Thursday, June 29, 2006
Where in the World is Lee Going?
Heavens to Betsy (Broun), what is this museum-world coming to?
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
NY Times Department of Corrections
Nor has anyone yet corrected Kathryn Shattuck's assertion on Sunday that the second most-expensive artwork ever sold, after Klimt's $135-million "Adele Block-Bauer I," was Picasso's $95.2-million "Dora Maar au Chat."
How quickly we forget Picasso's $104.2-million "Garçon à la Pipe," which sold in 2004. This painting didn't fit conveniently into Shattuck's thesis, because the subject was decidedly not the artist's mistress.
But the more serious, if subtle, Shattuck gaffe is saying that $135 million is "a record price for any painting." We don't know what other paintings may have sold privately for more. The Klimt is a notable exception to the general rule that the only art prices the public knows about are auction prices. For the same reason, we can't even say that Picasso's boy is the second most pricey picture ever sold. We can only talk about "record auction prices," not "record prices."
It seems like nobody corrects obvious Times errors, unless an outsider instructs them to (and sometimes not even then). Guess I'll have to e-mail this item to firstname.lastname@example.org. Let's see if anything happens!
How Art Made the Mini-Series
V.S. Ramachandran, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, conceded that until 10 years ago, he had "no interest in art" but he nevertheless seemed convinced that he had come up with a brilliant new insight when he hypothesized that prehistoric Venus figures have exaggeratedly large breasts and buttocks because men find those features attractive. An expert in the behavior of baby seagulls (which he analogizes to the behavior of artists), he really should get out more---to museums.
This week's first installment in the five-part series, about representations of the human body, said nothing cogent about "How Art Made the World" (admittedly a catchy title), but instead argued for the joint influence of human "hardwiring" and cultural differences on artistic styles: "Culture," we are told, "is king." (Double-"duh") Too often, the silent eloquence of masterpieces is upstaged by clever, hyperactive video gimmickry, to make the art more "interesting."
The series' peripatetic host, Nigel Spivey, a lecturer on classical art and archaeology at Cambridge University, is engaging and attractive, with a body type more stylistically suited to the svelte images in Egyptian relief (for which he modeled, in a digitally altered pose) than to the buff ancient Greek wannabes in the show's extended live beefcake segment (ludicrously accompanied by the Noel Coward song, "Mad About the Boy").
Heterosexual male viewers must have been disappointed that there was no equal-time cheesecake segment to exhibit living embodiments of the prehistoric Venus ideal. Maybe next week.
For me, the series worked best as a travelogue: It made me long to visit Egypt! And I'm looking forward to revisiting Altamira on the tube next week. They will also be discussing Lascaux. Did they have better luck getting access to the original Lascaux cave than I did?
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Tomorrow: Critique of How Art Made the World; or, Why Not Serve Cheesecake With Your Beefcake?
An Art-Law Blog Worth Citing
Credit where credit is due: That's where I first learned of Berry-Hill's real estate listing.
The June 23 Financial Times offers this update on the gallery's financial situation, noting that Aug. 2 is a crucial date in determining its future.
Berry-Hill Premises: On and Off the Market?
Linda Melnick, vice president at Stribling, told me yesterday that the auction had been postponed (with a new date to be set), "to give people more time to do due diligence." The offering price, she said, would remain the same.
But James Berry Hill, one of the gallery's directors, told me a couple of hours later that "we've cancelled the auction. The property is not for sale." Best known for selling blue-chip American art, Berry-Hill intends to continue doing business at its current location, he asserted. But at this writing, the property is still being offered on Stribling's website.
The gallery filed for bankruptcy in December, in the wake of lawsuits from creditors and allegations of biding irregularities at an auction at Christie's on May 19, 2005.
James Berry Hill, in a phone interview, ominously warned me that much that has been written about his gallery is "inaccurate," and that if I repeated such falsehoods, I would "join the group and suffer the consequences. Our counsel will be aggressive in going after those who have mistaken the case....Write whatever you want, at your peril."
He added that his gallery is settling claims against it "so that nobody is harmed," but he refused to discuss the details or to say anything about what he felt were inaccuracies in other published accounts .
CultureGrrl pointed out, towards the end of the interview, that although the dealer was threatening me with a libel suit, he was refusing to discuss what was accurate and what was not.
Where's Floyd Abrams when I need him? Wait a minute: Abrams, Berry Hill and CultureGrrl all went to Cornell University as undergrads. Maybe we should hold a reunion!
Monday, June 26, 2006
Back to the Caves
Check your local listings for How Art Made the World, a PBS series airing five consecutive Mondays, starting tonight (10 p.m. on Channel 13 in New York City). Hosted by art historian and University of Cambridge lecturer Nigel Spivey, the series "takes viewers on a quest to comprehend mankind's unique capacity to understand and explain the world through artistic symbols."
Spanning 100,000 years and five continents, it explores prehistoric art in the caves of Altamira and Lascaux, Native-American and African rock paintings, Egyptian and Greek antiquities, and "the pop culture and advertising imagery that bombards us in the digital age."
Today's installment examines "the search for, and obsession with, the body-beautiful." I haven't seen any of the series yet, so we'll watch it together.
Next Monday: the episode eagerly awaited by all you spelunkers!
Munitz: Dicey From the Get-Go
Munitz was among those named in charges filed by the Treasury Department's Office of Thrift Supervision in connection with the 1988 failure of the United Savings Association of Texas. It was "one of the largest [savings and loans] collapses in U.S. history," according to the Houston Post....Munitz was also named in a 1991 Maxxam shareholder lawsuit alleging mismanagement of a real-estate development project and improper exchanges of real estate and securities. That suit was settled...with payments totaling about $25 million.
When I interviewed Munitz in 1998, shortly after the opening of the Trust's new Los Angeles campus, he freely admitted that "whatever happened" at United Savings and Maxxam (a Houston-based holding company for corporate raider Charles Hurwitz), "I was in the middle of it." But he denied any wrongdoing.
Now we know what should have been suspected even back then: The Getty should have thought twice about entrusting the Trust to Munitz.
AAMD: A Toothless Watchdog
It appears to be a response to widespread concern over problematic practices such as those thought to have led to the Feb. 9 forced resignation of Barry Munitz from the presidency of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Munitz resigned while being investigated by the California attorney general's office for possible improper use of the Getty's funds and for a questionable 2002 real estate deal between the Getty and arts patron-collector Eli Broad, a Munitz friend.
Here are some excerpts from AAMD's embarrassingly lame response to urgent questions about museums' governance and integrity:
Sound judgment and an unwavering commitment to the essential principles of art museums are fundamental characteristics demanded of every board member.
As museums and the contexts in which they operate become increasingly complex, it is ever more imperative that museum leaders on the Board and staff continue to address all...pressing matters of governance and integrity with frankness and transparency.
Every AAMD member institution is encouraged to create and review regularly its policy in such areas as:
• Collections Management;
• Finance and Investment.
The mission of all art museums is to serve the public through art and education. Fulfillment of this mission is the primary goal of every AAMD member and the touchstone by which all decisions are made concerning museum programs and operations.
Museum directors are responsible to their trustees, staff, donors and community for ensuring that museums meet the highest standards of professional and ethical integrity.
Who could argue? And who could derive any meaningful guidance from this? Perhaps there should, intead, have been a detailed list of what museums and their boards should NOT do---"worst" practices, instead of best practices. But this membership organization rarely says anything that might tie the hands of its membership.
These three pages of laughably vague pronouncements will do nothing to assure government regulators or the public that museums and their boards can be counted upon to be rigorously self-policing. It's time for AAMD to reexamine its own mission, and decide whether it's going to be more than a purveyor of platitudes.
Coming Next: Why the Getty should have known from the start that Munitz could be trouble.
Sunday, June 25, 2006
Coming Monday---AAMD: A Toothless Watchdog...Munitz: Dicey From the Get-Go
Saturday, June 24, 2006
Le Cirque's Quirks
Now veteran foodie Raymond Sokolov, my long-time editor at the Wall Street Journal's "Leisure & Arts" page (before Eric Gibson took over), explains "why New York's newly updated Le Cirque is behind the culinary times."
In today's WSJ (which allows no weblinks because it's subscribers-only), Ray observes: "There are plenty of people who will continue to believe they are in the best restaurant in New York, even though they are really extras at the circus."
In the same review, he offers extensive praise for another new restaurant in New York, Del Posto. But you'd never know it from the headline, which alludes only to the better known, less accomplished establishment.
Speaking of "Posto," I need to stop posting for a few minutes, and start writing a piece for the aforementioned "L & A" page, for the aforementioned Eric.
We All Make Mistakes---Part II
In her Inside Art report on the National Gallery's upcoming Jasper Johns show, Carol Vogel said that curator Jeffrey Weiss "estimated insurance costs for the show at about $1 billion."
The National Gallery must be one rich museum!
Perhaps she (and Weiss) meant that the insured value of the works in the show is about $1 billion, which is astronomical enough. The actual cost of the insurance must be a small fraction of that. At least we hope so.
The problem is that the eyes of arts editors often glaze over when it comes to mundane financial matters. I know this from my own experience in laboring to explain some of my business-related reportage to culture-savvy editors.
And art writers themselves sometimes don't realize that seemingly small nuances (i.e., "insurance costs" vs. "insured value") mean a lot. One of my own biggest bloopers as a newly minted reporter was saying that collectors could deduct the full fair market value of donated art from their "taxes," when it should have been from their "taxable income." A tax credit (deducted from taxes) is worth a whole lot more than a tax deduction (deducted from taxable income).
Have I finally gotten that right?!? Writing a journalistic blog without an editor is like walking a tightrope without a net!
We All Make Mistakes---Part I
So where were the New York Times editors when Roberta Smith, an art critic for whom I have the highest admiration, filed the following, excerpted from one uncharacteristically muddled paragraph in yesterday's review of the "Raphael at the Metropolitan: The Colonna Altarpiece":
His [Raphael's] career was short and driven. The Colonna altarpiece, one of the last he painted, is a telling transitional work....Commissioned by the Franciscan convent of St. Anthony of Padua in Perugia, Raphael's birthplace, it was completed when he was barely 21."
"One of the last he painted...when he was barely 21"??? Flag on the play. That certainly stopped me short when I read it. So today, we have this correction in the Times:
It was one of Raphael's earliest altarpieces, not one of his last. The review also misidentified his birthplace in Italy. It was Urbino, not Perugia.
That settles that. But there's still no penalty on the play of another Times art writer, whose blooper yesterday should have aroused the enervated editors.
More on that soon.
Friday, June 23, 2006
Italy Ups the Stakes
The ANSA piece was sent to me by the Italian Ministry of Culture, whose press officer, Tiziana Benini, vouched for its accuracy. She also said that she did not expect a final agreement to be reached until September.
As for the fate of Marion True, Benini said this still rests in the hands of the judge, notwithstanding any agreement between the Getty and the Culture Ministry.
By the way, if you wanted to see a photo of the dirt-encrusted Getty Griffins, you didn't have to have been in Italian court; all you have to do is pick up a copy of Peter Watson's book, "The Medici Conspiracy."
No wonder Getty Museum director Michael Brand had told me that the presention of the dirty-griffins photo at the True's trial "did not come as a surprise." It shouldn't have come as a surprise to me, either!
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Ouroussoff Uses Bully Pulpit to Bully Riley
In praising the Museum of Modern Art's appointment of Barry Bergdoll as its new chief curator of architecture and design, the NY Times' architecture critic just couldn't resist using his bully pulpit to pummel Terry one more time.
Saying that MoMA's architecture and design department had become "listless" and "sadly adrift," with "faltering energy" (okay, we get it), Ouroussoff criticized two of the department's most recent shows, "New Architecture in Spain" and "Safe: Design Takes on Risk" (both very favorably reviewed elsewhere), as "largely forgettable." Even this tsk-tsking Timesman had previously found things to praise in reviewing those shows. (And he's too young to be THAT forgetful!)
Riley, meanwhile, is having his moment in the sun as head of the Miami Art Museum. He will "oversee the planning and development of a new state-of-the-art Museum Park facility and sculpture garden on Biscayne Bay," with a little help from a recently passed $100-million bond issue, according to the museum's January announcement of his appointment.
Curator to director---that's a step up...and also far enough down the coast from the Times' hegemony so that Ouroussoff's wild punches can no longer connect.
BlogBack: Walker Tweaks "Art on Call"
Regarding CultureGrrl's critique of "Art on Call," the Walker's New Media Initiatives blogger, Nate Schroeder, offered these updates:
We’ve just recently installed a nifty cellphone signal repeater in the space deepest in the galleries that previously got terrible reception---right next to the Burnet gallery. It’s possible her [CultureGrrl's] carrier simply doesn’t benefit from the frequencies we’re repeating (it doesn’t cover them all) but I’m hopeful it was just a matter of timing and the repeater hadn’t kicked on.
As for her other comments, I think some of them will be addressed in the near(ish) future as we start incorporating feedback into the menu prompts. For instance, many people don’t realize you can interrupt the initial prompt by typing in the 4-digit code, effectively skipping right to the artwork you’re looking at. Hopefully that will take some of the hassle out of repeated calls if you can just hit redial, wait for the answer, and then just punch in the code. Much faster.
One thing I didn't mention in my previous post: Since I'm habitually audioguide-averse, I'm more apt to do a spur-of-the-moment dial-up on my cell phone than I am to pick up and carry around a museum-provided device.
Outtakes from the Whitney Hearing---Part II
[Renzo] Piano's design concept neither engulfs nor overshadows the original Breuer Building. Equally important, the main element of the expansion---five gallery floors set back behind the preserved contributing brownstones---creates an expressive interplay between the three elements: original 1966, now proposed, and the historic.
...Original and new contruction do not have contact, are separated by skylit open space and are connected by glazed bridges at each level. This concept comes across to me as an unusually sensitive solution.
...The exterior finish for the new gallery wing is proposed to be matte-finished, stainless-steel alloy panels, affording a quality of relative lightness, rather than of masonry weight. This too comes across to me as sensitive response, being in contrast to the original Whitney's granite facing and the old brownstone of the rowhouses.
You can count on Piano to be sensitive and tasteful (and, lately, to include a plaza---no, make that "piazza"---as an essential part of any museum expansion). But am I parochial in thinking that a museum known for displaying edgy American art might have sought to engage an edgy American architectural firm? Where are Diller+Scofidio (the subjects of a 2003 Whitney retrospective) when we need them? (at the Boston ICA, actually) Then again, if things got too audaciously inventive on Madison Avenue, imagine what the neighbors would say!
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
The Getty Strikes a Deal
The Italian government will receive from the Getty a number of very significant objects, including several masterpieces. In return, as a sign of fruitful dialogue and collaboration among the parties, Italy will provide loans of objects of comparable visual beauty and historical importance.
The agreement, however, is aimed at far more: the parties acknowledged a shared commitment to the exchange and increase of knowledge, and look forward to extensive future collaboration, including joint exhibitions which will maximize the potential of the newly-renovated Getty Villa, the only art museum in the United States dedicated to the art and culture of ancient Italy and Greece.
The parties expect to conclude a final agreement, which will include mutual collaboration, research and the exchange of important antiquities, in the early summer.
"The final agreement must be developed and it will require the approval of the board of trustees," according to Ron Hartwig, the Getty's vice president for communications, who added that there would be "no further comment at this time."
Can Marion True go home now?
Outtakes from Yesterday's Whitney Hearing---Part I
So it was yesterday at the Board of Standards and Appeals' hearing on the Whitney Museum's proposed Renzo Piano-designed expansion. Here are some outtakes from the outraged:
Nowhere in this city has an institution put up an equivalent of an 18-story, metal-clad, almost windowless structure with a 32-foot-high permanent crane [an art hoist] in a residential landmarked area.---Coalition of Concerned Whitney Neighbors, which submitted "over 4,000 signatures opposing this oversized extension."
A 37-foot-high "piazza"...equals the height of the first two floors of the [Whitney's exisiting] Breuer building---the entrance floor and the gallery floor above it. If the "piazza's" height were halved, turning it into a normal museum entrance hall, and the windowless areas above were located underground, it might be possible to reduce the height of the addition to that of the historic brownstones.---Defenders of the Historic Upper East Side.
Our primary concern is the combination of the height and bulkiness of the proposed tower. Where the Breuer building is currently at a respectful scale, this new enlargement doubles that height in a very bulky fashion. I do not doubt that the architect is world famous, but no pedigree or awards can disguise what it is---a tall, lifeless rectangle protruding into the skyline,...[which] will be a significant eyesore for residents of the Carlyle.---Hotel Carlyle Owners Corporation.
For its part, the Whitney submitted letters of support from the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the New York State Council on the Arts, and Hamilton Smith, who was Marcel Breuer's associate architect on the 1966 Whitney building.
Smith's comments to come.
Let Your Fingers Do the Walking at the Walker
It was a mixed experience: I had recently talked to Ellsworth Kelly in person, at the opening of the expanded High Museum in Atlanta, so I decided to beam up his "Red Yellow Blue III." A Walker curator revealed a little-known aspect of Kelly's oeuvre: "He takes an enormous amount of photographs"---open barn doors, for example. His paintings, often vibrant monochrome panels, are "always informed by something real, something that is seen," such as the photographic images, the curator confided.
Interesting insights, but even though 100 seconds doesn't sound like a long time to stand in front of a painting, I felt itchy to move on before the glitchy narration had finished---glitchy because my cell phone, which usually has good reception, kept cutting out. There's still something to be said for in-house random-access guides that always(?) work. The phone-based information ought, perhaps, to be layered---a short introduction, with the option to access other levels of information about a work, by pressing another number.
Another serious drawback to this wireless wisdom is the necessity to keep dialing up, every time that you want to access another work. Once the frequent use of cell phones is permitted in the galleries, the temptation to make and answer calls to people, not just paintings, becomes harder to resist.
Meanwhile, you too can call upon "Art on Call": Just go to this website, then click on what you want to hear. In many cases, the commentary is by the artists themselves. If you click on the thumbnail of a work, you get a larger image, more detailed information, and thumbnails of related works in the collection.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Restitution Resolutions---Cashing in on Artistic Assets
As a practical matter, this has sometimes meant that masterpieces previously in the public domain are sold into the private domain, to the highest bidder.
At least this time, with the sale of Klimt's "Adele Block-Bauer I," reportedly for $135 million, the former Nazi loot will be kept permanently on public view at the Neue Galerie in New York.
But even the lawyer who forged the heirs' legal victory, Randol Schoenberg, has publicly expressed some regret that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (which is currently displaying the iconic Klimt, along with four other works by the same artist that were returned to the same heirs) was unable to swing a deal to buy all five paintings. LACMA, trying to scrape together a serious offer, could not compete with the ready fortune of cosmetics magnate Ronald Lauder, president of the Neue Galerie and its chief benefactor.
A private charity, not a public museum like LACMA, the Neue Galerie is also "interested" in acquiring the other four Klimts, according to its director, Renée Price, who would not say more about possible purchase discussions. The four will be displayed at the Neue Galerie, along with its new acquisition, July 13 to Sept 18.
The famous gold-ground portrait will be bear a label saying that it was "made available in part through the generosity of the heirs." Price told me that this did not mean it was a partial purchase and a partial gift to the Neue Galerie, as this language would seem to indicate. In this case, "generosity" merely means that the heirs decided to forego possible higher offers, in order to make sure the work remained on public display, Price explained.
"Generous" to settle for a mere $135 million---far more than any artwork has ever fetched at auction? We should all get the chance to be so altruistic!
Coming Later Today: My Take on the Klimt
Today's NY Times seems to indicate that True, on trial for trafficking in looted objects, might just get a break:
On Monday [Italian Culture Minister Francesco] Rutelli seemed to suggest that prosecutors would be willing to take cooperation by the Getty into account in pressing [or not pressing?] their case against Ms. True.
A collective sigh of relief may soon be heard from curators across the land.
From the Mouths of Babes
Aren't daughters a mother's worst critics?!?
By the way, Neyfakh has followed up with another piece, in today's NY Sun, revealing that in 1995, when Grace Glueck had informed her editors at the NY Times of her appointment to the Clark Art Institute's board of trustees, "the editors at the time...decided the situation did not pose a problem,...as long as Ms. Glueck did not write about the Clark."
Different Times, different standards (as museum officials like to say, when talking about the antiquities mess).
Monday, June 19, 2006
The Getty's Secret Census of Its Antiquities Trove
An article in yesterday's LA Times reported that the Getty Trust's "internal review" of its collection "found that 350 Greek, Roman and Etruscan artifacts in its museum's prized antiquities collection were purchased from dealers identified by foreign authorities as being suspected or convicted of dealing in looted artifacts."
But despite Michael Brand's assertions that his ascendancy to the directorship of the museum will be distinguished by a new transparency, the museum has thus far refused to discuss the review, let alone release any of its findings.
Ron Hartwig, vice president for communications, told me today that it would "not help to go into detail" about which works had dicey histories, when the museum is "in sensitive discussions with the Italians."
But those discussions, resuming this week in Rome, just got a lot more sensitive, when Maurizio Fiorilli, lead negotiator for the Italian Ministry of Culture, complained that he had not been told about the new findings, according to the the LA Times' account.
"We want to be open, transparent and communicative about these issues," Hartwig asserted. In that case, the museum had better start telling its own story in a press release, instead of letting the well-connected LA Times do it in an exposé.
"F-111" Flies Again
Well, that's a start. Now what about Ellsworth Kelly’s “Colors for a Large Wall” and Richard Serra’s “Intersection II”? I know that the latter will be featured in Serra's upcoming retrospective, but I'm talking about long-term, rather than temporary, display for these major (if unwieldy) MoMA-owned masterpieces.
Oh, and I previously forgot to mention---let's not cut out one of Matisse's most celebrated cutouts, the Olympic-sized "Swimming Pool."
NY Sun's Glueck-Raker Is a Harvard Undergrad
Leon Neyfakh, who wrote today's piece on Grace Glueck's resignation from the board of the Clark Art Institute, is a Harvard undergrad lad---a summer intern at the paper. I figured that most of the Glueck-hounds were not her equals, but this is ridiculous!
"Sorry the article wasn't any more interesting. Few people were around on Sunday, and I didn't have much room." Leon wrote me (turning Crimson, no doubt), after I told him I had discovered his greenhorn status by reading the author ID for his June 19 NY Observer book review. (Those Harvard boys sure do know how to play the field!)
His Glueck piece (for which he had tried to interview me on Fathers Day) was a rehash of what's already been written, except for a quote from Sam Sifton, NY Times culture editor, who would not comment on the Glueck kerfuffle, other than to say he was "happy to work with her."
CultureGrrl stated yesterday that she did not want to mudwrestle with fellow reporters. But she'd love to get down and dirty with a Harvard undergrad!
Sunday, June 18, 2006
Glueck Has Legs
My family had a blissfully computerless swimming-and-barbecue celebration, and I only just now had the amusement of seeing this reporter-interviews-reporter proposal in my inbox.
Lee could sully Leon's notebook with lots of reportorial conflict-of-interest dirt more mucky than Glueck's much publicized infractions, but I'm not in the habit of mudwrestling with colleagues. I prefer to beat those on my beat the old-fashioned way---through hardhitting, competitive journalism.
As for Glueck, I still feel that her detractors should give credit where credit is due.
Saturday, June 17, 2006
The Glueck Muck
But I did (and still do) feel that the rakers of muck are leaving out an important part of the story: It appears, in this instance, that Glueck's ill-advised affiliation did not cause any actual slant in NY Times arts coverage. What's more, her distinguished, pioneering career as an investigative art journalist (which some of the bloggers are probably too young to remember) deserves mention in any discussion of her professional track record.
That's not to excuse what she did. It's just to put it in proper perspective.
Friday, June 16, 2006
Private Prehistory, American Style
Your blog regarding landowners who keep the location of archeological sites "under wraps" hits home, since I know there are many sites that should be protected but are under- or not reported [in the U.S.].
Getting people excited about what we call "historic preservation" in the States has always been a hard sell. It's not a problem in Europe, where people actually live and work in old structures.
My correspondent declined to be identified for publication, so has not to jeopardize relations with private landowners.
The Director as Curator
For me, the pleasure of curating a show is to get back into the studio and into the galleries -- to be working with physical objects and arranging them in space and trying to make sense out of them.
I think it's essential that people working in museums should do that from time to time. Of course, in doing it, I also begin to understand how difficult it is to make an exhibition at the Tate, and the problems about getting the lighting right, and how to ensure that an institution of this kind works smoothly -- not just for me, but for everyone who works here.
I hereby propose that all museum directors be granted regular sabbaticals to get back in touch with what got them into this business in the first place---their passion for art. As I wrote in my October 2004 Art in America review of the book, "Whose Muse?" (which I therein retitled, "Six [Museum] Directors Kvetching"):
One begins to pity these beset directors, whose thorny administrative duties have so distanced them from their early affinity for scholarly research and hands-on curatorship.
A museum director ought to have a strong art-historical background. But then he or she should also be given the chance to use it.
Art Journalist Grace Glueck Gets Bum Rap
I knew many years ago about NY Times writer Grace Glueck's membership on the board of the Clark Art Institute, and it did bother me. Ever since I first saw her name on that list, I watched to see if she ever wrote about the Clark. To my knowledge, she didn't. It was a conflict, yes, but a far less serious one than the Times' former publisher being on the board of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for so many years.
The blogger-created public "scandal" over Glueck's lapse, which has just resulted in her resignation from the Clark, doesn't give even a hint of the other side of the story: the fact that her board membership, while inappropriate, caused no discernible slant in Times coverage.
But more importantly, Glueck's record as an art journalist was not merely distinguished, but positively trail-blazing.
Before Glueck, there were art critics, not art journalists. She had the art-reporting beat pretty much to herself when I started out, and she was a brilliant role model. (Speaking of conflicts of interest, I must hasten to add that I admired from afar; I have had absolutely no personal, or even professional, relationship with her.) She was accurate, fair and exhaustive. And I was jealous.
Glueck later turned to art criticism and left the reporting to others. Now the visual-arts beat is teeming with journalists of varying degrees of professionalism. But Grace Glueck, who applied the techniques of political investigative journalism to the little-examined artworld, was mother of us all.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
CultureGrrl deeply regrets the error. I did not do an appropriate job of fact-checking. But having now visited the Miss USA website, I've learned that although Cannon did not place in the top 15, she WAS chosen by her fellow contestants as Miss Congeniality---"the most congenial, charismatic and inspirational participant."
Sandra Bullock, please take note.
I also learned, on Cannon's bio page, that she was a communications specialist at Target Corporation, making her a particularly fitting pancake-flipper at the opening of the MIA's Target Wing.
Meanwhile, the MIA's director, better known as Bill, good-naturedly assured me by e-mail: "YOU can call me 'Griddle Griswold' whenever you like."
It seems to me that everyone in Minnesota is a good sport!
My discussions with experts in the Dordogne region indicated that many of those who discover such sites on their property don't report them to the government, as legally required. So there could, theoretically, be another Lascaux or Chauvet enjoyed only by a French landowner and a close circle of friends. Indeed, Rouffignac Cave, regularly open to the public (who travel into its depths on a small electric train), was purchased by someone who wanted the land and, at first, had no idea of the riches lying beneath. (It is owned by the Plassard family, whose son, Frédéric, was later inspired to become a prehistorian.)
There are several possible reasons for keeping caves hidden: Owners don't want to involve the public sector in their private hectare; they don't want cave-crazed tourists knocking on their doors; they don't want to trigger the law that requires them to report to the government any finds of historical, art historical or archeological interest. After making such discoveries, private property owners not supposed to disturb or degrade the site.
There's another possibility, not mentioned, but easy to imagine, in light of all the disclosures about illicit antiquities activities in other countries: Is there an underground market for France's version of underground art?
From the Eyes of Babes
No frequent museum visitor, despite (or maybe because of) my best efforts, my future acoustics engineer perceived a connection between two exhibited works that even the show's curator, Anne Umland, had missed.
She stood for a while gazing at a work that appealed to her, Jean Arp's "Enak's Tear (Terrestrial Forms)," 1917---a painted wood relief in five colors from MoMA's collection. Then she looked at the other Arp reliefs arrayed on the same wall, noticing that "Untitled (Fish and Vegetal Configuration)," c. 1917, was composed of identically shaped (although smaller) pieces of wood. The concurrence was not easy to discern, because the second piece was rotated 90 degrees from the position of the first, was composed of only black wood, and was mounted on another irregularly shaped slab that had no counterpart in "Enak's Tear."
Umland confirmed my guess that she had been unaware of this connection. Rather than juxtapose these cognates for comparison, she had interposed four pieces between them.
Sometimes it takes close looking by eager eyes to glean fresh insights.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
The Prehistoric Art Scene
Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, France
For those seeking refuge from an overheated contemporary art scene that seems fixated on the wet canvases of young MFA candidates, the Dordogne region of southwest France (also known as Périgord) offers a bracing alternative -- the prehistoric art scene. Here you can see masterful paintings of bison, woolly mammoths, reindeer and horses, rendered in bas-relief by the cave walls' pre-existing bulges, hollows, ledges and even bear-claw scratches. Cro Magnon man was discovered behind the current site of the Cro Magnon Hotel in Les Eyzies-de-Tayac -- a town that justifiably bills itself as "world capital of prehistory."
With its many nearby prehistoric attractions, Les Eyzies is also home to the recently expanded and modernized National Museum of Prehistory, displaying some 18,000 artifacts (such as stone tools and pierced shells used for personal adornment), as well as replicas and models of prehistoric sites, animals and people. Interspersed with these displays are fascinating video re-enactments of aspects of primitive existence, such as toolmaking.
"There are no holes in our collection," from 400,000 to 10,000 years ago, the museum's director, Jean-Jacques Cleyet-Merle, boasted recently during an interview in his office. That's because the region, with its relatively temperate climate, was continuously occupied during that period by hunter-gatherers, whose art and artifacts were preserved under the soil and in numerous caves, more of which still continue to be discovered. About 80% of the known prehistoric caves in France are thought to be privately owned. Some, like Rouffignac, in the eponymous town, are operated as profitable tourist attractions.
But not even the prehistoric art world, nestled in the idyllic countryside, is immune from trouble and controversy. Mr. Cleyet-Merle ruefully observed that his institution, hampered by funding shortages, is merely 50% finished, two years after the opening of its new facility. Among the refinements to come: audio guides, improved lighting, and computer consoles providing more information and magnified views of the individual small objects that are now arrayed in confusing profusion. For now, the object labels (some of which are still absent) are in French only; English translation of wall text is provided on laminated sheets.
The most high-profile prehistoric controversy involves Lascaux, whose name is affixed both to an overcrowded tourist attraction (the replica cave, Lascaux II) and to the world's most celebrated prehistoric site, now accessible to almost no one. When I interviewed him in his office in Périgueux recently, Jean-Michel Geneste, the curator of Lascaux, was fuming over and article that had just appeared in Time magazine's European edition, suggesting that the stewardship of the cave had been botched and that its 17,000-year-old paintings were in jeopardy.
The alarming deterioration of conditions in the cave had been publicized three years before, in the French scientific journal La Recherche. It reported that the installation of a new climate-control system at the entrance to the cave had disturbed its soil and its delicate climatic and ecological balance -- the likely cause of its being attacked in 2001 by a shockingly virulent invasion of fungi and bacteria. These appeared both on its floor and on outcroppings below its decorated walls.
Time Europe had been invited by the French Ministry of Culture, to report firsthand on the improved conditions in the cave. But the article focused instead on the past problems and continuing concerns about the future.
"There is no damage to the paintings," Mr. Geneste flatly asserted. A previous blight of algae, caused by the climatic changes wrought by the invasion of hordes of tourists, had led to the closure of the cave in 1963 to all but a few specialists and some very persistent tourists. But the more recent rampant spread of microorganisms, however, caused the cave to be closed five years ago to all visitors, even the specialists, so that it could be bombarded with ammonium disinfectant, fungicides, antibiotics and quicklime. "Now the situation is stable," claims Mr. Geneste. If it remains thus "for two or three years," he said, "we can open the cave for research." Mr. Geneste turned down my repeated requests to visit the cave.
The situation "was very dangerous for the paintings," he conceded, but "very few paintings were concerned. Now it [the growth of microorganisms] has disappeared naturally from the paintings," he asserted. To put to rest the questions that continue to be raised, however, these reassurances urgently need to be publicly corroborated through visits by disinterested outsiders who are experts.
Mr. Geneste, custodian of Lascaux for 15 years, still waxes rhapsodic when describing the "beautiful aspect of the paintings in the original," whose colors are more intense and luminous than those on the dry concrete surface of the 23-year-old copy. The natural moisture of the cave and the "very thin calcite crystals" on the paintings' surfaces "change the light and transmit the color," he explained.
As to the enigmatic meaning of Lascaux, Mr. Geneste and his two co-authors suggest in their book, "Lascaux: A Work of Memory," that the cave may have been "a privileged place for individual expressions around the myth indispensable for every social group -- a founding myth, perhaps." It is, they say, "the threshold between the visible and the invisible, the living and divinities, the real and the imaginary. It is symbolically a passage."
Going forward, Lascaux's keepers are continuing their four-year-old "program of molecular biology, in order to study what kinds of fungi and bacteria are on the walls of the cave but invisible," Mr. Geneste said. Also needed, he asserted, is better coordination among the various administrative and scientific entities that share responsibility for the cave's care and study.
For now, those who crave more than the virtual visit to Lascaux provided on its Web site must brave the crowds at the replica (in Montignac, near the original cave), where the visitors, not just the bison, rove in herds. "There must be more than 40 people in here," our guide insisted (erroneously), seeing how tightly we were crammed in one of the two sections of the copy cave (the Great Hall of the Bulls and the Painted Gallery). "Ladies, stop chatting and move to the back of the room," he admonished at another point. In the introductory room, I had asked for more information about a display of powdered pigments, similar to those that were used in the cave. "There's nothing to say about that," he replied brusquely.
My time-traveling companions, an alumni tour group from Columbia and Georgetown universities, seemed uniformly engaged, even enchanted, by this experience. But you cannot realize what you are missing in a copy cave till you've been inside a real one. My husband and I, a few years ago, had admired the real Altamira cave in Spain (as readers of this page may remember).
What's more, the day before enduring the rigors of Lascaux II, we had joined a small group in a leisurely ramble inside the only polychrome-painted cave in France that is still regularly open to the public -- Font-de-Gaume in Les Eyzies. Mr. Cleyet-Merle of the prehistory museum, who also happens to be curator of Font-de-Gaume, obligingly bumped us to the top of a several-months waiting list. The 14,000-year-old paintings, he informed me, had never needed to be off-limits to the public, because the cave had always been open to the outside air. (Lascaux's very narrow opening was significantly widened for visitors after its discovery by four adolescent boys in 1940, altering the interior's atmosphere and initiating its recent history of climatic imbalance.)
Our knowledgeable and contagiously enthusiastic guide at Font-de-Gaume, Jean-Pierre Vanzo, directed a small beam of light to tease out the contours and somewhat faded colors of bison, horses and, most remarkably, one reindeer affectionately licking another with an incised tongue. The significance of the cave to its original visitors, he speculated, must have involved "spirituality, metaphysics, philosophy, religion. They had gone far into the ground to express something important to them." What's more, he told us, "other figures are still sleeping" -- remaining to be discovered under crusts of clay and calcium carbonate deposits.
"We are," he announced to our band of awestruck interlopers, "inside the masterpiece."
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
The Dreck of Tech
Last week, I finally got my chance. As it turned out, the MIA was probably lucky it took me this long to report on my digital disappointment. I found the museum's "Art Finder," for example, to be a worthy but half-realized idea: Type in what you're looking for (i.e., Matisse) and the computer is supposed to tell you how to find it---a Masterpiece Mapquest.
But all you get is an unlabeled schematic map of the mazelike museum, with the appropriate room marked in red. Nowhere is there an arrow marked, "You are here." Nor can you print out a map that might actually help you navigate to your distant object of desire.
Scattered throughout the museum are "Interactive Learning Stations," some right in the galleries, many secluded in alcoves, but all capable of emitting noises that would disrupt the art-viewing experiences of those preferring peace and quiet. And, as is to often the case with such devices, some proved to be glitchy.
The content loaded onto these computers is deep and rich---so much so that a visitor could be tempted to sacrifice a great deal of art-viewing time in favor of screen-viewing time. This is not necessarily a plus, when great works by Rembrandt, Poussin and Claude are close at hand.
There's a time and a place for this worthy electronic enrichment, and it's before or after the gallery visit---on the Web or perhaps in the museum's library. Let the artworks speak, eloquently, for themselves.
Coming soon: Let Your Fingers Do the Walking at the Walker.
A Bullish Welcome to My WSJ Readers
Black Cloud Over the Met
MoMA Does It Right
De Montebello/Hoving Contretemps
How Hilton Kramer Got Wild
Brits Can't Return Nazi Loot
Top 10 List: What's Not to Like About Mega-MoMA---I
Top 10 List: What's Not to Like About Mega-MoMA---II
Hadid: Diva Indeed
Where In the World Is the Guggenheim?
The Art Market Is Not the Stock Market
Meandering in Minneapolis
Please also scroll down to my "Rooting Out Loot" piece, posted yesterday, along with Max Anderson's "BlogBack." Hope you decide to keep returning to the Grrl!
Monday, June 12, 2006
CultureGrrl Goes Primitive
And you thought I wisecracked only on my blog?
BlogBack: Max Anderson on Antiquities
You’ve raised an important issue facing art museums: retrospective research on works lacking clear provenance. This has to be approached methodically, as you suggest, since there are so many issues triggered by reviewing objects often lacking more than a bill of sale.
But it seems to me that before tackling what might be involved in such a vast inquiry, it’s more urgent to agree on what’s appropriate in future acquisitions—and many directors, including me, have misgivings about the current AAMD guidelines. Because of the "10-year" rule and the blanket exception provided for works of great significance, the Guidelines are out of step with approaches being taken by our colleagues around the world.
Once we’ve agreed on a more disciplined approach to evaluating future purchases, gifts, bequests, and exchanges, we’ll be better equipped to address retrospective research. No less importantly, we’ll be in a better position to advocate two important objectives: 1) a rational federal approach that harmonizes conflicting applications of the CPIA of 1983 and the National Stolen Property Act, and 2) the promulgation of a legal market in antiquities that can reduce looting, deal sensibly with chance finds, and provide revenue to source countries for the protection, research, and care of objects in their possession.
Rooting Out Loot
In both cases, American museums assert they want to do the right thing, by returning improperly expropriated objects to their rightful owners. And in both cases, the museums rightly insist upon documentation or other compelling evidence before turning over the American public's patrimony to private owners (in the case of Nazi loot), or foreign governments (in the case of antiquities).
But there's one big difference: When it comes to Nazi loot, many major museums have undertaken extensive reviews of their own holdings, to identify and publish lists of works with murky provenance during the years around World War II. I have always had mixed feelings about this, because it's arguable whether the time, effort and expense involved in this effort are commensurate with the few cases of restitution that have ensued.
Still, museums have deemed this an appropriate means of helping to right past wrongs, even though (and I believe the museums on this) American institutions were, in most cases, good-faith, innocent purchasers of what later was discovered to be Nazi loot.
Should they do less for unprovenanced antiquities, where purchases, in many cases, were not so innocent? If museums didn't know that something illicit had occurred in unearthing and transporting many of those objects, it wasn't that they were naïve; it was that they didn't want to know.
I must now interrupt this message with a disclaimer: I am raising this question as devil's advocate. If compiling lists of possible Nazi loot was onerous, the task of sifting through hundreds, if not thousands, of ambiguous antiquities is close to impossible. One could limit this to works of a certain level of importance (which are, of course, precisely the works that museums least want to give away). And, for practical reasons, if nothing else, there should probably be a cutoff date: i.e., only works acquired after the effective date of the U.S. Cultural Property Implementation Act, Apr. 12, 1983, could be eligible for inclusion on the list.
This is a very tentative, if provocative, "for-what-it's-worth" proposal. Reasonable people will undoubtedly disagree---including, perhaps, even me!
Museum officials, archeologists, carabinieri---please feel free to BlogBack: email@example.com.
Meandering in Minneapolis
Right again, art-lings: The answer to the question posed in my last post is, of course, Minneapolis, also known as Target City, home to the retail giant's headquarters.
After the more serious members of the press had flown home to file stories, CultureGrrl brought her appetite for culture to the Sunday-morning public opening's pancake breakfast, so that she could faithfully report to you on the "local celebrity pancake flippers," as promised.
William Griswold, above, good-humoredly complained to me about the heat from the griddle and assured me that his culinary qualifications had not been on the table when he interviewed for the directorship of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which he assumed in October.
Who knows what indignities others have suffered to become museum directors? Did Philippe get his start filling crêpes?
The true master of the spatula, though, was Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who flipped his flapjacks up in the air so that they plopped onto the diners' plates. This clearly is a guy with experience in dishing it out.
I had been hoping that the celebrity chefs might have included that nationally known Twin Cities raconteur, Garrison Keillor, but I had heard him broadcasting the night before from Austin, Texas ("I got lost in Austin"), so I knew that was a longshot.
The third cooking celebrity was Miss Black Minnesota (pictured above, in her crown and sash, behind Griddle Griswold)---one of the very few people of color at the museum on this celebratory opening day of free music, games, rides and, oh yes, the opening of 113,000 new square feet, including 34 new galleries in the Target Wing, designed by Michael Graves.
The museum's officials keep emphasizing their desire to involve a diverse community, but they clearly have a way to go in attracting groups outside the usual white, educated, relatively monied museum constituency. (In this, Minneapolis is no different from other traditional art museums.)
Minneapolis is more populist than most, though, in its free general admission policy. Griswold got a big round of applause when he declared at the ribbon-cutting ceremony that admission would always remain free.
I'm duty-bound to save for the Wall Street Journal most of my thoughts on the various art and architectural doings around Minneapolis. But later this week, I'll give you my view on the rocky marriage between high art and high tech, informed by my experiences on this trip.
Thursday, June 08, 2006
Where in the World is Lee Going?
That would be the new Target Wing for 20th-century art, a main attraction at a greatly expanded American museum, opening to the public on Sunday. It's named for the philanthropic mega-retailer. I guess this is not the first wing to bear a corporate moniker (think the London National Gallery's Sainsbury, funded by the supermarket moguls).
This company wing thing suggests many creative marketing opportunities: The Boeing Wing? The Kentucky Fried Chicken Wing?
I am looking forward to meeting “local celebrity pancake flippers,” who, according to the museum's press release, will be plying their spatulas at Sunday's opening bash. Are they celebrities, we wonder, because of their expert pancake flipping, or are they illustrious personnages who flip pancakes for fun on Sundays?
I think I need to stop blogging and do some serious reporting for a few days. Don’t you agree?
(Speaking of links, there are too many here for one trifling item. Well, I'm still learning!)
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
As the Turner Turns
The Dallas Morning News described the Kimbell's Glaucus and Scylla, soon to be returned to the heirs of John and Anna Jaffé, as "priceless." But nothing, Janet Kutner, is priceless---just pricey: Turner's "The Blue Rigi: Lake of Lucerne, Sunrise" fetched ₤5.8 million on June 5, having been estimated to fetch "in excess of ₤2 million." Everything's got a price, no matter how astronomical.
The Kimbell did not raise a paddle for that one, even though it knew about the Jaffé heirs' claim since September and it now owns no Turner. The museum's published provenance for the painting reveals that it was sold at the Hall du Savoy, Nice, France, on July 12 or 13, 1943, for 28,000 francs. That sale was a known auction of "Jewish property" that had been seized by the Vichy regime. The Turner went through five more hands before the Kimbell bought it in 1966. The Kimbell agreed that the heirs had strong documentation and did not put up a fight.
What this episode seems to indicate, though, is that museums should not merely compile and publicize lists of objects in their collections that had murky provenances during and after World War II, but should actively check such lists against inventories of known galleries and auctions that dispersed Nazi-appropriated art.
The newly announced Sotheby's collaboration with the Swift-Find database is one of several Nazi-loot registries under various auspices. One of the best known is the Art Loss Register. But the current online list of unresolved Holocaust claims that have been registered with ALR consists of only three cases.
On a lighter note, Mindy Riesenberg, the Kimbell's head of media relations, told me she has a personal connection to the restitution story:
It looks like I may be related to the family we're returning the painting to, but on the "wrong" side to be able to claim a piece of the pie! Oh well, no Turner for me!
Maybe, as often happens, the heirs will ultimately decide to sell the work, and the Kimbell will get another shot at it---but at a price greatly enhanced by the Kimbell's own imprimatur.
Museums' responsiveness to the Nazi-loot issue raises the question as to whether similar procedures should be followed regarding another category of possible loot in their collections---antiquities. This notion is going to get me into so much trouble that I think I'll hold onto it until I return next week from a journalistic journey.
But don't go away: A couple of parting posts tomorrow.
CultureGrrl in Russian???
I have just found a link on the web to what appears to be a Russian translation of my art-market post that appeared yesterday. The Russian-language site also includes readers' comments about that post.
Is just another indication that Russians are big art-market players?
So, to all you Russian oligarchs who are fans of CultureGrrl: What does this say? (And if you're the guy who bought Picasso's "Dora Maar With Cat," do let me know who you are!)
Translations or paraphrases gratefully accepted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
BlogBack: An Admirer of the High
First up---Baxter Jones, a lawyer, art collector, member of the board of the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center and member of the Contemporary Art Society, a support group for the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. He inaugurates CultureGrrl's BlogBack with a compelling defense of his hometown museum:
I live a few minutes' walk from the High Museum, and I visit it often (and pass by it several times a week). I have to say that your description of Renzo Piano's recent addition as a "flop" struck me as bizarre. (Is "flop" just the sort of overstatement one makes to get attention in the blogosphere?) Well, I love it, and I notice people truly relishing the spaces, from the piazza (especially at night) to the light-filled contemporary art galleries on the top level.
Another favorite area of mine is on the lower level, the serene galleries for works on paper and African art. I haven't fully made up my mind about the galleries for temporary exhibitions; they were designed for maximum flexibility, so they don't have much particular character of their own. But then, one of the complaints about some museum spaces has been that the snazzy architectural touches distract from the art; Piano has made a name for designing spaces which put the art in the foreground, and I think that's what we got.
I'll never lose my affection for Richard Meier's 1983 building - it is a more beautiful sculptural work than Piano's building. However, some curators I know talk about the challenges of installing some work there (in the Meier building). I feel lucky that we have both buildings.
As for the Louvre Atlanta project, your contention that few of the works will come from the Louvre's "A-list" is also odd. First, the Louvre's B-list would be pretty fabulous. Second, some people in France are pretty upset about the high quality of works which will be leaving Paris for an extended time.
I could say more about the Louvre exhibit, but I'm concerned that the media attention for it will obscure the other aspects of the museum's exhibition schedule (such as the Morris Louis show). It's a paradox: the MSM love to scold museums (especially museums outside New York) for "blockbusters," but just try to get the same media to notice, or write about, a smaller, thoughtful, less flashy show!
The High does do some wonderful shows, curated in-house, which are not anyone's idea of a blockbuster. But you're unlikely to hear about them, because, as I say, they're ignored by the media (and blogs) outside Atlanta.
This intelligent, reasoned dissent sets the standard for BlogBack. You may not curse CultureGrrl on her blog, but you can heatedly disagree with her. I may edit, with your approval, for brevity, clarity and civility. Send BlogBacks, not brickbats, to: email@example.com.
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
The Art Market is Not the Stock Market
I have no patience for financial-world operators who think they can crank out useful analyses of the art market by relying on their usual habits of number-crunching and indexing. Skills in picking hot stocks are, thankfully, not applicable to picking "hot" artists. Financial analysts should stick to what they know. In developing a collecting "strategy," there's still no substitute for having art knowledge, lots of viewing experience and a good eye (or at least engaging an adviser who possesses these qualities).
This diatribe is occasioned by Linda Sandler's piece today in Bloomberg:
Art Prices May Falter If Global Economy Slows, Survey Shows
To which CultureGrrl replies: DUH!
Sandler reports on the findings of ArtTactic, Ltd., founded by Anders Petterson, a former JPMorgan Chase bond trader, "who applies stock-market-style analysis to art trends and sells research to art buyers and sellers."
These art-market surveys and indexes---and there have been lots of them---almost always fall apart once you examine their methodology. In this case, we learn that "the views of about 105 collectors, including entrepreneurs and financial people---a few from Petterson's JPMorgan days---plus 45 dealers, auctioneers, advisers and art commentators" provide the basis for ArtTactic's sweeping pronouncements.
In particular, I have no confidence in ArtTactic's survey of "confidence in individual artists." Sandler informs us, without a trace of derision:
Cindy Sherman, Maurizio Cattelan, Takashi Murakami, Marlene Dumas and Elizabeth Peyton have all risen in the ranks since November. Collectors have become less bullish about Franz Ackermann, Kai Althoff, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Rosemarie Trockel and Luc Tuymans.
Quick, call you broker! Short those Chapmans! Peyton's the place!
Where in the World is the Guggenheim?
So must it be, on a much grander scale, with the major architects who squandered long hours designing speculative art palaces to fuel the Guggenheim Foundation director's undying global ambitions---most notably, Jean Nouvel in Rio and Zaha Hadid in both Tokyo and Taichung, Taiwan. The Rio and Taichung projects were sunk by political opponents. The Temporary Guggenheim planned for Tokyo lost life-support when its private sponsor pulled the plug, according to Patrik Schumacher, a principal partner in Hadid's firm.
Krens undoubtedly feels some obligation to make it up to his growing stable of disappointed architects by finding something else equally exciting for them to imagine. Hence, Nouvel recently told me he was talking to Krens about a possible project in Abu Dhabi and Hadid revealed at the press conference for her current Guggenheim retrospective that she and Krens were "shopping around" for other collaborative projects. "I don't know if Tom wants to say more."
He didn't. But he did tell me afterwards that the only Guggenheim satellite currently in the works is Enrique Norten's design for Guadalajara, Mexico. Schumacher told me that Hadid and Krens are focusing on a project for a specific locale, which he declined to identify.
So what of all the rumored incipient Guggenheims in Moscow, Singapore, Bucharest, Hong Kong, etc.? Anthony Calnek, the Guggenheim's deputy director for communications and publishing, said that there are only "two live projects [Guadalajara and Hong Kong] for which the Guggenheim Foundation has actually conducted feasibility studies," but rumors of a new branch are sparked whenever Krens visits a foreign country to negotiate "exhibition contracts, loans or other museum business."
As for Hong Kong:
We are still officially part of Dynamic Star's bid package for the West Kowloon Cultural District, but for some time, the bid process itself has been held up by the Hong Kong government. We're hopeful that the project will move forward. But if not, we have a side agreement with the Pompidou Center to pursue other opportunities in Hong Kong together.
Similarly, Guadalajara, Calnek revealed, is far from a done deal:
The Guggenheim Foundation completed the contracted feasibility study for Guadalajara some time ago. The civic leaders there believe strongly in the project, and are actively trying to raise the necessary financial and political support. We hope they'll succeed, but we have no way of really knowing. The financial implications are all laid out in the study. If the city succeeds in raising the money,the Foundation will enter into negotiations with them about going forward with the museum.
Krens still also harbors hopes of a grand new Guggenheim in Manhattan, as he made clear in his appearance Jan. 3 on the Charlie Rose Show (click on the Jan. 3 press release).
I happen to believe that Krens is a brilliant architectural client---finding the perfect practitioner for the job and goading that architect to do his or her best work. These collaborations, whether or not they get off the drawing board, result in such envelope-pushing designs that the architect's prestige and commissions get a healthy boost.
But in vainly trying to repeat his triumph in Bilbao, Krens can't quite get it through his head that the Guggenheim Museum doesn't travel well. It is resisted by some powerful players in foreign countries as an exploitative interloper, trying to get rich by foisting an American brand of cultural enlightenment on the natives. The secret to the Guggenheim's success in establishing a beachhead in Spain is the lowkey, businesslike Juan Ignacio Vidarte, who has been the Guggenheim Bilbao's director from the beginning. A former Basque government bureaucrat with no art background, Vidarte firmly believes in the importance of his museum and is a master of the art of navigating political minefields.
Krens needs an outlet for his undeniable architectural acumen, and I hope he finds it. But he should stop tarnishing the Guggenheim "brand" in a succession of failed foreign forays. Instead of vaunting these follies, in an exhibition soon to open in Bonn, he should learn from them. Under Lisa Dennison's direction, the flagship Guggenheim in New York is getting back to curator-driven, collection-focused basics. Sometimes being a resourceful realist beats being a visionary.
Monday, June 05, 2006
A Retrospective of Guggenheims
The all-star line-up of architects includes: Asymptote, Shigeru Ban, Coop Himmelb(l)au, Frank Gehry, Richard Gluckman, Vittorio Gregotti, Charles Gwathmey, Zaha Hadid, Hans Hollein, Arata Isozaki, Rem Koolhaas, Enrique Norten and Jean Nouvel.
Oh yes, and Frank Lloyd Wright.
So many projects, so little built.
Hadid: Diva Indeed
He doesn't know the half of it.
After the unusually elaborate press conference preceding the press preview, she started up the ramp but stopped short almost immediately, at the double-height gallery that displayed her earliest work.
Whereupon, in full view of members of the press, she proceeded to throw a diva's fit.
For starters, some of the work was not hung to her liking. "That has to come down," she insisted. Someone said he'd "see what we can do." "Don't see what you can do. It HAS to be done," she shot back.
The glass top of her table was upside down, she repeatedly complained. This seemed a legitimate gripe, because its irregular shape, as installed, did not fit properly over its base, which jutted out beyond the glass.
She also wanted her furniture moved away from the wall, so that people could circle around and view the backs.
Despite all this, Hadid could not have been too displeased with a show that turned over the entire rotunda to her mostly unrealized plans. Patrik Schumacher, a principal partner in her firm, told me that of some 85 projects in the show, only about 12 had actually been built and a few more were "ongoing."
Hadid also got to mess around with Frank Lloyd Wright, in another of the Guggenheim's provocative "interventions" to reinvent or subvert Wright's notoriously challenging exhibition space. On the upper ramps, she hid Wright's bays behind new curvy walls and jutting display cases.
Thomas Krens, director of the Guggenheim Foundation, brashly predicted at the press conference that this show's attendance would top the record-breaking crowd for the Guggenheim's glorious Frank Gehry show. Fat chance. While Gehry's retrospective was substantive, alluring and mostly composed of real buildings, Hadid's seemed padded: Her few built projects kept reappearing---in different forms (models, drawings, photos) at different points up the ramp---in an installation that was billed as chronological but that actually kept jumping back and forth in time.
Even more problematically, the show did not make it clear that the vast majority of the plans have remained just that. This could have been remedied by just one word on each of the relevant labels: "Unbuilt."
This is not to deny the considerable achievements of this first Pritzker Architecture Prize-winning woman, whose Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati has been widely acclaimed. It's just to say that this bloated show seems more a promotional offshoot of Tom Krens' undying dreams of a Global Guggenheim than a fitting measure of Hadid's accomplishment.
More on this tomorrow.
Saturday, June 03, 2006
Next Week: Where in the World is the Guggenheim?
Ivy-League Art--Part II
Both Cornell's art museum and the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections of its library make a point of encouraging the public to savor close encounters with a wide range of treasures---those on view and those in storage. Last summer, for example, I enjoyed a week of hands-on print perusals led by curator Nancy Green, under the auspices of Cornell Adult University (courses and travel programs open to all, not just alums). Pulling out impressions from Dürer to Kushner, Nancy armed us with magnifiers and sharpened our eyes.
The Johnson will provide even greater public access to its collections in its planned new study center, designed by the firm of I.M. Pei, who designed the original building. The new center will feature an open storage facility, permitting visitors "to gain access to hundreds of pieces of art that previously were inaccessible," Robinson says.
As for the Cornell Library's new Native American trove (discussed in yesterday's post), some 1,300 rare books and 100,000 pages of manuscripts will be digitized and posted on the Web. So, although the scholarly material has now been separated from the panoply of objects held and displayed by the National Museum of the American Indian, it will probably gain wider digital dissemination and more intense, serious scrutiny in its university setting.