Goshen Commotion: Kimmelman’s Belated, Muddled Plea to Save Architect Paul Rudolph’s Masterpiece (with video)

“Where’s Kimmelman?” I had asked the end of one of my many posts (beginning with this one) about the need to save Brutalist architect Paul Rudolph‘s endangered Orange County Government Center, Goshen, NY. Almost three years later, the NY Times‘ architecture critic, seemingly more intent upon writing about urban planning issues than architectural achievements, has at last turned his attention to this:

Paul Rudolph-designed Orange County Government Center Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Paul Rudolph-designed Orange County Government Center, as seen in 2012
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Until now, it has fallen to the Times’ veteran arts writer, Robin Pogrebin, to cover the controversy—a political football in Orange County. As a journalist, not a critic, she could lay out the issues but not argue for the building’s rescue. Influential Vanity Fair architecture critic Paul Goldberger was an early defender.

Now Michael has very belatedly championed this important (but sadly deteriorated) building, which was placed on the World Monuments Fund’s 2012 Watch List of endangered cultural-heritage sites: “Unless county legislators act quickly,” Kimmelman writes, “a paragon of midcentury American idealism will be lost.”

He has thrown his weight behind an offer by architect Gene Kaufman, owner and principal of Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman Architects, to buy Rudolph’s building for $5 million, convert it into an arts center and (if desired by the county) design a new government center on the building’s current parking lot.

According to Kaufman’s 166-page proposal:

The building is an architectural masterpiece whose design will be a major attraction for the artist tenants, who will likely regard it as the most fabulous kind of building they could imagine for producing art….The building is perfectly suited for artist studio and live-work space with only minor renovation work and cost.

Not so fast, says a high-profile local advocate for saving the building: Michael Sussman, Goshen attorney and activist Democrat, argues that Kaufman should pay $15 million, not $5 million, for the building, upon condition that the architect also be awarded a contract to design a replacement Government Center.

As you’ll see at the beginning of my CultureGrrl Video, at the bottom of this post (shot in 2012), Sussman had previously asserted that it was “fiscally irresponsible” to build a new building, and at that time advocated renovating the Rudolph building for its intended purpose.

Attorney Michael Sussman (center, in glasses) at a 2012 Orange County Legislature hearing on fate of Rudolph building Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Attorney Michael Sussman (center, in glasses) at 2012 Orange County Legislature hearing on fate of the Rudolph building
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

My guess is that brutally honest assessments of the Brutalist building’s defects and dilapidation (reflected in an admiring but frank 2012 appraisal by architecture critic James Russell), have led even its staunchest advocates to conclude that some new construction is needed.

County Executive Steve Neuhaus earlier this month vetoed a measure passed by the County Legislature that would have permitted it to consider selling the Government Center. Chris McKenna of the Times Herald-Record detailed Neuhaus’ reasons for opposing Kaufman’s plans:

He argued that Village of Goshen officials’ resistance to the “Orange Arts” plan and the threat of sanctions by state court officials made the proposal unworkable. Court officials have been pressing the county for more than three years to reopen or replace the lost court space in the closed complex.

Neuhaus wants to start work within a few months on a $74-million renovation of the existing building and an expansion that Kimmelman pummels as “an especially soul-crushing glass box.” But first, the legislature gets a chance to override county executive’s veto with a two-thirds majority, an outcome advocated by the Times Herald-Record in its recent editorial.

Kimmelman inadvertently undermines his own credibility by muddling his facts at the end of his article, where he suggests that Orange County legislators (but not the county executive?) head over to New Haven to visit Yale University’s Rudolph-designed Art and Architecture Building (now renamed Rudolph Hall).

His misinformed description of its interior suggests that he too ought to head to New Haven:

Opened in 1963, it [Yale’s Rudolph Hall] was restored several years ago by the firm of Gwathmey Siegel. Ugly partitions and drop ceilings from an unfortunate renovation were stripped away [emphasis added] ….Almost miraculous, the restoration vindicates Rudolph.

Um, not exactly.

When I visited Rudolph Hall in 2012, four years after its 2008 restoration, its effect was hardly “miraculous.” It sported multitude of makeshift “ugly partitions”:

Partitions at Yale University's Rudolph Building, 2012 Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Partitions in vast central space at Yale University’s Rudolph Hall, 2012
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

It also conspicuously featured a “drop ceiling” that was not “stripped away,” as Kimmelman reported, but had been added to the monumental central space, as part of its 2008 Gwathmey Siegel re-do. A discordant bright-white glossy grid, the drop ceiling concealed the heating and cooling apparatus:

Drop ceiling at Yale's Rudolph Building in 2012 Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Drop ceiling at Yale University’s Rudolph Building, 2012
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

As I suggested in this post, this dispiriting result bespeaks an uneasy fit between the form of Rudolph’s structure and its function—a criticism that has also been leveled at his Goshen edifice.

Time-travel with me now back to 2012, when the controversies swirling about Rudolph’s syncopated-cube composition came to a head at an Orange County Legislature public hearing that I attended. Up first: attorney Sussman, followed by a spokesperson for the World Monuments Fund, an architecture student and an irate local attorney, blasting the unsuitability of the courtrooms:

“The Dish” to Fold: Andrew Sullivan’s Blogger Burnout

In yet another sign that Holland Cotter may have been right to debunk “the one-personality blog of yore,” Andrew Sullivan, the widely read and respected creator of The Dish, wrote today that he has “decided to stop blogging in the near future.”

Andrew Sullivan's blogging avatar

Andrew Sullivan’s blogging avatar

Sullivan has posted almost daily for 15 years, leaving his host publication, the Daily Beast, in 2013 to set out on his own.

Here’s why he’s calling it quits:

I am saturated in digital life and I want to return to the actual world again….Although it’s been a joy and a privilege to have helped pioneer a genuinely new form of writing, I yearn for other, older forms.

I want to read again, slowly, carefully. I want to absorb a difficult book and walk around in my own thoughts with it for a while. I want to have an idea and let it slowly take shape, rather than be instantly blogged. I want to write long essays that can answer more deeply and subtly the many questions that the Dish years have presented to me. I want to write a book.

I came close to killing CultureGrrl, so I have some sense of how Sullivan feels. The Art Writers Grant I received this year to support my blogging habit helped convince me to stay the course, while decreasing the frequency of my posts to make time for mainstream-media assignments (and, of course, for CultureGrandson). And my posts have become more “long-form” than the snippets with which I launched this enterprise.

Having lived so much of my life online for almost nine years, I sometimes wonder if I’ve lost my capacity for the long, quiet meditations that Sullivan says he craves. I’ll be interested to follow his professional progress. But I wonder if he will be able to completely resist the instant gratification of online punditry.

Note that Sullivan plans to stop blogging “in the near future.” As I discovered, it’s hard, if not impossible, to decisively pull the plug. What I don’t like about my current situation is that I still feel twinges of guilt on those days when I don’t post.

I’m my own worst taskmaster.

Glenn Lowry as AAMD’s Improbable Expert on “Public Trust”

Sometimes wrongly, but sometimes rightly, Glenn Lowry has a major public-trust problem. That’s why I did a double take when I saw he was one of the panelists for the “Conversation on the Public Trust” at the Association of Art Museum Director’s midwinter meeting in Mexico City (ending today).

Left to right: Lisa Phillips, Jacob Weisberg, Glenn Lowry Photo from Twitter feed of Canadian Art Museum Directors Organization

“Public Trust” panel, l to r: Lisa Phillips, director, New Museum; Slate chairman and political journalist Jacob Weisberg; Glenn Lowry
Photo from Twitter feed of Canadian Art Museum Directors Organization

I did another double take yesterday, when I followed AAMD’s live-tweets from that panel, and read this:

In my follow-up tweet, I asked (rhetorically) if Glenn was speaking as “the voice of experience.” Glenn’s pronouncement, as tweeted by AAMD, hit me personally: I had lost my trust in Glenn eight years ago, and never fully regained it, although I still value his insights and admire his achievements.

Many of the beefs people have against Lowry were aired in what, to my mind, is an unfair, wrong-headed article in the February Vanity Fair, in which the magazine’s “special correspondent,” Bob Colacello (better known as a partygoer and celebrity chronicler than a museum expert), provocatively cast the relationship between Lowry’s Museum of Modern Art and Tom Campbell‘s Metropolitan Museum as a battle for supremacy that Campbell (who explicitly denied the existence of such a contest) was winning. Conflicts make good copy.

I regard Lowry as a resourceful, articulate director who has rubbed people (including some curators) the wrong way when his vision for MoMA’s momentum clashed with theirs. Because I held him in esteem, a 2007 NY Times exposé by Stephanie Strom—Donors Sweetened Director’s Pay at MoMAhit me like a ton of bricks—an impact from which I’ve never fully recovered. When it comes to lapses in ethics and integrity, forgive-and-forget isn’t one of my strong points.

The offending misstep was Lowry’s acceptance of largesse secretly funneled to him (unbeknownst to most of MoMA’s board and, for many years, unreported on its tax returns) by four megabucks donors: David Rockefeller, Agnes Gund, Ronald Lauder and Laurance Rockefeller.

I explained here why what I termed “the Lowry Dowry” was “not just unorthodox, but potentially unethical.” In a follow-up post, I explained how this episode could potentially damage the public’s trust in all museums. I did this more in sorrow than in anger: I felt betrayed.

When Amy Eddings of WNYC surprised me at the end of our detailed conversation on this issue, right after the news broke, with a question on how I felt personally regarding the NY Times revelations, I told her this:

I felt very heavyhearted. I’ve had a long professional relationship with the people at MoMA and with Glenn in particular. I’ve always thought he was a conscientious, very able director. I’ve had some disagreements with some of the things he did, but it really felt like a sock in the stomach to me, just to hear about this.

You can listen to our entire conversation here:

I later learned one reason why those payments had for many years been made secretly, rather than transparently. This did nothing to restore my trust.

Presided over by New Museum director Lisa Phillips, AAMD’s “Public Trust” panel was entirely New York-based. (Its third member was political journalist Jacob Weisberg, chairman & editor in chief of the Slate Group at Slate magazine.)

They ought to have looked further west: Mr. Public Trust, Graham Beal (misspelled in this tweet by Kaywin Feldman of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts), was one of eight retiring art museum directors at the meeting who (according to Feldman’s tweet) received a standing ovation from their AAMD colleagues. The Detroit Institute of Arts’ outgoing director could have taught everyone a thing or two about earning the public’s trust.

Sotheby’s Raises Its Buyer’s Premium. How Much Is Too Much?

In the midst of a flurry of publicity about how the Big Two auction houses are self-sabotaging their profitability through cutthroat competition to win top consignments, Sotheby’s today announced an attempt to bolster its profits—yet another hike in the fee it charges to buyers. If things go true to form, Christie’s will soon follow the leader.

Leapfrog

Here are Sotheby’s new charges (with old ones in parentheses), effective Feb. 1:

Buyers will be charged 25% of first $200,000 (previously $100,000) of the hammer price; 20% of amount above $200,000 to $3 million (previously above $100,000 to $2 million); 12% of excess over $3 million (previously $2 million).

Let’s look at a specific example of how this will work: If your winning bid on an object was $10 million, you would have previously paid $11,365,000 million, including the buyer’s premium. As of next month, it will cost you $11,450,000 million.

Bill Ruprecht, Sotheby’s soon-to-depart president and CEO, issued this statement about the hike:

This will improve Sotheby’s revenue, strengthen the company’s profit margins, fund innovation, help us continue to make interesting and exciting investments in the business, and support our growing online and traditional engagement with clients around the world.

The “clients around the world” who will not feel “supported” by this fee hike are the buyers. They may well declare: “Enough is enough! It’s the sellers [who, in some cases, are charged no commission and even get a cut of the buyer’s premium] who should be footing more of the bill.”

When one of the Big Two raises the buyer’s premium, the other invariably follows suit. They once engaged in an illegal price-fixing scheme to arrive at synchronized fees; now it’s presumably just a matter of “great minds think alike.”

The last time they bumped up the buyer’s premium, Sotheby’s followed Christie’s. Then, six months later, Christie’s upped its fee again, matching Sotheby’s higher fee. It’s a bit like leapfrog.

None of this solves the bigger problem: In order to snare choice offerings, both sides appear to be cutting dicey deals with consignors, thereby compromising the auction houses’ take (as was thought to have occurred with Sotheby’s $101-million Giacometti and with Christie’s $58.4-million Koons).

In any effort to stop this mutually destructive battle of excessive guarantees by the auction house, third-party guarantees, irrevocable bids, and even transfers of some of the buyer’s premium to the sellers of highly desirable works, collusion between the auction houses is clearly out of the question. Only government regulation can put an end to the confidential, convoluted side-deals that make a mockery of the “level-playing-field” concept of auctions and make the art-auction business seem increasingly shaky, even as the dollar volume of sales is rising.

A mere change in CEOs at both houses is unlikely to provide enough of a jolt to solve these underlying challenges. And there’s just so much that you can extract in fees charged to buyers before they start to balk.

The definitive article enumerating the reasons why the auction market is ripe for tighter regulation was Robin Pogrebin‘s and Kevin Flynn‘s 2013 piece in the NY Times—As Art Values Rise, So Do Concerns About Market Oversight.

In light of recent developments, their report should be reread and, at last, heeded.

AAMD’s Midwinter Meeting: Cultural Property, “Public Trust”

AAMD members boarding the buses in balmy Mexico City (Michael Conforti, Clark Art Institute, in foreground)
Photo from @MuseumDirectors Twitter feed

The Association of Art Museum Directors hasn’t released many substantive details about topics and possible actions being considered at its midwinter meeting, which began Saturday and ends tomorrow. While those of us in the Northeast are bracing for a blizzard, the directors, with a talent for being in the right place at the right time, are gathered in balmy Mexico City, where today’s official opening was preceded by two days of preliminary committee meetings and visits to museums and cultural sites, including the National Museum of Anthropology:

Graham Beal, Detroit Institute of Arts, center; William Griswold, Cleveland Museum, left
Photo from Twitter feed of National Museum of Anthropology

The association’s Cultural Property Committee met in closed session yesterday, but if the persuasive Timothy Rub couldn’t conspicuously move AAMD’s needle on this issue when he was the association’s president, I’m skeptical about future progress. (Still, individual museums have been increasingly proactive about analyzing the problematic pasts of certain antiquities and relinquishing some of them to countries of origin.)

In his indispensable Cultural Heritage Lawyer blog, attorney Rick St. Hilaire recently suggested that there may be “a new policy direction” at AAMD, in light of its recent opposition to the renewal of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) restricting imports of “endangered heritage objects from Nicaragua. The group’s objection follows a sequence of opposition to MOU’s begun in 2014,” St. Hilaire wrote.

Actually, AAMD’s skeptical approach to MOUs is not as new as St. Hilaire suggests: In 2011, AAMD issued a strongly worded statement asking the State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee not to support an agreement with Greece unless that country agreed to several substantial changes in its own antiquities-related policies. Similarly, AAMD asked for significant changes in the scope of the MOU with China before its adoption in 2009 and again in 2013,when it was up for renewal. (Unfortunately, most of the links in my 2009 post on the China MOU have become non-functional.)

An AAMD discussion today on which I wish I could eavesdrop is the three-way “Conversation on the Public Trust,” which “will provide a larger philosophical, legal, and cultural framework for considering the idea of ‘public trust’ and its twin, ‘public good.'”

Somewhat counterintuitively, this colloquy features two participants who themselves have endured unfavorable public trust-related publicity—moderator Lisa Phillips, director of the New Museum and chair of AAMD’s Professional Issues Committee, whose “Dakis Fracas,” in connection with the 2009 “Skin Fruit” exhibition, which I wrote about here and here; Glenn Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art, to whom four megabucks donors had transferred funds and real estate, secretly supplementing his MoMA-budgeted compensation package.

Directors in glass houses might not be the best choices to throw words at the “larger philosophical, legal, and cultural framework” surrounding questions of public trust. (Is this a case of: “Don’t do as I did; do as I say”?) A better candidate for this panel might have been the guy in blue slacks at the center of the above photograph.

The other “public trust” pundit on the panel is Jacob Weisberg, a political journalist and chairman of the Slate Group (which publishes the eponymous online magazine). I’m not sure why AAMD regards Weisberg as an authority on museum governance: As far as I can determine, he’s written little on that subject, other than a 1998 Tom Krens-bashing piece.

Katie Luber, director of the San Antonio Museum of Art, yesterday tweeted a clue as to other topics in the air at Mexico City:

For more updates, you can follow the proceedings on Twitter: @MuseumDirectors and #aamdmex.