Sunday, April 30, 2006


Last Stand

Every so often, an artwork speaks to you so directly that it seems to have been made just for you. Whatever I might (but won’t) say about the rest of the Whitney Biennial, it displayed one piece that it did something that no other artwork has ever done: It made me cry.

Most visitors overlook Hannah Greely's unprepossessing coat stand in the middle of a third-floor gallery, as if it were no more than what it seems---a mundane piece of familiar furniture, not meriting a second glance.

But from the moment I glimpsed it, I felt I knew what it represented. And the more I looked, the more I knew I was right. Hanging fornlornly from one if the coat stand's hooks was an old-fashioned, light-blue fedora---an exact replica (made of fragile paper) of the shabby old cloth hat that my frail 92-year-old father insists on wearing every summer. Closer scrutiny of the coat stand revealed that it too was made of evocatively delicate material: It was fashioned from old bleached bone, with lacuna-pocked marrow visible along the edges.

Reading the work's title, "Last Stand," after having gazed with rapt recognition at this memento mori, prompted my tears. I was mourning for the man---her grandfather? my father?---who had hung up this hat for the last time.

This stark sentinel embodies all that is missing from most of the offerings in this Biennial---profound emotional resonance, expressed with spare yet telling symbolism. Ironically, this atypical artist was herself missing from the artists' roster on the Biennial's website, until I pointed out the omission to the museum's press office.

Perhaps this under-the-radar status is only fitting for a young artist who recently told Peter Plagens of Newsweek that she didn't want to be represented by a gallery because "I don't want to be famous just for the sake of being famous."

But maybe she should be famous---for her ability to illuminate universal truths about age and loss with such artistic economy and lucidity.


Philharmonic Philistines

New audience members (thankfully, there are new audience members) at the NY Philharmonic really do need to read the helpful guidance that the orchestra provides on its website, regarding "When do I applaud?":

The audience does not applaud between movements of a piece.

The many neophytes in the house last night for the astonishing tenor Ian Bostridge's mesmerizing account of Berlioz's "Les Nuits d'Ete" broke the spell after each song. They also expressed their enthusiasm after every movement of Mozart's "Haffner" Serenade, competently conducted by Sir Colin Davis.

Are we in Manhattan or Fort Lee, NJ? (Actually, right now I'm in Fort Lee.)

Saturday, April 29, 2006


"Anonymous" is an "Expert"

Since no culture blog would be complete without a little envy-driven carping about New York Times arts coverage, let's get right to Carol Vogel's generally excellent piece on the overheated art market.

Evidently, art-market reporting is exempt from the rules on anonymous sourcing that, like them or not, now apply to other Times scribes in the wake of the Blair flare-up and the Miller muddle. The Times's published guidelines state:

We should not use blind attribution---‘sources said,’ for example.

Vogel doesn't use "sources said"; she uses "experts said." Since in auction parlance, "experts" means auction-house department heads, it's plausible that the leakers of the astonishing amounts of money that were "confidentially" guaranteed to consignors may be the very people whom she quotes by name elsewhere in the article. We can only speculate.

And while we're talking about market coverage, cheers to Peers (Alexandra, that is) for her trenchant Apr. 27 piece on the "Leisure & Arts" page of the Wall Street Journal---shorter on detail, longer on incisive commentary. (I'd give you the link, but the WSJ doesn't allow postings on free weblogs from its subscribers-only website. What happens when I want to post my own pieces?!?)

Thursday, April 27, 2006



CultureGrrl's digital dithering was stilled today by the funeral of a wonderful cousin, seemingly robust, suddenly dead from a brain aneurysm at only 55. Life and abrasive commentary will go on, but not today.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Free Lunch

Lately, my lunch card has been full, with invitations to press briefings at some of the New York's ritziest restaurants. These invitations come mostly from two New York-based, arts-PR firms, on behalf of a growing number of out-of-town museums. You might say that these institutions have better use for their money than the lavish nourishment of hoards of poorly remunerated art scribes, more frequently spotted at Dunkin' Donuts than Daniel.

I would say it's our just desserts.

You would be right.

(Now I won't be invited. Quick, where's the delete button???)


Oh No, Not Bocelli

Since this blog is titled CultureGrrl, not ArtGrrl, lets go to Andrea Bocelli singing with the New York Philharmonic.

On second thought, let's not.

As a subscriber, I just got an e-mail inviting me to order tickets, ahead of the general public, to his "Intimate Evening of Romantic Arias" ("intimate" meaning Avery Fisher Hall instead of large arenas). The announcement links to the tenor's website, where I can download Bocelli ringtones and buy his CDs. (No, I will not give you this link!)

The Philharmonic's recent decision to allow downloading of its concerts on iTunes is the right kind of popularization. This one's just a crossover down the slippery slope.


Hawass's Chutzpah

Yes, artlings, the answer to yesterday's Question of the Day (see below) is: D) All of the above. Kudos to Sylvia Hochfield in the May issue of ARTnews, who captures Zahi Hawass's megalomania with the killer quote, "I am Pharaoh," uttered by the head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, on the occasion of the museum's new Hatshepsut show.

At the press preview, Hawass told me the same things he told Sylvia. But she beat me to the keyboard, so I refer you, with admiration, to her article on Page 78, in the magazine's "International News" section, about Hawass's "campaign to repatriate artistic icons from museums around the world." To me, he additionally said the following, about the failure of the St. Louis Art Museum to instantly accede to his request for return of a 3,200-year-old mummy mask:

I will make a court case against them in Egypt and after that I will talk against them in every newspaper, in every TV, all over the world, to make them as criminals.

As Philippe de Montebello of the Met never tires of pointing out, we journalists are being used by the spokesmen for antiquity source-countries to further their aims through publicity, not diplomacy. No wonder Harold Holzer, the museum's head of communications, whisked Hawass away from me as soon as he saw us chatting!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Question of the Day

Who said: "I am Pharaoh"?

A) King Tut
B) Queen Hatshepsut
C) Zahi Hawass
D) All of the above.

(Answer published tomorrow.)

Monday, April 24, 2006


Black Cloud Over the Met

It's an unfortunate metaphor: Cai Guo-Qiang's Clear Sky Black Cloud, puffing a whiff of gloom over the roof garden of the Metropolitan Museum of Art at noon every day from now till Oct. 29. The black cloud of the Met's antiquities mess may take longer to dispel. That's because the museum's trove of "beauty that may be booty" (borrowing a description of the Getty's holdings, from the Wall Street Journal) probably goes far deeper than the handful of works being returned to Italy. Even Italy itself may ask for more, as acknowledged in the museum's agreement with the Italian Culture Ministry.

Another case in point: In my 1982 book, The Complete Guide to Collecting Art (Knopf), I quote from my interview with Norbert Schimmel, one of the great benefactors of the Met's Egyptian, Ancient Near Eastern and Greek and Roman departments:

Norbert Schimmel says that he now generally does not buy objects that were once attached to buildings. Gesturing towards paintings displayed in his Manhattan apartment that had been hacked out of an Egyptian tomb, he said he was now "ashamed I bought these." He added that he does not like to buy objects that left their countries of origin after the effective dates of laws banning their export, "but when I see a nice object, I believe it left before. Sometimes I ask. In Europe, everybody buys and they don't ask any questions." Schimmel noted that even if you ask questions, you are unlikely to get illuminating answers. "Dealers never tell you exactly where something was found. They say, 'Anatolia,' and then they tell you all their stories."

So many objects, so many stories. And yet, in public comments, Philippe de Montebello, the Met's director, continues to assert that museums should acquire important objects of doubtful provenance, so long as their research reveals no compelling evidence of a rightful owner. After all, better to preserve them for the public benefit.

This stance puts him at odds, though, with many of his colleagues, who believe that whatever they do about unprovenanced objects already in their collections, they should at least not compound past errors by acquiring more of them. But even AAMD [the Association of Art Museum Directors], in its newly released standards, condones acquiring objects that are known to have been out of their country of origin for 10 years. In other words: if you can hold onto a hot pot for 10 years, it may cool down.

PdM does have one excellent idea. In a recent address to the National Press Club in Washington, he extended an olive branch to the archeologists on whom he has heaped considerable scorn in several public forums:

I would like to take this opportunity to invite---and I say this publicly today---for the first time, I invite the leadership of the AIA [Archaeological Institute of America] to engage with museums in a civil discourse in good faith, in an open dialogue to resolve our differences. We should do so for the benefit of the world's cultural and artistic heritage, more likely to be preserved if we have a united agenda, and for the enhancement of knowledge.

Here's hoping.


Why Are There No Great Women Bloggers?

Apologies to Linda Nochlin, who, as you probably know, penned the above sentence in 1971, applying to artists, not the then unspawned species of digital diarists.

Moving on from Guerrilla Girls to CultureGrrl, this blog owes its existence to Sreenath Sreenivasan, associate professor and tech guru at the Columbia University School of Journalism, who told assembled alums (including moi) at a blogging seminar last Saturday that the blogging community is "very male. There are not many women or minorities." This is supposedly because blogging "takes a leap of faith" and takes an aggressively contentious posture---attitudes that women are presumably not good at.

We'll see, Sree! At least he inspired me to start posting.

Sunday, April 23, 2006



Since I always have more opinions and information on the artworld than the Mainstream Media can use, I've decided to throw some of those juicy tidbits into this blog. Stay tuned for my first post!


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