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“Central to the Museum’s Collection”: Arnold Lehman Blasts the Baltimore Deaccessions

This is the full text of a letter that was sent today by Arnold Lehman, former director of the Baltimore Museum, to Maryland’s Attorney General Brian Frosh and Secretary of State John Wobensmith [emphasis is his]. It speaks (eloquently) for itself: Dear General Frosh and Secretary Wobensmith: My name is Arnold Lehman and I was the director of the Baltimore Museum of Art from 1979 through 1997. I am writing to oppose the deaccession and sale of three of the most significant and outstanding paintings in the collection of the Baltimore … [Read more...]

Baltimore Museum Gets a Formal Letter Calling for a Halt to Planned Sales; Ex-Director Lehman Piles On

The list of opponents to the Baltimore Museum of Art's (BMA's) deplorable deaccessions keeps growing (now some 150 strong). One particularly notable addition is very well known to CultureGrrl readers---Arnold Lehman, former director of the BMA and, subsequently, of the Brooklyn Museum. Here's his recent photo, as found on the current website for Phillips Auction House, which he joined as a high-ranking official some five years ago: Screenshot from Phillips Our Team webpage Meanwhile, former BMA trustee Laurence Eisenstein, the lawyer … [Read more...]

The Battle of Baltimore: Former Museum Trustees Strike Back in the Deaccession Wars

Any museum official tempted to exploit the (so-called) permanent collection as a fungible commodity for bankrolling pet projects (however worthy) and bolstering the payroll should read and take heed of this six-page letter deploring the Baltimore Museum of Art's (BMA's) planned disposals. Signed and dispatched yesterday by former trustees and advisory committee members of the BMA, as well as by various local artworld luminaries, the letter calls upon Maryland's Attorney General and its Secretary of State to investigate the museum as a … [Read more...]

Deplorable in Baltimore: Careening Down the Slippery Slope of Collection Monetization

More on this here. Call me Cassandra. The "slippery slope" of monetizing museum collections, which I previously prophesied would get more dangerous under the Association of Art Museum Directors' temporarily relaxed guidelines, has just been greased. As the planned disposals by the Brooklyn Museum and the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) make clear, some institutions will treat AAMD's lenience as a license to make highly questionable choices---both in how they define the purposes for which deaccession proceeds can be properly applied and … [Read more...]

Philip Guston Bluster: Why It’s Wise to Postpone a Show Depicting Cartoonish Ku Klux Klan Figures

Knowing that I'm sticking my head into a lion's mouth, I feel compelled to strongly disagree with sanctimonious art critics, artists and scholars who have piled on (here, here, here, here and here) against what to my mind was a regrettable-but-necessary decision by four seasoned art museum directors to postpone (not to cancel) their jointly planned Philip Guston Now retrospective. This cautious move is not, as widely characterized, a cowardly act of censorship; it's a matter of responsible stewardship during a time of volatile protests that … [Read more...]

$40-Million Collection-Care Goal: Brooklyn Museum’s 1st Round of Art Sales Under AAMD’s Relaxed Rules

Three months ago, a CultureGrrl tipster wrote to me that the Brooklyn Museum's board was about to vote on proposed deaccessions of seven works (which he identified by type, but not by specific objects), for a "combined total value of $50 million." (The tipster never identified himself to me, and I did not report his unconfirmed information at that time.) Now, the Brooklyn Museum and Christie's have announced plans (as reported last week by Robin Pogrebin in the NY Times) to sell 12 works in next month's sales of European art and old masters. … [Read more...]

“Birkenau” Blunder: Metropolitan Museum Says Richter’s Riffs on the Holocaust are “Poignant”

POIGNANT?!? "Horrific," "Profoundly Disturbing," "Jolting"...but surely not "Poignant." That mild adjective was used by the Metropolitan Museum's communications office in its headline (below) for the press release announcing the display (to Jan. 18) of Gerhard Richter's four paintings from his "landmark 'Birkenau' series" of 2014, in which black-and-white photographic images of inmates who had been killed by the Nazis in the Auschwitz-Birkenau gas chamber were colorfully overlaid and obliterated, using Richter's signature "squeegee" … [Read more...]

Syracuse Refuse: Everson Museum Discards its Pollock to “Address Inequality” & Pursue the New

I've been planning to call out the lamentable decision of the Everson Museum, announced on Sept. 3, to jettison its only Jackson Pollock painting "in order to refine, diversify, and build the museum’s collection for the future" (in the words of the Syracuse, NY, museum's self-justification). Christopher Knight's scathing critique of this "inexcusable move" (his words) in yesterday's LA Times online, bumped this blunder to the top of my to-do list. Below is the oil-on-masonite, small (19¼" x 23¼") early drip painting that made both Knight … [Read more...]

Quick About-Face: Metropolitan Museum Follows Drastic Staff Reductions with Strategic Additions

In previous posts, I suggested that the Metropolitan Museum's radical downsizing of staff through layoffs and retirements (necessitated by the financial hit from the Virus Crisis) might give its current leaders an opportunity to install their own hand-picked team "sooner and less controversially than would have otherwise been possible" [emphasis added]. "Sooner" turns out to be immediately: As I previously stated (here and here), the museum urgently needed an in-house curator with expertise in Native American culture. It had relied on a … [Read more...]

Who’s Leaving the Metropolitan Museum? A Partial List of Retirees

Here we go again... The above headline echos my title for a June 2009 post, reporting on the Metropolitan Museum's staff purge during the Great Recession. So it's with dejected déjà vu that I now regretfully report the imminent departure of some 90 Metropolitan Museum staffers, from departments including security, facilities management, retail, education, conservation, curatorial (and more). They were incentivized to leave by a voluntary retirement program, instituted to help the Met address the economic fallout from the Virus Crisis. A … [Read more...]

Diversity Diversion: Plumbing Museums’ “Pipeline” Problem in Hiring Minorities

It's easy to say that art museums ought to be hiring more minority candidates, and it's also easy to get museums to agree that they should do so. Nevertheless, NYC's cultural institutions have been slow to fulfill those good intentions, according to the NY Times' pesky assessment by Sarah Bahr---Is New York’s Arts Diversity Plan Working? It’s Hard to Tell. Bahr examines the progress (or lack thereof) in meeting the goals set in "CreateNYC: A Cultural Plan for New Yorkers"---a 180-page city government report from 2017 that her article … [Read more...]

Yoko’s Joke: Signs of the Times for the Metropolitan Museum’s Impending Reopening

Either Max Hollein and Daniel Weiss, the director and president of the Metropolitan Museum, were knowing participants in Yoko Ono's mischievous potshot at their august institution, or they fell for her prank. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's the only explanation I can come up with for Max's and Dan's absurdly effusive praise for the conceptual/performance artist's "bold and inspiring work" (as described in the Met's press release) for the museum's grand façade: "DREAM TOGETHER," 2020, Yoko OnoPhoto: Metropolitan Museum The stark aspect of … [Read more...]

Mask Tasks: How Texas Tinterow Pulled Off the Early Reopening of Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

As the Metropolitan Museum prepares to reopen to the public on Aug. 29 (with many other major NYC museums expecting to welcome visitors beginning in late August-early September), the experience of the the first major U.S. art museum out of the re-starting gate---the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which intrepidly invited its public back three months ago---is an object lesson on how it might (or might not) work for others. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's reopening riff on its Modigliani---"Léopold Zborowski," c. 1916, which became a viral … [Read more...]

Consciousness Raised, Budgets Cut: Irreconcilable Imperatives at Metropolitan (& other museums)

I have to hand it to Holland Cotter: For better or worse, the NY Times' co-chief art critic was right. I was wrong. In criticizing as "shockingly tone-deaf" Cotter's 3,000-word think piece published almost five months ago, I had opined that his sweeping plan for reinventing museums during their pandemic-related closures was a non-starter at a time when "museums have to tighten their belts and regain their footing before taking on new risks." Wangechi Mutu, "The Seated III," 2019, one of four sculptures by the female Kenyan artist … [Read more...]

NY Times Department of Corrections—Hillary Clinton/Maureen Dowd Edition UPDATED

The Twitterati collectively rubbed their eyes and raised their eyebrows yesterday when the NY Times' Opinion page tweeted a hoot that couldn't be blamed on the social-media staff: The mistaken posting accurately reproduced an astonishing error that appeared online yesterday (Saturday) in an Op-Ed column by Maureen Dowd, and was published in the "Sunday Review" section of today's hardcopy of the newspaper: Give Hillary Clinton a break! Where were the NY Times' copy editors when Dowd really needed them? Hillary won the internet yesterday … [Read more...]

Salort-Pons’ Response: Detroit Institute’s Director Tussles with Anonymous Detractors

Showing a courage and candor that’s been in short supply among museum officials who are navigating the choppy waters of racial tensions, political unrest and economic difficulty, Salvador Salort-Pons, director of the Detroit Institute of Arts, has publicly engaged with the issues raised in a petition calling for his removal. Salvador Salort-Pons Photo: Detroit Institute of Arts In their petition, DIA Staff Action—a self-described group of unnamed current and former DIA staffers—decried “years of a hostile work environment.” … [Read more...]

Nyerges on the Purges: Virginia MFA’s Director Defends Bondil, Himself, Other Beleaguered Leaders

Already battered by the economic ills inflicted by the global pandemic, many art museums suddenly find themselves barraged by attacks from aggrieved staffers and former employees accusing the higher-ups of racism, harassment and micro-aggressions. Striving to quell the unrest, art museum officials have pledged to do better and, in some cases (notably at the Metropolitan Museum and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) have promulgated detailed plans for anti-racism training and for initiatives to improve their institutions' equity and … [Read more...]

Bondil Ordeal: Another Face Off Between a Prominent Museum Official & Staff

True to her outspoken nature, Nathalie Bondil, the summarily sacked 13-year director of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, is not going quietly. Having gotten a taste of her feistiness and grit during a meeting we had three years ago in New York, I'm not surprised. Bondil, who joined the museum in 1999 as curator of European art, became its chief curator the following year and its director in 2007. She accumulated a profusion of honors for her accomplishments, including the Legion of Honor (France's highest national distinction) and the Order … [Read more...]

Garrels Quarrels: BlogBacks on My Defense of SFMOMA’s Deposed Curator

After posting my contrarian defense on Tuesday of Gary Garrels, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s distinguished (now deposed) senior curator of painting and sculpture, I ducked, anticipating a pile-on of invective. Instead, I got confirmation of what I've always known: I've got a classy readership---intelligent, civil and reasonable...even while contesting my contentious views. Here's one detractor who, from his informed comments about my blog, is clearly a devoted CultureGrrl reader---Peter Kuntz, formerly an official of the … [Read more...]

Garrulous Gary Garrels: The Thought-Police Nab Another Unguarded Curator

In the second of what threatens to become a series of parlous CultureGrrl posts, I'm again risking the wrath of the thought-police by coming to the defense of another consummate museum curator who has had the misfortune of wandering into the cancel-culture crosshairs. Joining Keith Christiansen, the Metropolitan Museum's chairman of European paintings, in this predicament is Gary Garrels, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's senior curator of painting and sculpture, who on July 9 precipitously announced his resignation, effective July … [Read more...]

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