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Walter Liedtke, Consummate Curator of Dutch and Flemish Painting, Dies in a Train Crash (with my late video at the Met)

Curator Walter Liedtke discussing the fine points of Vermeer's "The Milkmaid"
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

More on this here. I've attended hundreds of museum press previews over the past four decades, but the ones I relished most were those where Walter Liedtke was our erudite, entertainingly witty host. The Metropolitan Museum's great European paintings curator, 69, a renowned expert in Dutch and Flemish painting and decipherer of all the period references and cultural connotations therein, perished Tuesday, at the height of his intellectual powers. He was one of the five train passengers killed in a horrific Metro-North crash in Valhalla, … [Read more...]

Happy Returns: Relinquished Hellenistic Silver Back on Display at Metropolitan Museum

Gilt-silver medallion representing Scylla, Greek, South Italian or Sicilian, 3rd century BC, lent to the Met by the Republic of Italy, Sicilian Region
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

My previously stated conviction that the Metropolitan Museum didn't get what it bargained for in its silver swap with Sicily was reaffirmed yesterday, when I again saw in the Met's Hellenistic galleries the pieces it had relinquished five years ago as part of a broader 2006 agreement with Italy: All photos by Lee Rosenbaum In accordance with the Met's agreement to return these and other objects to Italy, the silver was to rotate every four years between Sicily and New York. That means they should have made the return trip a year ago. … [Read more...]

Goshen Commotion: Kimmelman’s Belated, Muddled Plea to Save Architect Paul Rudolph’s Masterpiece (with video)

Paul Rudolph-designed Orange County Government Center
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

"Where's Kimmelman?" I had asked the end of one of my many posts (beginning with this one) about the need to save Brutalist architect Paul Rudolph's endangered Orange County Government Center, Goshen, NY. Almost three years later, the NY Times' architecture critic, seemingly more intent upon writing about urban planning issues than architectural achievements, has at last turned his attention to this: Until now, it has fallen to the Times' veteran arts writer, Robin Pogrebin, to cover the controversy---a political football in Orange … [Read more...]

“The Dish” to Fold: Andrew Sullivan’s Blogger Burnout

Andrew Sullivan's blogging avatar

In yet another sign that Holland Cotter may have been right to debunk "the one-personality blog of yore," Andrew Sullivan, the widely read and respected creator of The Dish, wrote today that he has "decided to stop blogging in the near future." Sullivan has posted almost daily for 15 years, leaving his host publication, the Daily Beast, in 2013 to set out on his own. Here's why he's calling it quits: I am saturated in digital life and I want to return to the actual world again....Although it’s been a joy and a privilege to have … [Read more...]

Glenn Lowry as AAMD’s Improbable Expert on “Public Trust”

Left to right: Lisa Phillips, Jacob Weisberg, Glenn Lowry
Photo from Twitter feed of Canadian Art Museum Directors Organization

Sometimes wrongly, but sometimes rightly, Glenn Lowry has a major public-trust problem. That's why I did a double take when I saw he was one of the panelists for the “Conversation on the Public Trust" at the Association of Art Museum Director's midwinter meeting in Mexico City (ending today). I did another double take yesterday, when I followed AAMD's live-tweets from that panel, and read this: Lowry: once you lose the public's trust, there is no one thing you can do to quickly regain it. #aamdmex — Art Museum Directors … [Read more...]

Sotheby’s Raises Its Buyer’s Premium. How Much Is Too Much?


In the midst of a flurry of publicity about how the Big Two auction houses are self-sabotaging their profitability through cutthroat competition to win top consignments, Sotheby's today announced an attempt to bolster its profits---yet another hike in the fee it charges to buyers. If things go true to form, Christie's will soon follow the leader. Here are Sotheby's new charges (with old ones in parentheses), effective Feb. 1: Buyers will be charged 25% of first $200,000 (previously $100,000) of the hammer price; 20% of amount above … [Read more...]

AAMD’s Midwinter Meeting: Cultural Property, “Public Trust”

Photo from Twitter feed of National Museum of Anthropology

The Association of Art Museum Directors hasn't released many substantive details about topics and possible actions being considered at its midwinter meeting, which began Saturday and ends tomorrow. While those of us in the Northeast are bracing for a blizzard, the directors, with a talent for being in the right place at the right time, are gathered in balmy Mexico City, where today's official opening was preceded by two days of preliminary committee meetings and visits to museums and cultural sites, including the National Museum of … [Read more...]

“Translucent Complementary Contrast”: Steven Holl’s Alluring Expansion of MFA, Houston (with video)

Steven Holl, presenting his Houston designs
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

It's about time that architect Steven Holl got another shot at a major art museum in the U.S., given the nearly universal acclaim that greeted his 2007 addition to the Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City. Judging from his preliminary renderings (presented an NYC press lunch last week) for a suavely handsome, 164,000 square-foot-building for 20th- and 21st-century art---just one part of the architect's master plan to enhance and unify the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's 14-acre campus---this project's planned 2019 completion will be well worth … [Read more...]

KUAF Public Radio Gets Crystal Bridges Officials’ Response to Kevin Murphy’s CultureGrrl Lament


After I published Kevin Murphy's candid appraisals (here and here) of his frustrating stint as American art curator at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, AR, I invited the museum to respond. I received no reply. But Sara Burningham of KUAF, the Fayetteville, AR, public radio station, did get the museum's reaction, as part of her "Ozarks at Large" segment today about A Year of Mixed Headlines for Crystal Bridges, in which she interviewed Rod Bigelow, the museum's executive director, and Mindy Besaw, its new … [Read more...]

George Washington University Offers Corcoran’s Fillmore Building for $14 Million (plus: preservationists’ challenge) CORRECTED

Fillmore School

George Washington University's media relations office today announced this new development related to the controversial GWU-Corcoran-National Gallery deal that I just posted about: TTR Sotheby’s International Realty announced that it will serve as the exclusive listing agent for the former Corcoran College’s Fillmore building, which the George Washington University plans to sell this upcoming year. GW took control of the property as part of the historic agreements with the National Gallery of Art and the Corcoran last summer.... The … [Read more...]

Corcoran Collection Under Wraps: Long Wait Until “Legacy Gallery” Opens

Edgar Degas,
"The Dance Class," c. 1873
Trustees of the Corcoran Collection (William A. Clark Collection)

Peggy McGlone in her Washington Post report last week, ominously suggested that there's some sinister plot afoot regarding the collection of the defunct Corcoran Gallery of Art: The works are "being divvied up under a cloak of secrecy," she warned. But it's unreasonable to expect the National Gallery of Art, the new custodian of the Corcoran's collection (as approved by the DC Superior Court), to publicize its every step in executing the complicated assignment of determining the fate of this eclectic 17,000-object trove---a dispersal … [Read more...]

Statistical Shenanigans: AAMD Plays the Numbers on Admission Fees (so does Indianapolis Museum)

Source: 220 AAMD museums across the U.S., Canada and Mexico

In 2006, I complained that the “State of North America’s Art Museums” survey, which the Association of Art Museum Directors released annually from 2002 to 2011, was "frustratingly incomplete." Fast-forward to Art Museums by the Numbers, a six-page infographic released by AAMD last week, which makes earlier AAMD surveys seem like a mathematical PhD theses. (You can see the 2011 survey here.) As in 2006, AAMD has interpreted the latest figures as evidence that "museums are stable,” in the words of executive director Christine Anagnos, as … [Read more...]

News Flash: Graham W.J. Beal, Detroit Institute of Arts’ Director, To Retire (“Quite a Ride”)


It was an open secret that the most heroic, steadfast and principled art museum director I've ever met, the Detroit Institute of Arts' Graham W.J. Beal, was likely to retire when his contract expired June 30. He will have stayed the often difficult but rewarding course for almost 16 years. Clearly Mark Stryker of the Detroit Free Press knew Beal was soon to leave: Like obituary writers who have detailed biographies ready to go at the moment someone expires, Mark had a full appraisal of Beal's career and a recap of his monumental … [Read more...]

News Flash: Thom Collins Named to Head the Barnes Foundation

Thom Collins
Photo by Chocolate Milk Photograhy

The Barnes Foundation has just announced that Thomas ("Thom") Collins will be its next executive director and president, succeeding Derek Gillman, who left the building a full year ago. Collins will take the helm in mid-March. A Philadelphia native, Collins has been director of the Pérez Art Museum Miami (formerly Miami Art Museum) for the last five years. As detailed in the above-linked announcement, he has an extensive track record, having previously worked at the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, NY; Contemporary Museum, Baltimore; … [Read more...]

Museum-Commercial Gallery-Museum: John Elderfield’s Head-Spinning Revolving Door


In my original post on John Elderfield's new Princeton University appointment, I stated that "the conflict-of-interest potential" inherent in simultaneously working as a museum curator at Princeton and as a commercial gallery consultant for Gagosian "seems obvious." Apparently, though, it isn't obvious to Elderfield or to James Steward, director of the Princeton University Art Museum (PUAM), where the Museum of Modern Art's curator emeritus is about to become "distinguished curator and lecturer" while still working as a consultant for … [Read more...]

Communications Gap? Exodus of Guggenheim’s Top PR Officials

Installation view, "ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s–60s," (closes Jan. 7) Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Photo: David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

With the unannounced departure at the end of 2014 of Eleanor Goldhar, who followed Betsy Ennis down the ramp, the Guggenheim has lost two top-ranking communications veterans in rapid succession. Whether this is symptomatic of a broader institutional malaise or merely an unfortunate coincidence may become clearer if other key players leave the building. The Guggenheim's deputy director and chief of global communications, Goldhar came on board seven and a half years ago and was the journalist's go-to person for information on her … [Read more...]

“Strict Separation,” “Transparency”: My Q&A with John Elderfield on Princeton/Gagosian Loyalties

James Christen Steward, director, Princeton University Art Museum

John Elderfield, chief curator emeritus of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, who on Feb. 1 will become distinguished curator and lecturer at the Princeton University Art Museum, responds to Fielding Elderfield: Will Princeton’s Catch Remain Gagosian’s Designated Hitter?. The following is my response to your email of Dec. 26, which arrived while I was away for the holiday and out-of-touch with email. While I wish that you had waited for my reply before posting, I am answering your questions now and appreciate that you are … [Read more...]

The Year in CultureGrrl, 2014 Edition

My Younger Generations

I admit it: For me, 2014 was all about that little guy in the center of the photo (his parents---my son and daughter-in-law---are on the left; my daughter and son-in-law, on right). In fact, I'll be headed his way as soon as I finish this post, to find out how many new words and new tricks he's acquired during his California vacation. This year's professional landmark, for me, was the munificent Art Writers Grant from Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation (which kicks in next month). I can't tell you how many times I've come close to killing … [Read more...]

Fielding Elderfield: Will Princeton’s Catch Remain Gagosian’s Designated Hitter? UPDATED

John Elderfield
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

UPDATE: Elderfield's response is here. Can you be a museum curator and a commercial-gallery consultant at the same time? The conflict-of-interest potential seems obvious, but possibly not to the Princeton University Art Museum and John Elderfield. They recently announced that the chief curator emeritus of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, who now organizes exhibitions for Gagosian Gallery, has been named distinguished curator and lecturer at the Princeton University Art Museum, effective Feb. 1. In response to my query … [Read more...]

Souped-Up Cooper Hewitt, Part II: Touchstones Amid the Touchscreens (An Irreverent Photo Essay)


In some ways, the new Cooper Hewitt, which reopened on Dec. 12 after a three-year renovation, reconfiguration and technological revolution, is still a work in progress. The most obvious unfinished business in this $91-million (including $10 million for endowment) undertaking is the much hyped introduction of the Interactive Pen, which is currently on display as an Inactive Pen but is expected to come to life some time next month. There were other instances of tasks left undone in the rush to open. Visiting the museum on its first public day, … [Read more...]

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