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VISUAL ARTS - February 2002

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Thursday February 28

TATE PUTS TURNER ONLINE: "The Tate gallery, with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, opens online access to the entire Turner Bequest on Friday. The bequest was given to the nation after the painter's death in 1851 and contains nearly 300 paintings and over 30,000 watercolours and drawings - normally kept in the vaults of Tate Britain and seen only on request." BBC 02/28/02

OBJECTING ON PRINCIPLE: A group in San Francisco has filed suit against the DeYoung Museum's plans for a new building, designed by Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron. "The lawsuit filed by People for a New de Young contends that the new museum will urbanize Golden Gate Park, hurt its historical value, increase traffic and cast shadows on a nearby children's play area. The suit alleges that the project violates the California Environmental Quality Act, the Golden Gate Park master plan and the city's general plan." San Francisco Chronicle 02/15/02

ANOTHER OFFBEAT BIENNIAL: This year's Whitney Biennial is being curated by the museum's Larry Rinder. His "unabashed enthusiasm for stuff that’s way outside the fine-arts box mean that this year's Biennial promises to be one of its strangest manifestations ever, and perhaps a watershed moment in American art." So what might it look like? "There’ll probably be a lot more of what might be called youth culture or even skateboard culture. I’m really interested in that stuff.” Newsweek 03/04/02

PHILLIPS' NEW OWNERS: The No. 3 auction house has been bought, and many changes are in store. But some auction watchers are dubious: "Unless they have some new and exotic weapon, I cannot imagine how they will succeed against Sotheby's and Christie's. I can't understand how someone would put money into Phillips. They don't have the space or the broad reach to compete." The New York Times 02/28/02

REBUILDING THE AMBER ROOM: The Amber Room in St. Petersburg's Catherine Palace, was once called the eighth wonder of the world - a vast array of mosaics and art panels was presented to Peter the Great by Germany, 1n 1716. During World War II it was dismantled by German troops, and disappeared. Now a team of artists is completing a multi-million dollar restoration. The Moscow Times 02/27/02

Wednesday February 27

LIBESKIND TO DESIGN ROYAL ONTARIO: "A design by the Berlin-based architect Daniel Libeskind, 56, was the winner of a much-scrutinized international competition to revamp the Royal Ontario Museum, at a cost, initially, of $150-million. Museum officials hope the plan, called Renaissance ROM, will increase attendance to 1.6 million a year from 950,000." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 02/27/02

  • WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE? Well, even though the plans sound terrific, the project doesn't have a hope of being built if the federal government doesn't kick in with major support. And so far that hasn't happened. Toronto Star 02/27/02 

TRAGEDY & ARCHITECTURE: "Provoked by the Sept. 11 attack, the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal has postponed its regular schedule of exhibitions to sponsor an architecture lab for much of 2002 inviting research ateliers to respond to the event... Maybe because they live many miles away from New York, in another country, in another language, most of the participating firms have responded to Sept. 11 with architectural metaphor and cool irony." The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 02/27/02

CANADIAN RECORD: The record price for a painting was set Monday night, when Scene in the Northwest - Portrait, an oil painting of Captain Henry LeFroy by artist Paul Kane, "was sold at auction in Toronto for $4.6-million - more than double the previous record for a Canadian painting." National Post (Canada) 02/26/02

Tuesday February 26

POLITICIANS PROTEST ART SHOW: A Birmingham, England city council member has protested a show at a local gallery that "includes work from Santiago Sierra in which the artist pays a standard wage to groups of workers, including prostitutes, to perform 'repetitive and obtrusive' acts. Birmingham councillor Deidre Alden described the video as more like pornography than art and is consulting the police to find out if the exhibition can be stopped." BBC 02/25/02

EL DORADO WAS A REAL PLACE. MAYBE: An Italian archaeologist, teaching in Peru, believes he's found proof of the Incas' fabled city of gold. Ancient documents refer to "Paititi, a very wealthy city adorned with gold, silver and precious stones," which missionaries visited at the end of the 16th century. Thing is, the old documents don't tell where it was. Discovery 02/25/02

THE REVISIONISM OF NOSTALGIA: We may have forgotten - and perhaps it's no longer important - but when the World Trade Center was first proposed in New York City, a lot of people were against it. However, "one by one they were bought off or ignored, and the trade center project proceeded, as projects with the backing of the Rockefellers and The New York Times ordinarily do. But to say that the towers were a symbol that New Yorkers were particularly proud of would be to stretch the point. As is well known, the World Trade Center was unloved by architecture critics and by New Yorkers in general." New York Review of Books 03/14/02

Monday February 25

NEW TAX FOR BRITISH MUSEUMS? British national museums face a new "capital charge" by the government on the value of their assets (excluding their collections). The rate is six percent - for the British Museum, this means a charge of £14 million a year. The museums are protesting the plan, hoping to get the idea killed before it "devastates" their finances. The Art Newspaper 02/22/02

LAST DAYS OF THE BAMIYAN BUDDHAS: Here's a chilling, detailed account of the Taliban's efforts last year to destroy the giant stone Bamiyan Buddhas. "The destruction required an extraordinary effort, so complex that foreign explosives experts had to be brought in and local residents were forced to dangle on ropes over a cliff face to chip out holes for explosives. According to witnesses and participants, the Taliban struggled with ropes and pulleys, rockets, iron rods, jackhammers, artillery and tanks before a series of massive explosions finally toppled the statues." Los Angeles Times 02/24/02

FLASH OR FUNCTION? Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum is to pick the winning design this week for a major $200 million expansion of the museum. Who will win the commission? Observers expect Daniel Libeskind's entry will be chosen because of its theatricality and big statement and potential to draw in the crowds. But some of the museum's senior staff favor another design they believe would better show the collection. Problem is, the public presentation of that entry was poorly done, and failed to fire up anyone's imagination... The Globe & Mail (Canada) 02/25/02

A VALENTINE TO CHRYSLER: "There may be New Yorkers who dislike the Chrysler Building, but they rarely step forward in public. To do so would only invite derision and disbelief. The Chrysler Building is shorter than its fellow art deco triumph, the Empire State Building (which took its place as the tallest building in the world only a few months after the Chrysler's completion), but it looks so much more significant. The Chrysler Building is indisputably the gem of the city's skyline." Salon 02/25/02

Sunday February 24

SAFETY SELLS: Americans may not want to hear it, but evidence suggests that the homegrown works that fetch the highest prices and inspire the most interested bidding at our auction houses are barely distinguishable from the old socialist realist art of the Soviet Union. Complex and beautiful landscapes from the post-impressionist period go for a song, while generic, dime-a-dozen "American realist" paintings rake in the big bucks. European collectors have begun to notice, and are looking to the American auctions as an easy way to snap up great works that are going unnoticed. International Herald-Tribune (Paris) 02/23/02

THE MODERN CONNOISSEUR: There is a difference between being an art lover and being a connoisseur. The former requires only love of art, the latter a deep understanding of what makes art, what differentiates one artist from another, and the context in which a given work exists. But "connoisseurship looks at the end product, while much contemporary art is process-oriented." A new exhibition in Boston aims to upgrade the art world's concept of the connoisseur. Boston Globe 02/24/02

DENVER DONATION: "The Denver Art Museum will have more than a new wing to offer in 2005. An investment banking family has donated a collection of 213 contemporary works that was sought by museums in London and Los Angeles... The gift includes works by Bruce Nauman, James Rosenquist, Antony Gormley and Francesco Clemente, as well as sought-after young artists Damien Hirst, Roxy Paine, Richard Patterson and Cecily Brown." Baltimore Sun (AP) 02/24/02

HUGHES' HALLUCINOGENIC REVELATIONS: "IN 1999, a week into filming [a] television series about Australia, the art critic Robert Hughes was involved in a near-fatal car crash. During the five weeks that he lay in a coma in intensive-care, Hughes became intimately acquainted with the Spanish painter Francisco Goya. He was visited by a series of powerful hallucinations more concrete than dreams, more intense than the LSD experiences that he had sampled when he was younger, in which the Spanish painter appeared to be inflicting a prolonged torture on him." The Telegraph (UK) 02/23/02

THAT'S ALL, FOLKS: "Oscar-winning cartoon animator Chuck Jones, who brought to life a host of cartoon characters including Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, has died in California of heart failure. He was 89." BBC 02/23/02

Friday February 22

ARNAULT BAILS ON PHILLIPS: When Bernard Arnault's LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton acquired Phillips auction house in November 1999, "reportedly for $115 million," Arnault made an aggressive play to overtake the larger but troubled Sotheby's and Christie's. It didn't work, and now the opportunity has apparently passed, so LVMH is selling its stake in Phillips. International Herald Tribune 02/20/02

FOSTER AT THE TOP: Norman Foster is arguably Britain's most-successful architect ever. "He has achieved this as a modernist architect in a notoriously conservative country, a mere decade after the traditionalism of Prince Charles seemed all-conquering and as an outsider in this allegedly class-ridden land. How? The short answer is talent and determination. Yet these alone cannot explain his appeal to institutions as diverse as the British Museum, Wembley Stadium, Sainsbury's, the Royal Academy and the mayoralty of London. It would be nice to believe that they have all suddenly converted to beautiful and radical architecture; nice but, alas, not plausible." Prospect 023/02

Thursday February 21

STOCKHOLM ART THEFT: Five paintings, including a Brueghel, were stolen over the weekend from an arts and antiques fair in Stockholm. "The paintings, worth over £1.7 million, were part of the stock of an international art dealer." The Guardian (UK) 02/20/02

REOPENING THE MILLENNIUM: More than a year and a half after it opened and then abruptly closed again when an alarming sway was detected, Norman Foster's Millennium pedestrian bridge across the Thames is to reopen this week. "Engineers claim to have cured the jitter that made the £18.2 million structure, dubbed 'the blade of light' by its creators Norman Foster and the artist Anthony Caro, an instant hit." On the day of its first opening, 160,000 people thronged across it. The sway was in part blamed on the practice of crossing pedestrians to cross in lockstep with one another. The Guardian (UK) 02/20/02

THE MEANING OF TALL: "Though the music, poetry, painting, discourse, and dance in which cultured New Yorkers take justified pride are rarely born in skyscrapers, we're forced to ask again what these steel, glass, and stone behemoths contribute to the life of this city. The atrocities committed by Al Qaeda magnified our awareness of the precious contents of what might appear at first as mere mountains starkly rising from the landscape." Village Voice 02/20/02

Wednesday February 20

THOSE KANSANS, ALWAYS STEALING 20TH CENTURY MASTERPIECES: "A painting found in a Kansas postroom last month has been authenticated as a Marc Chagall stolen last year from the Jewish Museum in New York. The Russian painter's Study for Over Vitebsk, is believed to be worth $1 million." BBC 02/20/02

CLOSE CALLS: Art historians have weighed in on David Hockney's theory that great artists used a mechanical device to aid their plotting of pictures. But Chuck Close, an artist who knows a thing or two about projecting portraits over large surfaces says: "It doesn't upset artists to find out that artists used lenses or mirrors or other aids, but it certainly does upset the art historians. Susan Sontag said something really funny...she said to find out that all her art heroes cheated and used aids, lenses and things like that, is like finding out all the great lovers in history used Viagra. And you know that doesn't bother me. I don't care what they used to make whatever they wanted to make." Artzar 02/02

INSIDE OUTSIDERS: The phenomenon of "outsider" art has gained traction in recent years, to the point that the definition of "outsider" has been stretched to the point that no one seems particularly sure what it means. And in today's media-saturated world, where self-promotion is as easy as getting a web site, has the whole concept become outdated, as outsiders in the art world become the rule rather than the exception? Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 02/20/02

BRAGGING RIGHTS: Who invented the postcard? Until this week, "the world had laboured under the impression that the greeting card was a German or Austrian innovation, although the Americans had also claimed to be first. But the postal historian Edward Proud has finally proved conclusively that the postcard bears the stamp of British genius." The Guardian (UK) 02/19/02

AMBER FAVES SUSTAIN: It was nearly sixty years ago that retreating Nazi troops ransacked the Tsar's fortress outside St. Petersburg, and carted off some of the world's great works of art, as well as two huge amber panels that adorned the palace's Amber Room. Now, after much painstaking recreation and bitter feuding between the German and Russian governments, the panels have been rebuilt, and the Amber Room is nearly back to its original glory. Nando Times (AP) 02/19/02

CANADIAN ARTIST DIES: "The painter Paterson Ewen died [this past weekend] in his London, Ont., home, his system succumbing at last to the combined effects of his many years of alcohol abuse and the heavy medications that kept body and soul together through decades of emotional suffering and relentless striving... Ewen's trademark works were large panels of plywood gouged with a router and then roughly worked over with pigment to describe sweeping vistas animated by cosmic events." The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 02/20/02

Tuesday February 19

BRINGING HOME THE BACON: When painter Francis Bacon died in April 1992, "he left everything - an estate valued at some £11 million, including the mews studio in South Kensington - to John Edwards, an illiterate East London barman. Why? In the years since, Bacon's legacy has proven to be complicated. The Telegraph (UK) 02/19/02

JOAN OF ARCHITECTURE: Phyllis Lambert's father already had an architect picked to design New York's Seagram's building. Lambert was 27 at the time, and protested. "She picked Ludwig Mies van der Rohe instead. His bronze-covered Park Avenue Seagram Building turned out to be his signature building, an aesthetic triumph and a world landmark." Some 50 years later, she reflects on the course of architecture since. Chicago Tribune 02/19/02

ART COLLECTING FOR DUMMIES: Putting together a decent art collection is easier than you might expect, and less expensive. For instance, consider the pieces currently on sale at Sotheby's in New York. Selecting judiciously from among them, you could assemble quite a nice starter set for a quarter-million or so. Forbes 02/13/02

Monday February 18

CYBER-COLLECT: The Guggenheim has acquired its first internet art for the permanent collection. But "how do you collect art that exists everywhere — and yet nowhere — in cyberspace? What does one acquire when there is no tangible object to possess? The artists have conceived two new works, but what they have created is computer code, the underlying set of software instructions that determine what is seen on the screen and how it responds to user input. So what does a museum pay for online art and what does it get?" The New York Times 02/18/02

WHAT BECOMES A MODERN MASTERPIECE? In olden days defining a masterpiece was fairly easy. Not so today. "A 'masterpiece' - in the sense of a supremely well-achieved work - of modern or contemporary art may not look like much. What makes a work great may reside not in the work itself but in its context and how it marshals support from its viewers' awareness of life and time." San Francisco Chronicle 02/17/02

  • IS THERE ANYTHING LEFT FOR ART TO DO? "Last year at the Venice Biennale the U.S.A. pavilion featured installations by Robert Gober, several rooms bare but for a few framed news clippings, empty gin bottles, and a toilet plunger stationed on a plank. What happened? How in the name of Art did we get from the rose window of Chartres Cathedral to Gober's pint bottles?" But you can't just blame the artists. "As a disheartened Delacroix complained in his journal in 1847: 'The traditions are exhausted. All the great problems of art were solved back in the sixteenth century'." American Prospect 03/11/02

TEMPLE TOUTING: The dominant architectural image from the Salt Lake Olympics? The Mormon temple, which dominates the city's skyline. Wherever they are built, the temples stand out. "Mormon temple architecture is most remarkable for its contradictions. The temples are severe but sugary-sweet, traditional but shiny-new-looking, prominent but guarded." Slate 02/14/02

THE BILBAO EFFECT LIVES: The Guggenheim Bilbao drew 930,000 visitors last year, down just slightly from the year before. "The museum with its dramatic architecture therefore continues to be a major draw, attracting people who would otherwise not come to Bilbao. The museum estimates that its economic impact on the local economy was worth Pta28 billion last year (up from Pta24.8 billion in 2000), and it also brought in a further Pta4.5 billion to the Basque treasury in taxes. This represents the equivalent of 4,415 jobs. A visitor survey revealed that 82% came to Bilbao exclusively to see the museum or had extended their stay in the city to visit it." The Art Newspaper 02/15/02

Sunday February 17

ICA DEBATE GETS LOUDER: London's Institute of Contemporary Arts has come in for a great deal of criticism lately, and they're a bit fed up with everyone else thinking they could do better. One week after a London critic accused the ICA of abandoning its edgy, avant-garde past, one of its directors fires back: "At its best, the ICA hasn't simply assumed that it knows what art and culture are; it asked questions about them - and about their relationship to the wider world." The Observer (UK) 02/17/02

NOTHING SPECIAL: In the age of the blockbuster traveling exhibit, museums draw in visitors by declaring nearly every new collection of pieces as a "special" exhibition. But what's so special about them? "Today's special exhibitions are much less special than they ought to be: They often consist of nothing more than a grab bag of pieces pulled out of some other institution's permanent collection." Washington Post 02/17/02

AFRICAN ART FINALLY GETTING ITS DUE? "Up to the late 1980's, almost nobody in the West knew, or wanted to know, about modern and contemporary art from Africa, meaning art that wasn't 'tribal,' that was maybe conversant with Western trends and styles. Then came an exhibition titled "Magicians of the Earth," in Paris in 1989, which mixed young African artists with some of their hip Western and Asian counterparts. Whatever its shortcomings, the show put contemporary African work on the postmodern map and opened a dialogue." A new exhibition in New York attempts to paint the continent with one brush, never a good idea, but also opens the door to American appreciation of African art a bit wider. The New York Times 02/17/02

OPEN PROCESS: "Tuesday night... the Cleveland Museum of Art presented an event that might have been called 'The Mystery of Rafael Vinoly.' The renowned New York architect stood at a drafting table onstage in front of an audience of 1,000 and sketched his initial concept for the expansion and renovation of the museum's cramped and confusing 86-year-old complex. A camera captured every line as it appeared, and the result was projected on a large screen." The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 02/17/02

DIVERSIFYING THE DOCENTS: American museums have long had a tradition of docents, volunteers who lead tours, answer questions, lick stamps, and generally give the place an extra shot of personality. Traditionally, these docents tend to be gentle retirees, soft-spoken and aged. But now, several museums are making a distinct effort to broaden the pool, including younger and more diverse voices in the ranks of these über-volunteers. Los Angeles Times 02/17/02

ART-HOPPING ON THE RISE ACROSS THE POND: With low airfares, free museum admission, and no shortage of high-profile exhibits, cultural day-tripping is becoming a habit for many in the UK and Europe. "Cultural tourism has always existed, of course. The Grand Tour was just an excuse for a lot of well-to-do young people to wander round art galleries, and many travel companies have long placed cultural packages on their books. The permanent collections of galleries such as the Hermitage, Louvre and Prado form a natural part of any artistic itinerary." The Telegraph (UK) 02/16/02

AND NO JUDGING CONTROVERSIES! "One and a half million visitors are expected to flock to Salt Lake for the XIX Winter Olympics to see the world's elite athletes compete in events that include skating, snowboarding and skiing. But organizers of the 2002 Olympic Arts Festival hope that while they are here, many of them will dip into museum exhibitions, dance performances, concerts and theater assembled—and in some cases commissioned—to complement the Games." Los Angeles Times 02/16/02

Friday February 15

THE STRANGE CASE OF THE MISSING CHAGALL: A painting found in an undeliverable package in a post office in Topeka Kansas has been authenticated as a Chagall stolen from New York's Jewish Museum last June. Oddly, the painting had been the subject of a letter "received by the museum and postmarked in the Bronx on June 12. It was signed by an organization called the International Committee for Art and Peace that claimed to have played a role in the painting's disappearance. The letter said the work of art would not be returned until peace came to the Middle East. The F.B.I. said it had no knowledge of such an organization." The New York Times 02/15/02

FOSTER'S BOSTON: The director of Boston's Museum of Fine Arts yesterday unveiled the design for a massive expansion, as envisioned and executed by British architect Norman Foster. First impressions have been favorable, with one local critic gushing that the "brilliant proposal... promises to produce the first great Boston public building of the 21st century." Boston Globe 02/15/02

  • DON'T BUILDINGS COST MONEY? One question that keeps dogging the Boston MFA expansion process still does not have an answer, even after lavish plans for the future of the building have been unveiled: who's paying for all this? But expected opposition to the expansion as a whole from neighborhood activists and preservationists has failed to materialize, largely because the plans do not include any addition to the size of the museum's basic "footprint." Boston Globe 02/15/02

SO IS THIS MUSIC OR ART? OR BOTH? "Sound art" is still a fairly controversial and largely unknown concept, and the fact that it takes place in traditionally silent museums and galleries rather than concert halls probably isn't helping its image. But a new travelling exhibit aims to unravel some of the confusion surounding the medium, and mainstream it as well. "Visitors will witness both the work of artists who create 'instruments' they play during live performances and the work of those who build soundscapes from abstract environments." Wired 02/15/02

POP GOES THE IMAGINATION: Archigram, a group of British pop architects, "never built so much as a kitchen extension, but yesterday the surviving members of the band - Peter Cook, Dennis Crompton, David Greene and Mike Webb - were awarded the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture. A gift of the Queen, the award is made by the Royal Institute of British Architects." The Guardian (UK) 02/14/02

A MODEST PROPOSAL: There have been many ideas about what kind of memorial for the World Trade Center ought to be erected. One artist is floating an idea that is "simple, straightforward, meaningful, and accessible" writes Timothy Noah. In fact, you have to go to the designer's own website even to see a picture of it. Slate 02/13/02

MORE THAN JUST MECHANICS: Yet another whack at David Hockney's theory about device-assisted painting. "The larger question raised by the conjunction of optical technology and art (and one that both Hockney and Falco should perhaps be addressing with more urgency) involves identifying what precisely it was that lenses enabled early modern eyes, and not only those of artists, to see, both physically and in the imagination." New York Review of Books 02/13/02

111-YEAR OLD NYC ARTIST DIES: "Theresa Bernstein, an influential painter and writer whose career spanned nearly 90 years, died Wednesday. She was 111. Bernstein gained recognition in the early 1900s as one of the first female realists, a school of art that depicted often gritty portrayals of people living everyday lives... Also an activist, Bernstein was a founding member of the Society of Independent Artists, a group begun in 1916 to sponsor regular exhibits of contemporary art without juries or prizes." National Post (CP) 02/15/02

Thursday February 14

SMITHSONIAN LAYOFFS: The Smithsonian has laid off 45 employees because of declines in visitors and a $9 million budget shortfall. "The 45 employees all work in administrative areas for the Smithsonian's central offices. This is the second time in five months that the Smithsonian has dismissed workers in the face of declining revenues. In October and November, the institution's business office laid off 60 people who worked mainly in the Smithsonian's gift shops and theaters." Washington Post 02/14/02

JEWISH MUSEUM BOYCOTT: Some Jewish leaders are urging a boycott of New York's Jewish Museum over an exhibition that presents work related to the Holocaust. "The show includes such works as a 'Lego Concentration Camp Set'; a 'Giftgas Giftset' of poison-gas drums bearing the designer logos of Chanel, Hermes and Tiffany; a photograph of emaciated Buchenwald inmates into which the artist digitally inserted himself holding a Diet Coke; and the series of starkly handsome Mengele busts. Some critics have called the artwork "not merely tasteless but morally repugnant." Washington Post 02/14/02

ATTACKING THE V&A: London's Victoria & Albert Museum has come under attack in a report by a parliamentary committee for not attracting enough visitors. "The committee reported that between 1995 and 2000, visitor numbers declined by 22%, and half of those who did attend were from overseas." But the museum says that since admission charges were removed in December, attendance has soared. "Nearly 175,000 people passed through the V&A's doors in December 2001, compared with 43,000 for the same month a year earlier." BBC 02/14/02

THE LONELIEST GALLERY: Years ago Canadian billionaire Ken Thomson opened a gallery on the top floor of a Toronto department store. He's an expert collector of Canadian art, and his collection has important work from the 18th to the 20th Century. If you happen to go, however, you will likely be alone - practically no one visits, and even critics seem to have forgotten it's there. "These paintings leave a melancholy impression. Down below, Bay Street bustles on, but on the ninth floor, time has stopped, art has frozen." National Post 02/14/02

WHEN YOU'VE DESTROYED EVERYTHING, THEN WHAT? A year ago artist Michael Landy set himself up in an old London department store and systematically destroyed all of his physical possessions. He destroyed 7,226 items, including other artists' work and his most prized belongings, and more than 45,000 people came to watch along the way. So what's he up to a year later? "Landy has made little art since Break Down. 'I didn't want to make any work. I didn't want to do anything. I didn't feel the need to." The Guardian (UK) 02/13/02

Wednesday February 13

HIGH COST OF ONLINE ART SALES: Sotheby's says it has lost $150 million in the past two years trying to make a go of an online business. "Now, as part of a continuing effort to slash the mounting costs and increase its range of potential customers, Sotheby's is about to begin a joint venture with the giant American web-based company eBay." The Age (Melborune) 02/13/02

PITTSBURGH CUTS: The Pittsburgh Center for the Arts has laid off its exhibitions curator and canceled all exhibitions after May, including the 2002 Pittsburgh Biennial. Officials blame the cutbacks on a drop in fundraising since September 11 and a looming cash shortfall. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 02/13/02

A MATTER OF SUSTAINABILITY? An Australian artist's average income in 1996-97 was $15,300. A group of 18 cultural institutions yesterday called for an increase in funding for visual arts to $15 million a year. "We have come to a critical point where the sustainability of Australia's visual culture is in serious jeopardy." Sydney Morning Herald 02/13/02

WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE GUGGENHEIM: Some have gone so far as to say that director Thomas Krens 'articulated a vision of the art museum in the 21st century.' But this isn't 'a vision,' it's a ruse masquerading as a wow. The only thing Krens did was cross Museum Mile with Broadway: He created glitzy palaces and high-concept productions dependent on onetime, out-of-town visitors. Now that the museum has fired 90 people and postponed or canceled the Kasimir Malevich, Douglas Gordon, and Matthew Barney surveys (Barney's would have opened next week), the Guggenheim looks a lot less "visionary" and a lot more dubious, with each branch set up to support another branch. The business world calls this leveraging. The street calls it a shell game. I think we can call it reprehensible." Village Voice 02/12/02

THE ART OF THE ART MUSEUM: People have been talking for years about how the modern art museum building has become art itself. Now the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth has put together a show that "tracks the dramatic shifts in museum architecture from the mid-1980s to the present. It features icons such as the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, and the Getty in Los Angeles; mainstream modernist designs by Norman Foster and Renzo Piano, both now working in Dallas; an indecipherable deconstructivist art center by Zaha Hadid; and a strangely compelling blue box by Peter Zumthor in Bregenz, Austria. 'Such an exhibition would have been impossible in the 1960s and '70s, when most museums looked alike; today there is an idiom and an 'ism' for every taste and budget." Dallas Morning News 02/13/02

A SURREAL TIME: "In the United States, Surrealism has always had an imported aura, like fabulously smelly French cheese. The reason is the Surrealists' particular brand of subversion. They were anti-rational Cartesians and atheistic Catholics. They were thrilled by cultivated absurdities and blasphemies—kicks that tend to be lost on pragmatic Americans." The New Yorker 02/11/02

THE ART HOTEL: "The latest hotel amenity is a no-tech one: a serious art collection. It's not a new idea, but an increasingly popular one. The phenomenon is global: The five-year-old Merrion Hotel, the poshest digs in Dublin, even puts out a color catalog of its extensive holdings dating from the late 17th century to now, more than 90 percent of it by Irish artists." Boston Globe 02/13/02

Tuesday February 12

OUTSIDER ART: Documenta is one of the artworld's most important shows of contemporary art. This year it's being curated by Okwui Enwezor, "a man who never set out to be a curator, who never studied art history and whose own talents are more drawn to the written word than to any other form of expression. But then, many now argue that the art world of today needs curators like Mr. Enwezor who come from outside the field and see art as a reflection and expression of political and social changes now under way around the world." New York Times 02/12/02

CROSS-TOWN MOVE: San Francisco's Asian Art Museum is packing up its collection for a move to a new home across town. "Comprising 13,000 works valued at $4 billion, it's San Francisco's greatest art collection and, after real estate, the city's second-most valuable asset." San Francisco Chronicle 02/12/02

Monday February 11

RECORD WEEK AT THE AUCTIONS: Christie's Auction House has had a record sales week. "A series of 19th and 20th century sales made a total of £73.1 million, and record prices for six artists were established. BBC 02/10/02

PARIS' NEW CONTEMPORARY SPACE: The Palais de Tokyo, Paris' new contemporary art space, has opened. The city "has been waiting two years for this new kind of space, its own version of the 'Factory' for the 21st century. From an architectural point of view, the building is unusual, flexible, minimalist, authentic, and it does not try to hide the scars of the past." The Art Newspaper 02/08/02

THE ENRONIFICATION OF MUSEUMS: Raising money for art is good. But the $385 million that Smithsonian chief Lawrence Small has raised in the past two years has "come at a price. Parts of the Smithsonian have been named after Orkin, Kmart, Fuji Film and General Motors. The National Museum of American History is now the Behring Center, after a benefactor's $80 million donation. No fewer than five museum directors have chosen to leave or retire since Mr. Small took office, some in response to the secretary's unscholarly priorities." 02/08/02

  • SELLING YOUR SOUL: Friends of the Smithsonian should cheer the institution's loss of $38 million from a donor last week. "The plain fact, though, is that the deal should never have been done in the first place. Leaving aside the merits of the Spirit of America proposal, it is self-evident that this was bad curatorial policy, pure and simple. In his eagerness to raise cash for his underfunded institution, Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence M. Small made the mistake of transferring basic curatorial responsibilities to someone whose only apparent qualification for assuming them is a well-padded bank account." Washington Post 02/11/02

NAPOLEON IN VENICE: A statue of Napoleon taken from St. Mark’s Square, Venice, is being returned to the city after almost 200 years— "to the outrage of some Venetians who still smart at the memory of Napoleon’s invasion of their city in 1797 and the subsequent fall of the Venetian Republic." The Art Newspaper 02/08/02

CLASSIC LONELY HEARTS: Classical architects are a lonely lot in a world dominated by internationalism and modernism. But a group of architects has formed a "club" to further the cause of classicism. They claim that "traditional and classical architecture has a wide global base of support. It's time for these architects and lobby groups, whatever their backgrounds, aspirations and politics, to stop feeling that they're alone." The Guardian (UK) 02/11/02

Sunday February 10

THE IRRELEVANCE OF A FORMER TEMPLE OF THE AVANT GARDE: Time was when London's Institute for Contemporary Art was a hotbed of creative tension and outrageous experimentation. No longer - "It has become more of a drinking club with a cinema." When the ICA's chairman got removed last week for denigrating the current state of the "avant garde" more than few observers wondered that the ICA still had any relevance in a discussion of contemporary art... The Observer (UK) 02/10/02

  • WRONG MAN, WRONG ROLE: Why did the ICA have someone like Ivan Massow as its chairman in the first place? "Inviting a publicity-seeking self-made millionaire whose views are so out of sympathy with the anti-establishment iconoclasm the ICA supposedly represents is patently absurd. With the best will in the world, a fox-hunting ex-Tory candidate for Mayor of London who once wrote 'there's something about old buildings that makes me want to own and restore them' was never likely to be a convincing champion of the avant-garde." The Observer (UK) 02/10/02
  • Previously: CONCEPTUALLY CONTROVERSIAL: Did Ivan Massow engineer his own sacking as chairman of London's Institute of Contemporary Art? He suggested in an article in the New Statesman that "the British arts world - and conceptual art in particular - was in danger of disappearing up its own arse". He also noted that conceptual art was largely about controversy (and he was being controversial). But maybe he wanted to be fired to hide his failure as a fundraiser... The Scotsman 02/07/02

REATTRIBUTING THE MASTERS: Berlin's Kupferstichkabinett Museum has a prestigious collection of 15th Century Dutch drawings. The museum has recently taken a hard new look at its collection and decided on some surprising reattributions. Interestingly, in the process, copies and copyists are finally getting some new respect. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 02/09/02

PORTRAIT OF A QUEEN: Has any living person sat for as many portraits as has Queen Elizabeth? There have been dozens, hundreds even. Certainly they chronicle her life. But they also reveal society's changing sense of what a portrait painting can do or convey. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 02/09/02

Friday February 8

BRITISH MUSEUM REFUSES ANOTHER RETURN: Hot on the heels of its refusal to repatriate the Parthenon Marbles to Greece, the British Museum is declining to even consider returning a set of looted religious artifacts to Ethiopia. The artifacts, mainly tablets representing the Ark of the Covenant, were nabbed by marauding British troops in 1868. Nando Times (AP) 02/08/02

THE ART OF ENRON: Enron was a major donor to arts causes - particularly to museums in Houston and the Guggenheim in New York. The company also amassed an expensive contemporary art collection. Auction houses are vying to sell it off. Nando Times (UPI) 02/07/02

MAYBE HE COULD'VE SOLD 'EM TO THE BRITISH MUSEUM: Antiquities dealer Frederick Schultz is on trial in New York, accused of trying to sell stolen property belonging to the Egyptian government. The larger subtext of the trial is the desire of international regulators to shut down the segment of the antiquities trade that operates like a cross between Indiana Jones and the characters in The Maltese Falcon, appropriating objects in dubious legal circumstances and reselling them for huge profit. NPR's Morning Edition (RealAudio file) 02/07/02

Thursday February 7

HOW MONA GOT HER SMILE: In 2000, 85 percent of Italians asked what was the most famous painting in the world answered the Mona Lisa. But fame didn't come all at once to Leonardo's masterpiece. For a couple hundred years she was considered just another painting in the Louvre. Building a legend takes time, a series of cultural building blocks that help create an aura. Washington Post 02/07/02

CONCEPTUALLY CONTROVERSIAL: Did Ivan Massow engineer his own sacking as chairman of London's Institute of Contemporary Art? He suggested in an article in the New Statesman that "the British arts world - and conceptual art in particular - was in danger of disappearing up its own arse". He also noted that conceptual art was largely about controversy (and he was being controversial). But maybe he wanted to be fired to hide his failure as a fundraiser... The Scotsman 02/07/02

Wednesday February 6

LOUVRE THEFT: Two candlesticks (worth 30,000 euros) have been reported stolen from the Louvre. The pieces were reported missing in December and after the museum searched through its store rooms the loss reported to police in late January. BBC 02/05/02

  • Previously: BROKEN LOUVRE: The Louvre Museum is a mess, says a new French government audit report. The museum "does not know how many paintings it has, how many staff it employs, or how much time they spend on the job, the report says. It blames the mess on the fact that two-thirds of the 1,800 staff are civil servants. It says the museum is strapped for cash because the state takes nearly half its earnings." The Guardian (UK) 02/01/02

WEARING DOWN BRITISH CATHEDRALS: British cathedrals get more than 19 million visitors a year. But the crush of tourists is damaging the buildings, says a new study. But "although heritage groups are naturally concerned about the negative impact of tourism, the religious community is much more tolerant, arguing that cathedrals are part of living religion and some wear and tear is inevitable." The Art Newspaper 02/02/02

THE OLD GRAY SQUARE AIN'T WHAT IT USED TO BE: In previous times, New Yorkers would gather in Times Square when important events affected the city or country. But now that the area has been spiffed up and saved from its formerly seedy self, the urge to congregate there is gone. "What once made the neighborhood appealing to New Yorkers and visitors is gone - that combination of large and small businesses, rehearsal studios, musical instrument stores, photographers, costume makers, and scenery designers that were part of the surrounding theater district. The remaining historic theaters--saved from demolition only a few years ago - are the only things left there that are truly New York, and even they need a scheduled event to bring people together. Indeed Times Square is no longer an authentic New York place, even if all the digitally dazzling lights and signage give the impression from a distance that it is." Metropolis 02/02

Tuesday February 5

CRITIC HUGHES TO DIRECT VENICE BIENNALE? The Venice Biennale president and the Biennale committee unexpectedly resigned last week. That should clear the way for Time Magazine critic Robert Hughes to be director of the visual arts show (he's reportedly been asked and says he's interested). Meanwhile, director Martin Scorsese, who was asked to direct the biennale's film exhibition, has declined the invitation. The Age (Melbourne) 02/05/02

DONOR TAKES BACK $38 MILLION FROM SMITHSONIAN: Catherine Reynolds, who last year announced a donation of $38 million to the Smithsonian for an exhibit on "individual achievement" at the National Museum of American History, has canceled the gift. The idea had been loudly protested by curators at the museum, who questioned Reynolds' involvement with the project and questioned whether the "Smithsonian hierarchy was putting fundraising ahead of scholarly integrity." Reynolds said, in taking back the offer, that the criticism had changed her mind. "Apparently, the basic philosophy for the exhibit - 'the power of the individual to make a difference' - is the antithesis of that espoused by many within the Smithsonian bureaucracy." Washington Post 02/05/02

DON'T TOUCH THAT LEONARDO: Experts have ruled that restoration of the Ufizzi's The Adoration of the Magi, Leonardo da Vinci's unfinished masterpiece, would damage the painting and shouldn't be carried out. "Critics of the proposed restoration, which was to have begun last spring, see the decision as a moral victory and a personal vindication. More than 30 Renaissance scholars signed a petition just before the work was to begin, pleading that the painting, commissioned in 1481, was far too fragile to be overhauled." The New York Times 02/05/02

ART TO HELP THE POOR: Monks selling three valuable Impressionist paintings donated to them by an anonymous European collector have made £11 million, about £3 million more than pre-auction estimates. "The pictures were given to the St Francis of Assisi Foundation by an anonymous European art collector. Money raised from the sale at Christie's in London will go towards aid projects run by the monks in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Brazil." BBC 02/04/02

  • Previously: MONKS PUT IMPRESSIONISTS ON THE BLOCK: Christie's will auction three Impressionist paintings February 4: Vlaminck's La Seine a Chatou, Renoir's L'Estaque, and Monet's Golfe d'Antibes. They are expected to bring in about $20 million (CDN) for their owner, the Franciscan order of monks. The paintings were donated to the Franciscans anonymously; the auction money will fund projects in Africa and Latin America. CBC 01/31/02

SO QUIT IF YOU DON'T LIKE IT: Ivan Massow has quit as chairman of London's Institute of Contemporary Arts after publicly denigrating the state of contemporary art last week. "The businessman said he was stepping down after losing the support of the board." BBC 02/05/02

  • Previously: APPARENTLY HE DOESN'T LIKE CONCEPTUAL ART: Ivan Massow, chairman of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, says the British art world is "in danger of disappearing up its own arse ... led by cultural tsars such as the Tate's Sir Nicholas Serota, who dominate the scene from their crystal Kremlins. Most concept art I see now is pretentious, self-indulgent, craftless tat that I wouldn't accept even as a gift." The Guardian (UK) 01/17/02

Monday February 4

BROKEN LOUVRE: The Louvre Museum is a mess, says a new French government audit report. The museum "does not know how many paintings it has, how many staff it employs, or how much time they spend on the job, the report says. It blames the mess on the fact that two-thirds of the 1,800 staff are civil servants. It says the museum is strapped for cash because the state takes nearly half its earnings." The Guardian (UK) 02/01/02

NO 9/11 IMPACT: Despite anecdotal evidence, a survey of 134 American museums by the US Association of Art Museum Directors shows that 80 percent have had no drop in attendance since September 11. The Art Newspaper 02/01/02

MOST-VISITED: What show drew the most visitors last year? "Vermeer and the Delft school at the Metropolitan Museum in New York was the most highly viewed show last year with 8,033 visitors a day (554,287 total)." In second place, Jacqueline Kennedy: the White House years at the Metropolitan Museum. The Art Newspaper ranks the most-visited art exhibitions worldwide. The Art Newspaper 02/01/02

DEFENDING THE SMITHSONIAN: Last week Milo Beach, the former head of the Sackler and Freer Galleries in Washington added his voice to those criticizing the Smithsonian's new directions under controversial chief Lawrence Small. Now, Thomas Lentz, the current head of the Freer and Sackler, rebuts Beach. "Many of us who worked with and admire Milo Beach find his recent remarks about the allegedly decreased role of research at the museum puzzling." Washington Post 02/03/02

  • Previously: MAKING THE SMITHSONIAN SMALL: Milo Beach, former director of the Freer Gallery, joins the growing chorus of those who believe that Smithsonian chief Lawrence Small has ruined the Smithsonian: "Judging from recent words and deeds, the present administration of the institution views the life of the mind with astonishing indifference. The secretary, for example, spoke to the assembled staff of the National Museum of American History and left the distinct impression with many that the day of curiosity-driven research was over at the Smithsonian." Washington Post 01/27/02

Sunday February 3

MAKING SCOTTISH GALLERIES WORLD CLASS? Scotland is spending £26 million to refurbish the National Gallery of Scotland and Royal Scottish Academy. The Playfair Project has been "heralded as the country’s most important visual arts event for years," intended to ensure that the galleries "achieve an international status on a par with the Louvre in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York." So why has the ambitious project polarized Scotland’s artistic community? The Scotsman 02/02/02

DUTCH TREAT: What is it about Dutch Master paintings of 3 1/2 centuries ago that has us so besotted? Could it be that we see something of ourselves in the canvases? The Telegraph (UK) 02/02/02

Friday February 1

CRITICAL WRECKAGE: The wreckage of the car art critic Robert Hughes was driving in Australia when he had an accident, has been put on display in an art exhibition at the Perth International Arts Festival. "The car, reduced by wreckers to a block, is being displayed in a perspex box littered with fishing lures, lines and hooks, a crushed pair of spectacles, brake-light fragments and a crumpled beer can. Also in the box is a mangled copy of Hughes' most famous work, The Fatal Shore, as well as a battered edition of The Cooking of Japan, a Time Life book." The Age (Melbourne) 02/01/02

MONKS PUT IMPRESSIONISTS ON THE BLOCK: Christies's will auction three Impressionist paintings February 4: Vlaminck's La Seine a Chatou, Renoir's L'Estaque, and Monet's Golfe d'Antibes. They are expected to bring in about $20 million for their owner, the Franciscan order of monks. The paintings were donated to the Franciscans anonymously; the auction money will fund projects in Africa and Latin America. CBC 01/31/02

AT LAST, GOVERNMENT FUNDS FOR KELVINGROVE: Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow is the most popular British museum outside London, but it had never received any direct government money. Now the Heritage Lottery Fund is contributing £12.7 million ($18 million) to Kelvingrove, part of a £25 million ($35 million) funding plan to renovate the 101-year-old institution. The Times (UK) 02/01/02

BEGIN BY DREAMING: An exhibition of architects' dreams for what should replace the World Trade Center "does not, on the face of it, have much to do with real-world architecture." On the other hand, the process of erecting something on the site will be long and difficult. So starting with imagination (no matter how impractical) is a good way to begin. Washington Post 01/31/02

CHARLES AS GEEK: In 1969, artist David Hockney drew a series of sketches of Prince Charles. They were put away. Now we know why: "They show Charles, then just shy of his 21st birthday, as a gauche, oddly proportioned geek." The Guardian (UK) 01/31/02