Mary Miss Addresses Misconceptions and Raises Questions about the Des Moines Art Center’s Planned Demolition of "Greenwood Pond: Double Site"

In two new videos, Mary Miss, an internationally recognized leader in the land art movement, addresses misconceptions and raises questions concerning the Des Moines Art Center’s decision to destroy an artwork by her in their permanent collection. Greenwood Pond: Double Site, considered the artist’s most important site-specific work, was commissioned by the Art Center and opened in 1996. Due to what appears to be insufficient stewardship, the work’s condition is diminished, despite a $500,000 rehabilitation in 2015, and portions were closed to the public in late October 2023 because they posed a safety hazard. Miss and the Art Center’s Director Kelly Baum exchanged emails about the installation’s degraded state and had a Zoom call on November 13; Miss believed the call was the start of a discussion about the future restoration and maintenance of the artwork.

However, in a December 1, email Baum told Miss that the institution would demolish the work and ruled out any plans for saving it. Baum has cited numerous reasons including the lifespan of the materials used and the costs of restoration, but she has not provided any documentation including maintenance records, cost estimates, and relevant collections policies to substantiate her claims. In addition, Baum has said that Miss “exited” the “good faith negotiations,” which the artist calls “outrageous.” Miss points to the December 1 email in which Baum declared “fundraising to remake the work simply isn’t feasible” and “we do not and will not ever have the money to remake it” as the moment when the Art Center’s Board and leadership “walked away” from “good faith negotiations.”

These two videos (below) are in response Ms. Baum’s recent statements.

On a February 5, 2024, TCLF’s President and CEO, Charles A. Birnbaum spoke with Ms. Baum and sought to get additional information; Ms. Baum repeatedly recommended consulting an “open letter” she had posted on the Art Center’s website two days earlier. When Birnbaum asked if she answer any questions beyond the posted statement, Baum replied: “you’re not the artist and not a member of the press and so I don’t feel entirely beholden to answer questions.”

The artist would like to get answers about the museum’s policies, the estimated restoration costs, and other matters concerning Greenwood Pond: Double Site.

Since the January 16, 2024, posting of the Landslide announcement about Greenwood Pond: Double Site, more than two dozen art world patrons, curators, writers, and others have written letters to Ms. Baum concerning the planned demolition of the installation. Here are some excerpts:

This decision, if carried out, will adversely affect the Museum, its board and you as the Director professionally.
Emily Pulitzer, art patron and philanthropist

It is unthinkable that the Des Moines Art Center would willfully destroy a major work by Mary Miss. I am painfully aware of the pattern of neglect-deterioration-destruction that is the fate of much public art, usually at the hands of cities and commercial owners who typically know little about the value of art.  But for a museum director to allow that to occur is simply unconscionable.
Richard Spear, art scholar and Former Director, Allen Memorial Art Museum of Oberlin College

Destroying Mary Miss's sculpture is antithetical to the foundation on which Museum's around the world have been built.
Jenny Dixon, Director Emeritus, The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum

Do not be remembered as custodians who looked away in the face of adversity but as guardians who rose to the challenge of preserving our cultural heritage for posterity.
M. Jessica Rowe, former Deputy Director, Des Moines Art Center

Your plan to demolish and destroy Greenwood Pond - Double Site by Mary Miss is shameful, ignorant and potentially criminal.
Clara Weyergraf-Serra, art scholar

That you strive to destroy this, or any work of art, is unethical behavior beyond belief.
Deborah Leveton, former Curator, Des Moines Art Center