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Art sale: DAC will liquidate its collection

Erie Vitiello, executive director of the Davis Art Center, discusses the painting "Blue Vase with Flowers" by Davis artist Roland Petersen Wednesday. Several limited signed prints of the painting will be available during the Davis Art Center Holiday Sale this weekend. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

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From page A1 | November 29, 2012 |

The Davis Art Center is selling its art collection, gathered over the past 50 years, following a strategic re-evaluation of its priorities and resources.

The collection, valued at between $250,000 and $400,000, includes work by well-known artists such as Robert Arneson, Robert Bechtle, Roland Petersen and Wayne Thiebaud. It also includes an early figurative painting by Earth artist Michael Heizer, whose large-scale installation, “Levitating Mass,” was placed amid great fanfare on the grounds of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in June.

Executive director Erie Vitiello said the Art Center has evolved away from being a professional art gallery or museum and toward engaging community members in participation in the arts.

The Art Center was established in 1959 behind the fundamental idea of bringing together those who appreciate art and those who wish to create it. When the present building at 1919 F St. was designed, the core mission became clear.

“When the building was constructed, it was done with education in mind,” Vitiello said. “That’s what it’s known for, and what it has done all these years. The idea of having a collection of art was really relegated to the background.”

DAC relies on fees — along with the support of local individuals, corporations and foundations — to fund its operation. The upkeep bill associated with holding on to its collection has been a problem the center’s 15-member board of directors has wrestled with for years.

Kristina Gilmore, a former art museum curator, participated in the discussion while she was a board member in 2008-10. Selling the collection, she said, was by far the best option on the table.

“I wholeheartedly believe this was the right decision for a variety of reasons,” Gilmore said. “For one, collecting art is not part of the DAC’s mission. More importantly, the center does not have the proper facilities to adequately store or display fine art long-term.

“The center made do for many years, but as the collection increased in value over time, it also became more vulnerable to the effects of time under less-than-ideal storage conditions. Since building a proper storage facility was not a viable option, we decided that selling the artwork would be the best way to preserve it.”

About 20 of the approximately 150 objects in the collection would be of interest to collectors, Vitiello said. She estimated the collection’s value based on insurance appraisals, which she said aren’t always accurate when it comes to market prices.
The last time the Davis Art Center collection was exhibited in its entirety was in 2010 while the center was celebrating its 50th anniversary.
The exhibit was nostalgic for Kelvin Tsao, whose mother and father were art collectors and donated a majority of the center’s artwork. He recalled each piece from a time when it hung in his parents’ house.

“Some reminded me of the artists, who had become friends of my parents and me, and reminded me of conversations over dinner at the house,” Tsao said. “Some were just paintings or sculptures that I had looked at over a period of years; they’d been part of my environment growing up. ”

The collection holds significant sentimental value to him, but he says his parents, who are now deceased, would have looked favorably on the decision to sell it.

“Since (the center) doesn’t really have much space for displaying the collection, and because they plan on using the funds to create more opportunities to learn more about art and learn more about creating it — I think my parents would support that decision,” Tsao said.

The Paul Thiebaud Gallery in San Francisco will host an exhibit and sale of the collection in January. Proceeds from the sale will be used to fund more interactive gallery programming like the Discovery Art Exhibit, which the Art Center hosted this summer and which reached more than 5,000 participants.

“The collection is probably our largest asset,” Vitiello said. “It’s really our responsibility to steward the Art Center responsibly by using the asset to do what we do in our mission.”

— Reach Brett Johnson at bjohnson@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8052.

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