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Changing Focus

Napa's di Rosa decides to slim its art collection

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Gathered Together 'The Decline and Fall of Western Civilization,' part of the exhibit 'Viola Frey: Center Stage,' is on display in Gallery 2 at di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art. - PHOTO COURTESY DI ROSA CENTER FOR CONTEMPORARY ART
  • Photo courtesy di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art
  • Gathered Together 'The Decline and Fall of Western Civilization,' part of the exhibit 'Viola Frey: Center Stage,' is on display in Gallery 2 at di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art.

Napa's renowned di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art began as the private art collection of grape-grower Rene di Rosa and his wife Veronica.

Since 2000, the 217-acre property has operated as a nonprofit, largely funded by the Rene and Veronica di Rosa Foundation, which invites artists to create new works onsite and engages the public through educational programs in addition to boasting a collection of an estimated 1,600 pieces of 20th-century and Bay Area art.

This past summer, the board of directors at the di Rosa Foundation surprised many in the Napa Valley art community with news that the foundation would stop collecting art and begin a process to make many of the collection's pieces available for sale in an attempt to reduce their holdings from 1,600 pieces to "several hundred" pieces.

"The board declared themselves non-collecting, that's an important piece of the initiative," says di Rosa Communications & Marketing Manager Ronny Joe Grooms. "Now we are positioning ourselves to commission art, but we'll no longer buy and collect art."

Currently, most of the collection is being held in professional archival storage facilities and is inaccessible to the public. Grooms also notes that the plan to eventually reduce the focus of the di Rosa collection will likely take years to complete. "This is a very methodical, mindful process," he says.

Soon after the news broke, a group of more than 120 artists, curators and dealers went public with their opposition to the plan in an open letter to the institution in August that called the collection a "significant achievement in and of itself" and called the proposed sale "an irretrievable loss to the international art community."

Days later, di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art Executive Director Robert Sain responded in kind with a letter that acknowledged that the board shared concerns for the collection, but stated, "unfortunately the simple reality is that the organization was never set up with sufficient funds to properly care for the collection."

This does not mean that di Rosa Center for Contemporary Arts is in danger of closing down. In fact, the center is currently showing two exhibits featuring selections from the collection. "Building a Different Model," which includes work from over 40 Northern California artists, and "Viola Frey: Center Stage," which features over 100 works of ceramic, bronze and more, are both on display until Dec. 29.

In 2020, new installations take over the galleries, as "Davina Semo: Core Reflections" opens Jan. 29 and "Jim Drain: Membrane" opens Feb. 12.

"The purpose of this deaccessioning isn't to keep the lights on or to keep the doors open," Grooms says. "It is to strengthen our endowment so we have a sustainable long-term plan. In the long run, this is going to mean more art, not less art."

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