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Unfair at “Vanity Fair”: William Cohan Muddies the Met Mess

With the intense interest generated by Robin Pogrebin's shocking front-page revelations in yesterday's NY Times about the Metropolitan Museum's governance lapses, it's likely that pundits will pile on with commentaries fueled more by indignation and sensationalism than by the deep knowledge of the Met's policies, practices and personnel that informs Pogrebin's latest piece. Beating everyone to the sucker-punch was William Cohan with his hit job for Vanity Fair---Inside a Met Director’s Shocking Exit and the Billion-Dollar Battle for the … [Read more...]

“Inappropriate Relationship”: Tom Campbell Must Go; Metropolitan Museum’s Board Must Reform

Two weeks ago, I had suggested that the increasing barrage of negative assessments of Tom Campbell's leadership at the Metropolitan Museum might lead him to "decide jointly with the board that it could be best to end his tenure sooner than scheduled" (at the end of June), rather than to prolong "a lame-duck directorship." Now, having read Robin Pogrebin's jaw-dropping NY Times exposé (which hit the web this evening), I'm guessing that tomorrow may be desk-cleaning day for the Met's embattled director: His authority to lead the country's … [Read more...]

Bonding with Bondil: Montreal MFA’s Head on Succeeding as a (Female) Museum Director

"In the end, I’d say that I’d hope I had been chosen for what I had between my two ears and not because of what I don’t have between my two legs," Nathalie Bondil, director of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, said in a wide-ranging conversation with me in New York last Thursday, the day after the Association of Art Museum Directors released its report on The Gender Gap in Art Museum Directorships. Her quip was a raunchier version of what I tell people who question why I don't dye my graying hair: "I'm more interested in what's inside my … [Read more...]

“Emet” & Emmett: Why Truth-Telling (like Schutz’s) about Till’s Murder Should Be Ecumenical UPDATED

The Whitney Museum has now composed what is, to my mind, the most succinct, sagacious response to the firestorm of castigation, pontification and rationalization swirling around Dana Schutz's powerful "Open Casket" at the Whitney Biennial. Here's the statement sent to me this morning from the Biennial's co-curators, Mia Locks and Christopher Lew, in response to my request for comment about the calls for the removal or even destruction of Schutz's riveting portrait of the brutally mutilated Emmett Till: The 2017 Whitney Biennial brings … [Read more...]

Dan’s Plans: Weiss Rethinks the Metropolitan Museum’s Capital Projects UPDATED

In a departure from usual protocol, Daniel Weiss, the Metropolitan Museum's president, handed Kelly Crow of the Wall Street Journal a detailed scoop (published online this afternoon) about his revised plans for the museum's capital projects, which entail the sequential replacement of skylights in the European galleries, renovation of the British galleries and musical instrument galleries, and possible renovation of the galleries for Africa, Oceania and the Americas. Whether and when the $600,000 renovation and gallery expansion of the … [Read more...]

The Met Mess: Two Toxic Articles Make Bad Situation Worse

In the problematic tradition of kick-'em-while-they're-down, the NY Post and Vanity Fair magazine have opted for tabloid sensationalism with headlines about the Metropolitan Museum's financial predicament that are more click-worthy than praiseworthy. Money-Losing Met Hands Execs Hefty Raises is the title for Isabel Vincent and Melissa Klein's Post piece. They reported last week that "records show" the Metropolitan Museum's top brass were getting "hefty pay raises and six-figure bonuses...despite a looming deficit that threatened to reach $40 … [Read more...]

Bludgeoned Budget: Reaction & Resistance to Trump’s Proposed Zeroing of NEA, NEH, IMLS, CPB

Late yesterday we learned that President Trump's proposed budget, released today, would do what we had feared: eliminate funding for the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, which, while minuscule in relation to the total federal budget, has been the lifeblood of large and small museums and arts groups across the country. On page 5 of America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again, the White House's Office of Management and Budget succinctly outlines "Major Agency Budget Highlights" (actually lowlights, in relation … [Read more...]

The “Resistance” Biennial: The Whitney Museum Gets Tough UPDATED

More on this here. How politically provocative can or should a nonprofit cultural institution allow itself to be in contentious times? With its 2017 Biennial (Mar. 17-June 11), the Whitney Museum is navigating those choppy waters. Some museums have been notably circumspect in their polite pushback against Trumpism. After all, they need to seem welcoming to all constituencies, including those who are pro-Trump. Although Graham Bowley attempted to update initial reports about the Trump Effect on cautious cultural institutions in his latest NY … [Read more...]

Ten Suggestions for Tom Campbell’s Successor at the Met

In December 2008, anticipating the imminent eminence of Thomas Campbell as new head of the country's premier art museum, I presumptuously posted a to-do list for the director-designate. The Met, I then felt, needed to be less insular, more outward-looking and more creative in conceiving exhibitions, notwithstanding the undeniably monumental achievements under Philippe de Montebello. Here's the Montebello Monument, which went on display five years ago near the main admissions desk: Nine years after I posted my wishlist for Campbell, it … [Read more...]

More on Met Directorship: My Takes on Puzzling Punditry by Cotter, Gibson, Dobrzynski, Oliver

I got an early jump on the culture pundits who are rushing to analyze Tom Campbell's planned departure from the directorship of the Metropolitan Museum. Commentary is now pouring in from people whose strong opinions are not always founded on a complete grasp of the facts. Holland Cotter's prescription for curing the ailing Metropolitan Museum bore an uncanny resemblance to my recent adventures in car repair: Last week, I brought my glitchy vehicle to the local mechanic, who did six different things, at a cost of $770, none of which solved … [Read more...]

Who Should Lead the Met? Tom Campbell Decamps UPDATED

More on this here and here. Ever since he was named to the Metropolitan Museum's directorship, I've had serious qualms about whether Tom Campbell embodied The Peter Principle---the notion that talented employees eventually rise to a level beyond their competence. Robin Pogrebin today reported on the NY Times' website that Campbell is on his way out from the Met after 22 years, including eight in the top spot. He will leave on June 30, "in order to pursue the next phase of my career,” he told Pogrebin. Whether he jumped or (as Robin … [Read more...]

Burying the Bad News: Sotheby’s Earnings Call Ignores 30% Drop in 2016 Adjusted Net Income

"I feel good," Tad Smith repeatedly declared during Sotheby's earnings call with securities analysts this morning. Buoyed by New Year's hopes for better performance in 2017 after a lackluster 2016, Sotheby's president and CEO enumerated the ways in which his firm had upped its game---the addition of an advisory service for artists and their estates to Art Agency, Partners (which Sotheby's had acquired more than a year ago); the acquisition of Jamie Martin's Orion Analytical, an art-authentication firm specializing in scientific analysis (to … [Read more...]

The “Leveraging Effect”: Why Small Grants from the Endangered NEA & NEH Matter

Arts and humanities constituents rose to the challenge of meeting Monday's deadline to gather more that 100,000 signatures on a petition to the White House calling for the federal government "to support the arts by not defunding" the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities. All 107,779 of us (at this writing, and still counting) can now pat ourselves on the back and eagerly await "an official update from the White House within 60 days," as promised on the White House's website. That's a far cry from victory. (Hold the … [Read more...]

Salves for Trump Bumps: Getty’s Direct Salvo vs. MoMA’s Discreet Indirection

One of the two major museum stories that broke while I was doting early this month on my newborn CultureGrandson (a Silicon Valley native) involved the Museum of Modern Art's decision to respond to the Trump travel ban (now in abeyance) by interpolating seven works in its fifth-floor permanent-collection galleries and one in its Garden Lobby, "to affirm the ideals of welcome and freedom as vital to this Museum, as they are to the United States," as it says in each of the object labels. The eight works, according to MoMA, are by artists … [Read more...]

Buck Stops with the CEO: Holding Tom Campbell Accountable for The Met Mess (with podcasts, video)

Robin Pogrebin's damning NY Times report about the "tensions" and "challenged morale" among staffers at the Metropolitan Museum has emboldened me to say what I've been thinking for a long time about Tom Campbell's stewardship: Sadly, the misgivings that I expressed more than eight years ago, when the respected tapestry curator was named to succeed the revered Philippe de Montebello as director and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum, appear to have been prescient. At Campbell's meet-the-press moment in September 2008, when his appointment … [Read more...]

The Met Mess in the NY Times: Are Tom Campbell’s Director Days Numbered?

More on this here. Catching up on museum news after five days in California, blissfully cuddling my precociously two-weeks-early new grandson (CultureDaughter's first child), I did a double-take at the online headline for Robin Pogrebin's Page One piece in Sunday's NY Times: Is the Met Museum "a Great Institution in Decline"? The print headline was only slightly less ominous than the digital one---"Ambitions for Met Museum Lead to Stumbles." I was expecting to read an exposé, not what turned out to be a somewhat muddled rehash of what I'd … [Read more...]

Cause for Cautious Optimism? NEA’s Statement on Continued Federal Funding

Widespread reports that President Trump has decided to ax the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities may (or may not) be premature. The only hard information on this that I've seen is Alexander Bolton's report in The Hill, a week ago, that the Trump transition team had proposed eliminating the NEA and NEH and privatizing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Where Trump himself stands on federal funding for the arts and humanities has not been revealed, so I contacted officials at the possibly endangered NEA and NEH, in an … [Read more...]

“Hide/Seek” Champion Stephanie Stebich Named Director of Smithsonian American Art Museum

Most of what I've seen so far regarding today's naming of Stephanie Stebich, director since 2005 of the Tacoma Art Museum, to become the next director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM), has left unmentioned her most notable (and laudable) past Smithsonian connection: In 2012, her Tacoma (WA) Art Museum proudly hosted the controversial HIDE/SEEK: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. That praiseworthy, hot-button show was organized by SAAM's collegial sister institution, which shares the same building---the National Portrait … [Read more...]

Never-Ending Battle: Mobilizing (once again) to Save the National Endowments for the Arts & Humanities

With President Trump's transition team's having reportedly recommended elimination of federal funding for the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities (as well as for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting), a petition opposing possible NEA and NEH cuts has appeared on the White House's website, on the We the People webpage for citizens' petitions. At this writing, there are a paltry 464 signatories on that petition (one of which is mine), dwarfed by the 279,518 signatories (at this writing) on the petition for Trump to release his tax … [Read more...]

Stumped by Trump: MoMA’s Lowry Walks “Fine Line” Between “Asserting Values” & Being Partisan

I opened up a can of worms at the Museum of Modern Art's press breakfast yesterday, when I asked the first question after the director's and curators' presentation about upcoming exhibitions: Many museums are wrestling with the problem of how to or whether to deal with the current political situation. Is MoMA addressing this in any way and, if so, how? Most of the remainder of the briefing was devoted to Lowry's agonizing over how to walk the "fine line" between "asserting the values that we believe in" and "becoming partisan" (his … [Read more...]

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