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“Public Trust” Bust: Berkshire Museum to Jettison 40 Works (including 2 artist-donated Rockwells)

Why should it matter if the Berkshires lose two major paintings by Norman Rockwell, when there are already so many in the vicinity? That mindless mindset seems to be driving the deplorable decision by the Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, MA, to monetize, in a series of Sotheby's auctions, some 40 artworks in its collection, including Rockwell's "Shuffleton's Barbershop" and "Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop." Astonishingly (and not disclosed in the announcement), the donor to the museum of the two Rockwells was the artist himself. In response … [Read more...]

Bible Bumble: The Befuddled Build-Up to the New Museum of the Bible

How is the ambitious, soon-to-open Museum of the Bible (MOTB) hoping to repair the collateral damage to its reputation, now that Hobby Lobby---the crafts and home decor company led by the museum's founder, chairman and mega-donor, Steve Green---has been roundly condemned by the US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York for committing antiquities-collecting sins of biblical proportions? The museum's face-saving strategy is to distance itself from this debacle. According to the museum's statement, as reported by the … [Read more...]

Metropolitan Museum’s Empty Director’s Chair: Text of Dan Weiss Memo to Staff

Now that Metropolitan Museum director Thomas Campbell has officially left the building (as of June 30), who will serve as acting director until a new director is chosen? Surprisingly, the short answer appears to be: "No one." Here's the memo sent to the museum's staff by its president and CEO, Daniel Weiss (the text of which I received from a highly reliable Met source): I am pleased to share that we will be promoting Quincy [Houghton] to Deputy Director for Exhibitions. Together, Quincy and Carrie Rebora Barratt [my link, not his], … [Read more...]

Shoehorned at Hirshhorn: Imprisoning Ai Weiwei’s “@Large” Alcatraz Installation

I can understand why Philip Kennicott felt unenthusiastic about the Hirshhorn Museum's Ai Weiwei: Trace at Hirshhorn (to Jan. 1), which riveted me when I saw it to best advantage at its original venue---Alcatraz. The Washington Post's art critic dismissively stated that the renowned Chinese dissident "needs to make better art, more thoughtful art, art that isn’t consumed and exhausted in a single glance." Actually, he did just that, but you might not know it from the installation at the Hirshhorn, whose director, Melissa Chiu, has a … [Read more...]

“On Deadline with Gabe Pressman”: My Starstruck 1973 Profile of the Late Dean of NYC TV Reporters

Back in 1973, clutching a masters degree in journalism from Columbia, I decided to take the class that Gabe Pressman, gave at the New School. This "indefatigable dean of New York's television reporters" (as described in his Friday NY Times obit) generously allowed a few students to shadow him on different days. I was one of the lucky ones. Gabe proved to be both a tough reporter and a kind mentor. Watching him cover two breaking news stories from start to finish, and chatting with him throughout the day, I knew a lively profile story … [Read more...]

Ethics and Critics: Conflicts of Interest Infect NY Times Reviews

If a newspaper accepted outside compensation for favorable coverage, that would be clearly be a violation of journalistic ethics---a conflict of interest, potentially compromising the integrity of its reports. That's essentially what's happening, though, on the arts pages of the NY Times, where clickable "FIND TICKETS" buttons have been appended to theater and movie reviews. Clicking the button leads to an online ticket-selling site. Here's an image of one example (in the blue box on the right, below): Here's what the faint text below the … [Read more...]

AAMD’s Response to Metropolitan Museum’s Renegade Reorganization: “Guidance to Consider”

In last week's post---Metropolitan Museum as Renegade: Reorganization Defies AAMD’s Professional Standards---I noted that Met President Daniel Weiss' designation as his museum's CEO, with the yet-to-be-named new director as his subordinate, ran contrary to the professional guidelines (P. 5) of the Association of Art Museum Directors. I also predicted that AAMD's reaction to the Met's going rogue would be to ignore it. I was right. Here's the answer that I received today from AAMD's executive director, Christine Anagnos, to my query about … [Read more...]

Metropolitan Museum as Renegade: Reorganization Defies AAMD’s Professional Standards

The Metropolitan Museum has become a renegade. Its decision to rejigger its organizational chart---elevating the finance-oriented CEO (now President Daniel Weiss) above its (as yet unnamed) new art-centric director---runs contrary to common wisdom about the appropriate chain of command in art museums. That said, I reluctantly concede that desperate times may call for desperate measures. Notwithstanding outgoing director Tom Campbell's gracious endorsement on his Instagram feed of Weiss' CEO designation, subordinating the director to the … [Read more...]

President Dan Weiss Snares Top Spot at Metropolitan Museum (with director as subordinate)

Congratulations, Daniel Weiss. You've passed the audition. As announced in today's press release, the Metropolitan Museum's board voted unanimously to make permanent President Weiss' previously interim appointment as the museum's CEO. No surprises there. The big news, unmentioned in today's NY Times report, but implicit in the Met's official announcement, is the board's laudable decision not to add "director" to Weiss' titles. According to the press release: The museum will lead a search to appoint a director of the museum, who will … [Read more...]

Diller Thriller: MoMA’s Mega-Makover, An Irreverent Photo Essay

After my involuntary hiatus, I re-joined the scribe tribe on Thursday to learn more about what Robin Pogrebin had already announced to us in the NY Times earlier that morning---the completion of Phase One of the Museum of Modern Art's $450-million capital project (the renovation and reconfiguration of the eastern portion of its sprawling physical plant) and the plans for the rest of the project, which involve renovation of the rest of the existing facility and expansion into the lower floors of the in-construction Jean Nouvel-designed … [Read more...]

Proud and Unbowed: Tom Campbell’s Valedictory to the Press (plus, a look to the future)

I was surprised and saddened to realize (from Robin Pogrebin's tweet) that I hadn't been invited to Tom Campbell's press briefing at the Metropolitan Museum on Wednesday---the last of these biannual events before he "step[s] down" (his words, my link) from the museum's directorship on June 30. I've attended these informative conclaves for decades: Hearing of my plight, a friendly colleague provided me his own digital recording of the proceedings. I transcribed Campbell's astonishingly self-congratulatory oration, but then decided that instead … [Read more...]

The Impermanent Permanent-Collection Display: LACMA Follows MoMA’s Dicey Example

Memo to LA Times art critic Christopher Knight: You were mistaken when you wrote the last week that "an impermanent permanent collection"—such as what is being proposed by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for its planned Peter Zumthor-designed galleries—"is unprecedented." It's already happened at New York's Museum of Modern Art---a cautionary tale that should give pause to art-loving Angelenos. In a far-ranging interview with Knight, LACMA's director, Michael Govan, revealed details of his installation strategy for the transformed … [Read more...]

Doomsday Scenario: President Trump’s Bludgeoned Budgets for NEA, NEH, IMLS (with video)

William "Bro" Adams, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities and an Obama appointee, clearly knew what was coming when he precipitously resigned his position yesterday, effective today. Short notice, Bro! As reported by The Hill, the NEH, National Endowment for the Arts, Institute of Museum and Library Services, and Corporation for Public Broadcasting are among 66 programs that would be eliminated under President's Trump's FY 2018 budget, released today and outlined here (without listing the all the targeted programs). The … [Read more...]

$110.5-Million Man: Yusaku Maezawa Buys Basquiat, Setting Auction Record for Any American Artist

Sotheby's Contemporary auction tonight was a mostly workmanlike affair, with one shining exception: Basquiat's vibrantly scary 1982 "Untitled" skull, the undisputed star in this week of major auctions in New York, leered at his puny presale estimate ("in excess of $60 million"), and powered his way to a $98-million hammer price ($110.5 million with buyer's premium). The buyer, Yusaku Maezawa, announced his coup on Instagram, before Sotheby's could fire off an exultant press release: Maezawa also purchased the previous Basquiat … [Read more...]

Suspension of Suspense: Christie’s Tops Sotheby’s in Relying on Pre-Arranged Bids for Major Auctions

After Sotheby's public disclosure last Wednesday of how much it is relying on guarantees in general and irrevocable bids in particular, Christie's on Friday responded to my question about its own guarantee portfolio. Its figures suggest that Christie's is relying on pre-orchestrated bids even more heavily than is Sotheby's: "Overall," a Christie's spokesperson told me, "we have 46 guaranteed lots across the two evening sales. Of those, 43 have been backed by third parties." The comparable figures at Sotheby's are 36 and 20, … [Read more...]

Next Week’s Bellwether Auctions: Guarantees, Investor Pleas, Uncertainties

Ahead of next week's major Impressionist, modern and contemporary art auctions, both Sotheby's and Christie's are assuring possibly skittish buyers that there are "signs of strengthening"  in the market (in the words of Tad Smith, Sotheby's CEO) and cause to be "confident in the art market" (in the words of Sara Friedlander, Christie's department head for post-war and contemporary art, in a Bloomberg video). Smith's remarks came as part of his earnings conference call yesterday morning with securities analysts, whom he was trying to … [Read more...]

Schmooze & Peruse: My Storify on the Frieze Art Fair in New York

I thought I'd give it another try by attending the preview for Frieze Art Fair (to May 7), but I still find that, for me, art fairs are a a good way to network with artworld luminaries but a poor way to view and absorb art. A suitable format for conveying this superficial, disjointed experience is a Twitter Storify. Aside from the people mentioned in my tweets, I ran into Max Hollein, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, who chided me for visiting SFMOMA but not his institution during my recent California visit (during which I … [Read more...]

Defying Trump, Bipartisan Deal Would Boost Funding for NEA and NEH (with strings attached)

The strong efforts of arts-and-humanities advocates appear to have (at least temporarily) overcome the pernicious, fallacious notion that the National Endowments of the Arts and Humanities are preserves of the elite and therefore unworthy of government support. But Congress has added some of its own guidelines for awarding federal arts grants, just to make sure. Far from slashing or even zeroing the budgets for the National Endowments of the Arts and Humanities, as proposed by President Trump, a bipartisan budget agreement to avoid a … [Read more...]

Blogback: John Ravenal, deCordova Director, Defends Higher Museum Fees for Out-of-Towners

John Ravenal, executive director of the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Lincoln, MA, which offers free admission to Lincoln residents, takes issue with Out-of-Towner Downer: Metropolitan Museum Considers a Xenophobic Admission Policy. Your comments on the Met's possible change in admission policy seemed shortsighted to me (and the metaphor of "xenophobia" strikes me as unhelpful at best). Here are two other US museums whose admission policies privilege their local constituents---deCordova (free to Lincoln, MA, residents) and … [Read more...]

Out-of-Towner Downer: Metropolitan Museum Considers a Xenophobic Admission Policy

Saul Steinberg's famous New Yorker cover portraying how Manhattanites view the rest of the world came to mind when I read Robin Pogrebin's NY Times article about the Metropolitan Museum's tentative (to my mind, wrongheaded) proposal to discriminate against out-of-towners in charging admission fees. Especially at a time when our President is fueling his supporters' xenophobia, the last thing we need is to make foreigners (let alone fellow citizens) feel less welcome at our country's premier repository for world culture by instituting a … [Read more...]

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