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Why Did the Attorney General Cave in Berkshire Museum Case? My Q&A with the Rockwells’ Lawyer

Those, like me, who were caught off-guard by the astonishing deal (now awaiting court validation) cut last month by the Berkshire Museum and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey feel justifiably blindsided by the AG's about-face. With scant explanation, she pivoted from a seemingly adversarial stance towards the museum's deaccessions of the cream of its collection to acceptance of the shameful sell-offs, notwithstanding the fact that they would run afoul of professional standards and would violate what the AG had deemed to be … [Read more...]

Berkshire Museum in Court: Pointed Questions, No Resolution (plus, a push for a deaccession law)

While the Berkshire Eagle's Larry Parnass rushes off to file his story on the just concluded court hearing on the Berkshire Museum's art-sale plans, let's interpret what we've learned from Larry's live tweets on how the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court proceedings went. No decision or course of action was proffered today by Justice David Lowy, who could allow the art sales to proceed, with or without certain restrictions, or could refer the case to the full court for more expansive consideration. Further delay would likely cause the … [Read more...]

Court Hearing/Protest Demonstration: Crucial Week in Berkshire/La Salle Deaccession Deliberations

Coming to a boil this week, the heated controversies over the fate of endangered collections at two small, little-known museums pose a huge potential threat to museums around the country. And there's only one sure way to arrest this downward spiral. Tomorrow (Tuesday) at noon, an hour-long cy près hearing will be held by Justice David Lowy in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that may determine whether it would be "impossible or impracticable" for the Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, MA, to remain financially viable and fulfill its mission … [Read more...]

Fallen Giants: Richard Meier at Cornell University & the Getty Center (and other besmirched luminaries)

"He's a giant. We are all basking in the glow of his legacy." So said Kent Kleinman, Cornell University's Dean of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, as quoted in a Cornell Chronicle article about architect Richard Meier's visit to his (and my) alma mater. "For him to come back and share his life as an architect with the next generation of architects is really an incredible privilege," Kleinman gushed. That was in October 2012, when Meier sat in on a studio class co-taught by Assistant Professor Caroline O'Donnell, the … [Read more...]

“Plundering the Art Museum”: La Salle University Faculty Senate Blasts Planned Art Sales (full text) UPDATED

In a statement approved unanimously by those attending its Mar. 6 meeting, the Faculty Senate of La Salle University, Philadelphia, blasted the proposed sale through Christie's of 46 highlights of from the collection of the institution's art museum. The proceeds would go towards implementing a five-year strategic plan, "Momentum: 2022," that the university says will "position [it] for growth and sustainability, and further enhance student experience and outcomes, and innovation in teaching and learning." The Faculty Senate statement was … [Read more...]

Bible Bumble: Copy Confusion Muddles Museum of the Bible

My belated visit to the three-month-old Museum of the Bible (MOTB) during my recent Washington sojourn began inauspiciously and went downhill from there: When I asked the woman at the ticket counter where I should begin my journey through the galleries, she advised that I skip the top floor and work my way down from the floor below. I wisely disobeyed those instructions, once I learned that the floor I was encouraged to skip featured an exhibition of some 800 objects on loan from the Israel Antiquities Authority's National Treasures. This … [Read more...]

Far Out! Psychedelia at Metropolitan Museum’s “Golden Kingdoms” (with video)

In a tweet today, Joanne Pillsbury, the Metropolitan Museum's curator of the Arts of the Ancient Americas, called attention to one of two miniature objects that caught my eye (perhaps for the wrong reasons) at yesterday's press preview for Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient America, which received deserved acclaim during its recent run at the Getty Museum. Here's Joanne's tweet: Raise the conch-shell trumpet! #GoldenKingdoms opens to the public @metmuseum on Wednesday, February 28th! — Joanne … [Read more...]

My Storify from the Obama Portraits Event: Eclectic Crowd, Controversial Art

In case you still have an appetite for more about the Obama portraits unveiling and installation, here's my Storify of live tweets from the scene: [View the story "The New Obama Portraits at NPG" on Storify] … [Read more...]

“Respect” Not “Hagiography”: How National Portrait Gallery Sizes Up Obama & His Predecessors

In pithy new blurbs, the National Portrait Gallery's revamped and reinterpreted "America's Presidents" installation strives to tell each former officeholder's "unique stories of both triumph and failure" (in the words of the introductory wall text). The individual labels for the portraits of our 44 previous chief executives explore both the heights and depths of their terms in office. To the best of my knowledge, most members of the national art press who attended last week's unveiling of Barack and Michelle Obamas' portraits in the … [Read more...]

Obama Drama: Unveiled, Hung and Exiled (with video)

More on this here. "It’s kind of amazing to think that [the Obama portraits] will be living next to the other portraits [emphasis added] of all of the other presidents and first ladies," Rujeko Hockley, assistant curator at the Whitney Museum, gushed in an interview with The Nation about the latest presidential commissions by the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery. Sad to say, Ru, Barack Obama is not actually "next to the other portraits" of the U.S. Presidents. As you will see in my video, below, he's tucked away behind … [Read more...]

Berkshire Debacle: The Attorney General Caves

Read it and weep. The Massachusetts Attorney General has acceded to a plan for the Berkshire Museum to sell as many of its 40 deaccessioned works as necessary to come up with the $55 million that it says it needs for endowment and capital projects.  Already spoken for is the most valuable and beloved of those works, Norman Rockwell's "Shuffleton's Barbershop" (below). According to the Complaint for Equitable Relief filed by the Berkshire Museum trustees today in Supreme Judicial Court of Suffolk County, an unidentified nonprofit museum … [Read more...]

The Guggenheim’s Potty Humor: What Art is Flowing to Trump’s White House? UPDATED

Nobody can have been shocked to learn that the White House had no interest in the Guggenheim Museum's provocative offer to lend Maurizio Cattelan's golden throne, instead of the van Gogh that the museum had requested. The Gugg's goofy gaffe, which Nancy Spector, the museum's artistic director and chief curator, surely knew was a non-starter when she dispatched her written offer, raises two questions: ---What exactly does the White House want to borrow from museums? ---More importantly for museum-watchers: What was Nancy Spector … [Read more...]

Berkshire Museum Saga: Proposed Agreement to Resolve Art-Sale Dispute Expected Soon in Court UPDATED

It looks like an agreement may be in the works (subject to court approval) between the Berkshire Museum's trustees and the Massachusetts Attorney General, regarding the museum's controversial deaccessions. Details are to be revealed in Massachusetts Supreme Court on Friday "or shortly thereafter." That's when the parties plan to file a joint "petition for judicial relief," which the AG has pledged to support. In a joint status report filed by the AG and the museum's trustees late today in Massachusetts Appeals Court, the museum committed … [Read more...]

Cole’s Roles at Metropolitan Museum: Hudson River School Progenitor, Environmentalist Precursor

The Metropolitan Museum's just opened Thomas Cole's Journey: Atlantic Crossings (to May 13) is easy on the eyes and a balm to the spirit. But it also sounds a warning that gained new resonance with President Trump's did-he-really-say-that moment in the State of the Union address on Tuesday, when he unexpectedly extolled "beautiful clean coal." Cole's coal is more bane than boon, giving his lovely landscapes an edgy timeliness in an era when climate-change theories are becoming reality. All photos by Lee Rosenbaum Having journeyed from … [Read more...]

AAMD’s Midwinter Agenda: Auction-House Presentation, but No Deaccession Deliberation? UPDATED

In yesterday's post, I predicted there would be "a lot of thinking about the unabated deaccession crisis at the midwinter meeting of the Association of Art Museum Directors, which begins next Monday in San Antonio"... ...or maybe not. A museum director who is attending the meeting leaked to me the three-day schedule (with speakers' bios) that he has received (a version of which is to be released to the press tomorrow). As of the time that document was disseminated, there was no session on the agenda that specifically addressed the … [Read more...]

Glowering at Lowry: MoMA Director’s Renegade Proposals for Collection Management

While supervising the Museum of Modern Art's second major expansion (here's the first) during his 23-year tenure, director Glenn Lowry has been thinking about how his soon-to-be reconfigured institution should change with the times. If his ideas gain traction elsewhere, he could be a daring (or, to my mind, reckless) disruptor of bedrock principles of museum stewardship. In his eyebrow-raising interview earlier this month with Charlotte Burns for "In Other Words"---an online Sotheby's house organ, aspiring to be journalism---Lowry made … [Read more...]

CultureGrrl Confidential: Leaks from La Salle President’s Student Forum on Art Sales

In explaining why the 46 artworks deaccessioned by La Salle University were spirited away from its museum by Christie's during intersession (while the Philadelphia campus was mostly devoid of students and faculty), Colleen Hanycz, the school's embattled president, dug herself and her institution into a deeper reputational hole. Addressing a student forum about the planned art sales last Thursday, Hanycz offered her response to those who criticized the decision and its execution for insufficient consultation with the university community … [Read more...]

Judaica as “Curiosities”: Are Jewish Museum’s Reinstalled Collection Galleries Good for the Jews?

I had misgivings from the start about Claudia Gould's appointment to the directorship of the Jewish Museum, New York. Her personal and professional backgrounds seemed more suited to directing a contemporary art museum than an identity museum. Showing the art of our time has long been an important part the Jewish Museum's mission, but only one part. At the press preview for the misconceived reinstallation of the museum's permanent collection (opening to the public on Sunday), my misgivings were reinforced, beginning with this introductory … [Read more...]

Pay-to-Play? Maezawa Bankrolls Brooklyn Museum Show of His $110.5-Million Basquiat

Should a museum accept money from a private collector to show a work (or works) from his personal collection? Unless the work in question has been promised to the museum, such arrangements reek of pay-to-play, even if the collector's motives are believed to be altruistic. What are we to think, then, of the deal that will bring this record-breaking auction star to the Brooklyn Museum for a fleeting month-and-a-half "spotlight presentation"? Here's the credit line for One Basquiat, Jan. 26-Mar. 11: "One Basquiat" and surrounding … [Read more...]

Assailing the Sales: La Salle’s Art History Chair Says: “We Were Not Consulted”

With opposition continuing to grow over La Salle University's plan to sell 46 prime artworks from its collection through Christie's to fund non-museum activities, Susan Dixon, chair of the Philadelphia institution's art-history faculty, has circulated a letter lambasting the deaccessions (full text below). So far, I've seen nothing about whether this luminary intends to scrutinize La Salle's plans: When I asked the Attorney General's office if it's on the case, I got this cryptic reply from Joe Grace, its chief spokesperson: We can’t … [Read more...]

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