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More on New York’s Musical Museum Chairs: Temkin and Armstrong

Ann Temkin

Yesterday’s chosen sound bite on WNYC focused on my mild misgivings about Ann Temkin‘s appointment at the Museum of Modern Art. So I feel it’s worth reiterating what I posted on this blog, before I spoke on the radio: I think she’s a solid choice, with a creditable track record of acquisitions and exhibitions. What’s more, I think there’s a good chance that she’ll rise to the challenge of her new position as chief curator of painting and sculpture.

My qualms have to do with the fact that, so far, I don’t see her playing in the same league as her illustrious predecessors, John Elderfield, Kirk Varnedoe and William Rubin—all legendary artworld luminaries of formidable intellect who were deeply immersed in the modernist canon that was the foundation of MoMA’s collections and exhibitions. Temkin has indeed organized some shows of earlier art (such as Brancusi and Duchamp, back when she was at the Philadelphia Museum), but she has more consistently focused on more recent contemporary art.

The shows that she’s done at MoMA have, by and large, not been much of a curatorial stretch: the UBS corporate collection (only some of which was given to MoMA), the collection donated to MoMA by Edward Broida, and her recent Color Chart eye-popper—pleasing enough, but lightweight. Happily, Elderfield, in his new emeritus role at MoMA, has Matisse and de Kooning productions in the works. Anything he puts his mind to provides us with revelatory insights about artists we thought we knew. (But has he yet gotten Matisse’s condition-compromised “Swimming Pool” ready for prime time?)

As for Richard Armstrong, Tom Krens‘ heir apparent at the Guggenheim, by all accounts he’s done a fine job at the Carnegie Museum of Art. But he hasn’t
really played in the big leagues. He was a young curator at the controversy-prone Whitney Museum, who
eventually became director of an admirable but comparatively modest institution in
Pittsburgh. Is he ready for the Global Guggenheim, which will remain a high-profile, international institution, even if part of his mandate is to scale back and return to core values?

I’m cautiously optimistic that both seasoned professionals have what it takes to grow into their new assignments and do a fine job. We can only hope.

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