.  They’ve gotten assistance and support from Mike Draper, an entrepreneurial business person and founder of RAYGUN, who has inveighed against the planned demolition and created T-Shirts with the messages “Public Art Needs Public Support” and “Save Greenwood Pond Double Site."

According to Miss, Greenwood Pond: Double Site is her largest land art installation and the only one commissioned for a museum’s permanent collection. The scholarship concerning the importance of the artist and this installation is considerable. The Des Moines Art Center’s Director and Board of Trustees have the opportunity to halt demolition and consult with the artist, as their contracts explicitly requires.  Since dilapidated sections of the installation deemed a safety hazard have been fenced off, the Art Center could hit pause on demolition and instead engage the artist, and myriad supporting local and national individuals and organizations, to find a solution (artist Laurie Anderson has offered to help).  

However, if the Art Center’s Board and Director proceed with demolition they signal to every existing and potential donor, every living artist with work in their permanent collection and every artist considering a commission, along with the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Alliance of Museums, the media, their members, and the public that contracts and ethical obligations mean nothing to them. Their clear message will be that they will breach contracts as they see fit, regardless of an artist’s wishes, a work’s importance, and any commitments they've made. That will be the legacy of Art Center Director Kelly Baum and every current member of the Board of Trustees.

What you can do to help.

Please contact the following and urge that the Des Moines Art Center Director and Board of Trustees honor their 1994 contract with Mary Miss and enter into consultation with the artist to find a solution that leads to the restoration and maintenance of a work of public art that is “second to none in this country.”

Ms. Kelly Baum, Director
Des Moines Art Center
4700 Grand Avenue 
Des Moines, IA 50312 

Mr. Josh Mandelbaum, Des Moines City Council, Ward III
    and Board Member, Des Moines Art Center
City Hall – City Council Chambers 
400 Robert D. Ray Drive
Des Moines, IA 50309 

Honorable Connie Boesen, Mayor 
City of Des Moines 
400 Robert D. Ray Drive 
Des Moines, Iowa 50309