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“Capital Overhaul”: My WSJ Review of National Gallery’s Reinvented East & Strengthened West

If you've been wondering why I've been AWOL from the blog, here's the answer: A Capital Overhaul at the National Gallery, my review in tomorrow's Wall Street Journal (online now). The reinstallations of the permanent collection---comprehensive in the renovated, expanded East Building (modern and contemporary art), far-reaching in the West Building (historic collections)---amount to a reinvention and revitalization of the institution. Here's the cast of curators who reshuffled the deck with provocative pairings and strengthened representation … [Read more...]

Ethereal & Otherworldly: Transported by Agnes Martin at the Guggenheim

The mesmerizing Agnes Martin survey, organized by the Tate Modern and now gracing the Guggenheim Museum's rotunda (to Jan. 11), enraptured me from the start: In the pocket gallery just off the first ramp is a perfectly lit, glowing array of "The Islands," 1979, a series of 12 panels owned by the Whitney Museum that can make you feel mesmerized and even a little woozy, if you stare long enough to allow them to overcome you. The problem with these rhapsodies in modulated whites, lightly delineated with pencil, is that they defy photographic … [Read more...]

Wilsey or Won’t She? FASMF’s Board Head Defies Regime Change (plus: Albright-Knox name change)

Now she's a board chair, not president. But whatever names you call her, it appears that Diane ("Dede") Wilsey has out-maneuvered the proponents of regime change at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. The smartest move in this continuing chess game comes from Max Hollein, FAMSF's new director, who (in conformance with professional guidelines [p. 5] for art museum directors) has rightly assumed the CEO position that was previously held by Wilsey: When asked by the San Francisco Chronicle's Phil Matier and Andy Ross if he "expected less … [Read more...]

Tech Crash at Metropolitan Museum: “Digital Underground” Buried? UPDATED

While I've been distracted from blogging by mainstream-media assignments (one completed, the other in process), I've been itching to weigh in on several important museum developments. Let's start with Metropolitan Museum President Daniel Weiss' tough-love strategies to address the shocking financial crisis that he inherited. Museum digerati may disagree, but I welcome the indications (not yet confirmed to me by the museum's press office) that the money-saving cutbacks may include the closing of the museum's run-amok MediaLab, which I've … [Read more...]

“Polemical History Lesson”: Illustrated Companion to my WSJ Piece on the Brooklyn Museum’s American Rehang

There's a difference between displaying political art and politicizing art. As I argue in A Polemical History Lesson, my piece in today's Wall Street Journal, the Brooklyn Museum's rehang and reinterpretation of its American art collection crosses that line, fixating on everything that's shameful or elitist about our country's past. Other critics have praised the new interpretive spin for eschewing American "triumphalism." But after a while, I began to feel that I was intended to hang my head in shame, rather than revel in the verve of our … [Read more...]

Adulated Adjaye: Acclaimed in DC, Under-the-Radar in NYC (with video) UPDATED

While there's been widespread critical acclaim for David Adjaye's $540-million (including installation of displays) National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington (opening Saturday), few New Yorkers have heard of, let alone visited, his $84.7-million, 13-story Sugar Hill Project, commissioned by Broadway Housing Communities in Harlem: Photos by Lee Rosenbaum I toured the project about a year ago, when its ambitious Children's Museum of Art & Storytelling was about to open, and got to chat with the architect, … [Read more...]

Carmen Herrera, 101-Year-Old Overnight Success, Gets Her Whitney Close-Up (with video)

Given her centenarian status, I was astonished by the Whitney Museum's decision to schedule its Carmen Herrera show to open more than a year after the Whitney had unveiled its new facility. I felt the show should have been fast-tracked at all costs, to increase the odds that this doggedly persistent, under-recognized artist would live to see it. Happily, Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight (to Jan. 2), did not turn out to be a memorial exhibition: The feisty artist, now 101, is still working and at last getting some very belated adulation. … [Read more...]

From Private Delectation to Public Display: The Prado’s Once Hidden Nudes Flaunted at the Clark

The seemingly robust attendance (figures not yet available) at the Clark Art Institute's current summer extravaganza---Splendor, Myth and Vision: Nudes from the Prado (to Oct. 10)---runs counter to Robin Pogrebin's assertion in the NY Times on Monday that "many experts are questioning" whether old masters "can stay relevant at auction houses, galleries and museums." That analysis seems to me more relevant to art-market preoccupations than to museum visitors' predilections. The Clark's ability to host this stimulating (pun intended) … [Read more...]

The “Scoop” that Wasn’t: Fisher Collection’s 75%-25% Rule at SFMOMA Exposed Six Years Ago (with Storify)

In my previous post about the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's deal to display the coveted Doris and Donald Fisher Collection, I took the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Charles Desmarais at his word and credited him with having "dislodged" (as he described it) previously undisclosed information about problematic concessions made by the museum to snare this 100-year loan. Particularly troubling to me was the requirement that "no more than 25 percent of what is on view [in the three floors of Fisher-named galleries] may come from other lenders … [Read more...]

SFMOMA’s Seismic Fisher Fissure: “Integration with the Museum’s Collection”? UPDATED & CLARIFIED

The San Francisco Chronicle's Charles Desmarais last weekend blasted the lid off a huge hole in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's description of the strictures governing its 100-year mega-loan of the Doris and Donald Fisher Collection. CLARIFICATION: I subsequently learned that some of the details that Desmarais "dislodged" (his word) had been published in the NY Times six years ago by Carol Kino. Details here. In his report on his Fisher fishing expedition---Unraveling SFMOMA’s Deal for the Fisher Collection---the newspaper's art … [Read more...]

Twerking the Berkshires: Storify & Video from My Workation

If you've been following my @CultureGrrl Twitter feed, you know that I made the rounds of Berkshire museums this week. It was meant to be a mini-vacation. But then I kept seeing things that I wanted to praise---the Williams College Museum's eclectic mix of thought-provoking exhibitions; Richard Nonas' massive railroad-tie installation (in sync with MASS MoCA's industrial vibe)---and others that I wanted to criticize---Alex Da Corte's inappropriate appropriation of Joseph Beuy's "Lightning with Stag in Its Glare" (also at MASS MoCA); all the … [Read more...]

False Confidence? A Closer Look at Sotheby’s 2nd-Quarter Report that Lifted Its Stock

The economic picture painted by Sotheby's in its Form 10-Q second-quarter report (filed with the SEC on Monday) was not as rosy as stock traders seemed to have believed. Notwithstanding the uptick in its share price, Sotheby's auction commission revenues declined by 11% and 17%, respectively, for the first three and six months of 2016, compared to the same periods in 2015. What's more, CEO Tad Smith told participants in Monday's earnings conference call that the company's "overall sales volume" this year was "down some 30%." And CFO Mike … [Read more...]

Clark Lark: What Will I Miss on My Busman’s Holiday? (Sotheby’s edition)

Anyone within driving distance of Williamstown, MA, who has read Lance Esplund's voluptuous review in the Wall Street Journal of the Clark Art Institute's Splendor, Myth, and Vision: Nudes From the Prado must be exclaiming, "Road trip!" I'm on it. What I'll likely be missing (unless I break my resolve for a blogging hiatus next week, with occasional tweets) is Monday morning's Sotheby's conference call with securities analysts. This should be more newsworthy than usual, thanks to the acquisition late last month of more than 7.9 … [Read more...]

Metropolitan Museum Boasts Record Attendance; Attributes Deficit, in Part, to Younger Demographics CORRECTED

Is an increase in young visitors too much of a good thing? The Metropolitan Museum late yesterday issued an upbeat press release that painted a much rosier picture of attendance figures than my doom-and-gloom post and accompanying video yesterday about the seemingly under-attended Met Breuer: The museum announced that it had "welcomed a record number of visitors—6.7 million—during the fiscal year that ended on June 30. This is the highest number of visitors since the Met began tracking admission statistics more than 40 years ago." … [Read more...]

The Met Breuer, Like Its Signature Show, Is “Unfinished” (with video)

I decided to revisit the Met Breuer today, to view belatedly its well attended, justly praised exhibition of photographer Diane Arbus' early works, in which her unsettling genius for detecting the bizarre in the commonplace is already fully evident. I was also unsettled, for the wrong reasons, by what I saw on other floors---large expanses of underutilized space. The ground floor, as you will see in the CultureGrrl Video, below, is still a construction zone, some five months after the press preview. My peek at the restaurant that was … [Read more...]

Evanescent Permanent Collections: Warhol Museum’s & Fisk University’s Stealth Deaccessions

Recent revelations of secret disposals of artworks held in public trust by a museum (the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh) and a university (Fisk in Nashville) suggest that the Association of Art Museum Directors and the American Alliance of Museums need to offer periodic refresher courses on professional ethics regarding deaccessions. Having been called out by me for disingenuously claiming it had "follow[ed] industry guidelines and procedures" when it acquired Andy Warhol's “Do It Yourself (Sailboats),” 1962, without disclosing the identities … [Read more...]

Deferring to Digerati: What Didn’t I Get About SFMOMA’s App?

Although I was expecting some pushback when I published my Wall Street Journal review of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's technological transformation, I've been taken aback at how my Twitter "Notifications" feed has been flooded with reactions (way beyond what I posted in my Storify of the first tweets) from SFMOMA's digital team, not to mention numerous other members of the tech tribe (including those at other museums). Although relentless, the barrage has been, for the most part, civil. Reasonable people can (vehemently) … [Read more...]

Twitter Swarm: My Storify on Reactions to My WSJ Review of SFMOMA’s New Tech

When I published today's Wall Street Journal piece on the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's technological transformation---Golden Gate Gigabytes (this hardcopy headline is much catchier than the online one)---I knew from the heated tweets inspired by my previous WSJ tech piece that I'd better duck. I'll have more to say about what I admired most about SFMOMA's eclectic tech innovations in a subsequent post. I briefly alluded to some of that in my WSJ piece, but there was only so much I could squeeze into 860 words. (I focused chiefly on … [Read more...]

Robust App, Weak Tours: My WSJ Review of SFMOMA’s Technological Transformation

I seem to have landed the museum-tech beat on the Wall Street Journal's "Arts in Review" page. In tomorrow's Personal Journal section (online now), you can read: At SFMOMA, Tech and Culture Meet---my mixed review of the newly expanded San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's digital transformation. In my previous digital adventure---The Brave New Museum Sputters Into Life---I groused that several art museums’ high-tech interpretive aids were “unintuitive, inadequately explained, or exasperatingly dysfunctional.” SFMOMA's robust new app, by … [Read more...]

Willful Wilsey Wilts: Regime Change at Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

The long overdue wresting of control over the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco from a bejeweled socialite and consummate fundraiser, Diane "Dede" Wilsey, is finally occurring under the museums' new director, Max Hollein, who assumed his post on June 1. What we don't yet know is whether Max impelled this change or just got lucky. In her dual role as FAMSF's board president and CEO, Wilsey was an eccentric, capricious leader, delaying the naming of a successor to late director John Buchanan on the shaky grounds that the staff needed more … [Read more...]

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