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Another John Friede Fracas: Kate Taylor’s NY Times Story UPDATED

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Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s two-volume catalogue of the Friede Collection

CultureGrrl applies one of two adjectives to the arts writers she most admires: “estimable” for the excellent, “indispensable” for the super-excellent.

Kate Taylor, ace art reporter of the now-defunct NY Sun, ascended to the latter category. Today I was delighted to see her name and reportage splashed across six columns at the top of the NY Times‘ Arts page, in yet another tale of art-collateralized debt impacting museums: A Collection of Tribal Art in Embroiled in a Modern Family Feud. The collection in question is the New Guinea tribal art trove promised in 2005 by Marcia and John Friede to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Here’s some back story that didn’t get into Taylor’s piece:

CultureGrrl has a long memory, so I did a double-take in March 2005 when FAMSF announced that it was acquiring works amassed by the New York State collector who in 1978 got himself and the Brooklyn Museum investigated by then New York Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz. The AG’s office recommended that the Brooklyn Museum, where Friede was vice chairman, adopt “a comprehensive code of ethics,” after state investigators found that Friede had “failed adequately to disclose his ownership” of African and Oceanic art sold to the museum from his personal collection.

Grace Glueck of the NY Times then reported:

Under the state’s Not-For-Profit Corporation Law, a transaction between an institution and an interested director who has not fully disclosed that interest can be voided at the election of the institution.

However, the acquisitions committee of the museum, of which Mr. Friede is a member, has re-examined the transactions—in his absence—and has ratified them, according to the Attorney General’s office.

The AG found that the prices paid by the museum for the works were reasonable, the museum had “suffered no financial harm” and Friede could keep his position on the Brooklyn Museum’s board.

According to the FAMSF’s above-linked announcement, that museum’s now endangered gift included works that Friede acquired from the collection of the late Douglas Newton, many of which Newton had collected in the field long before he became the Metropoltan Museum’s curator of the arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas. Newton died in 2001; Friede, not the Met, acquired that collection in 2003.

I’ll let you read Taylor for a complete account of the conflicting claims now aimed at Friede’s New Guinea trove: The parties to this dispute (aside from Friede) are his brothers, Sotheby’s auction house and the San Francisco museum, which is “determined to defend [it’s] right to the collection,” Taylor reports. Good luck with that. The 137 works gifted to the museum are probably its to keep. As to the rest of the 4,000-work collection: promises, as the American Folk Art Museum recently discovered, may not be binding.

Will we be seeing more of Taylor in the Times? She produced today’s piece as a freelancer, not staff reporter, so time (and the editors’ wisdom and hiring budget) will tell.

UPDATE (or, to be more accurate, CultureGrrl gets herself up-to-date): For earlier, detailed stories by John Coté of the San Francisco Chronicle exploring this contretemps, go here and here.

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