Richard Spear, Art Historian, Former Museum Director, Writes in Support of "Greenwood Pond: Double Site"


On February 7, 2024, Richard Spear wrote the following letter to the Des Moines Art Center (DMAC) Director Kelly Baum concerning plans to demolish Greenwood Pond: Double Site, a site-specific installation by the internationally acclaimed leader of the land art movement, Mary Miss, commissioned for the Art Center’s permanent collection. The work, which opened in 1996, is in a diminished condition with some sections fenced off, suggesting the DMAC has not fulfilled its contractual obligation to “reasonably protect and maintain” the work. The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) is calling for the DMAC to reverse it demolition decision and, instead, to engage in meaningful consultations with the artist and others to find a solution that restores the artwork and develops a long-term, ongoing maintenance plan. 




Dear Ms. Baum:     

In the spring of 1973, the Curator of Modern Art of the Allen Memorial Art Museum of Oberlin College, Athena Tacha, organized an exhibition titled Four Young Americans, who were Mary Miss, Ann McCoy, Ree Morton and Jackie Winsor. On that occasion, Mary Miss created a temporary, site-specific work on the Museum's lawn. Recognizing its importance, we (I was Director at the time) asked Mary if she would redo the work as a permanent piece, which she kindly agreed to do.  I believe this was her first commission for a permanent work. It joins two other outdoor sculptures on the Museum's grounds by Claes Oldenburg and Robert Morris.     

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.     

Certainly, there is no question that Greenwood Pond: Double Site meets all of the requirements for protection under VARA, notably its significance as public art and Mary Miss's "recognized stature" (VARA (§ 106A(a)(3)(B)). However, I would prefer to think that, rather than resorting to the artist's legal rights under VARA, which, as undoubtedly you know, is explicit in granting artists protection against distortion, mutilation, or modification of their work, you would recognize your moral and professional obligation as a museum director to do everything possible to preserve Greenwood Pond: Double Site. You are the custodian of a work commissioned by the Des Moines Art Center for its permanent collection, which arguably is Mary Miss' most significant site-specific work. To destroy it is to destroy the Des Moines Art Center's integrity.     

Richard Spear  

Affiliate Research Professor, University of Maryland, College Park  

Professor of Art History and Director, Allen Memorial Art Museum, emeritus

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