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A U.S. “Ministry of Culture” Under Biden? Just Say No, Joe! UPDATED

Already anticipating a more culture-friendly president than the one who tried to eliminate federal appropriations for the National Endowments of the Arts and for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, some arts advocates are making noises about the creation of a federal Ministry of Culture, or if not that, at least a "culture czar," as reported by Helen Stoilas in The Art Newspaper. We've had this conversation before, art-lings: As I commented almost 12 years ago, when music … [Read more...]

Obama’s Return Engagement at the National Portrait Gallery: His “60 Minutes” Close-Up

Watching Barack Obama being interviewed at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) by Scott Pelley of CBS's "60 Minutes" brought back memories last Sunday of one of my two Best Press Previews Ever---the NPG's unveiling of Obama's portrait by Kehinde Wiley. (My other most memorable press preview was here.) Revisiting those galleries for a conversation pegged to the publication of the former President's blockbuster memoir must have caused Obama also to reflect on that celebratory event of February 2018, which had occasioned the reunion of key … [Read more...]

“Fraudulent Avoidance of Sales Tax”: NY Attorney General’s Lawsuit vs. Sotheby’s UPDATED

NY State Attorney General Letitia James has sued Sotheby's for its alleged role in helping a client (unnamed in the AG's complaint) to "pose as an art dealer so he could illegally qualify for sales-tax exemptions reserved for the art trade" when purchasing art (in the words of Kelly Crow's recent report in the Wall Street Journal). NY State Attorney General Letitia James According to the AG's 42-page complaint, the suspect activity began in November 2010, when the client, described by the AG as a contemporary art collector, asked a … [Read more...]

The Late Joseph Rishel, 80: Witty, Erudite Curator Extraordinaire

Joseph Rishel, the brilliant, resourceful Philly-based curator of memorable exhibitions including Cézanne and Beyond, has left us for the Great Beyond. He was "brilliant" in making evocative connections and sharing deep insights regarding major works that we had thought we already knew; "resourceful" because he knew where all the hidden pictures were buried, and he had the charm and diplomatic skills to induce their private owners to unearth them for his worthy purposes. Joseph Rishel, speaking at a 2008 New York press lunch Photo by Lee … [Read more...]

Bronx Cheer! Hall of Fame for Great Americans (Championed Here) Gets an NEH Chairman’s Grant CORRECTED

As an mild antidote to severe post-election anxiety, let's savor a morsel of good news from the federal government: Although it falls short of what I'd hoped for, I'd like to think I may have had something to do with this announcement last week from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH): In New York, New York, an NEH Chairman’s Grant [of $30,000] to Bronx Community College (BCC) will support the digitization of archival photographs and materials documenting the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, featuring 96 busts of notable … [Read more...]

Deaccession Deactivation: Fallout from Baltimore Museum’s Pullout from Sotheby’s (& other pratfalls) UPDATED

UPDATE: Darrell Rocha, Sotheby's estimable senior VP, director of Press Office, Americas, revealed that "my time at Sotheby’s [13 years] is coming to a close at the end of this year." Karina Sokolovsky had assumed his title as Worldwide Head of Communications in early October. (He and Mitzi Mina had been co-heads of communications.) The misadventures of Sotheby's David Galperin, hyping four anticipated highlights of Sotheby's Oct. 28 Contemporary Art sale, would be ripe for parody if the underlying issues weren't serious. None of the … [Read more...]

15 Past Presidents of AAMD Sign Letter Calling for Baltimore Museum to “Reconsider” Planned Sales–2 UPDATES

Can you stop a speeding freight train before it crashes? UPDATE: The "speeding freight train" has just screeched to a halt! The Baltimore Museum of Art has just issued a statement that the board and leadership "decided to pause on the upcoming sale of works by Brice Marden, Clyfford Still and Andy Warhol."Here's a link to the Baltimore Museum's full statement on its withdrawal (or sale "pause") of 3 works consigned to Sothebys's. Some 15 (and counting?) former presidents of the Association of Art Museum Directors are giving it a try: In … [Read more...]

AAMD’s Failed Oversight: Murky “Clarification” of Its “Financial Flexibility” Resolutions

Better late that never (but not soon enough), Brent Benjamin, current president of the Association of Art Museum Directors, is attempting to backpedal from the precarious position he championed just six month ago, when AAMD temporarily loosened its tight strictures against the use of proceeds from art sales for anything other than acquisitions. Brent Benjamin, director of the Saint Louis Art Museum Undoubtedly prompted by uproar over the Baltimore Museum of Art's (BMA's) reliance on the more permissive standards as a cover for three … [Read more...]

Alarming Preview: Sotheby’s Hawks Baltimore Museum’s Clyfford Still & Brice Marden

Sirens (coming from the street) were heard wailing at the beginning of Sotheby's Virtual Preview of Highlights from Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary Art---a fleeting but thematically appropriate soundtrack for the alarming disposals set to occur at the auction house's Contemporary Art auction on Wednesday evening in New York. That startling prelude may have been edited out of the video by the time you click the link to replay the online auction preview. (The sirens began at 5 seconds into the video.) But the danger this sale poses to … [Read more...]

“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...]

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