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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...]

“The Keeper” Sleeper: The New Museum Displays the Harrowing “Sketchbook from Auschwitz”

"Start on the fourth floor, but make sure not to miss the second floor," New Museum director Lisa Phillips advised me when I arrived with only an hour to spare for the press preview of The Keeper (to Sept. 25)---an ephemera-packed exhibition of the stuff assembled and preserved by obsessive-compulsive accumulators of objects and images. Astutely curated by the indispensable Massimiliano Gioni, the museum's artistic director, the show examines and ennobles the visionary and/or documentary impulses behind these eccentric labors of love. When I … [Read more...]

The Met Mess: Parsing the Organizational Upheavals at the Metropolitan Museum

What do the disarray of the Metropolitan Museum's finances and the shakeup of its senior staff say about Tom Campbell's performance as director of this country's preeminent art museum? It could be that directing the Met is too complicated and challenging a task for someone who assumed the post with scant administrative experience. In September 2008, at Campbell's meet-the-press moment upon being named to succeed the formidable Philippe de Montebello, I had questioned the respected tapestry specialist about his paucity of administrative … [Read more...]

GOP Stop? Cleveland Museum’s Convention Intervention

The Cleveland Museum of Art today finds itself near "the room where it happens" (to quote from Broadway's "Hamilton"). Some convention-weary delegates and families will probably migrate there, seeking respite and cultural solace.   While awaiting further developments, the museum posted a mischievous tweet, which sparked this @ClevelandArt/@CultureGrrl exchange: … [Read more...]

Shiner Whiner: Warhol Museum’s Director Joins the Flight from Museum to Market

Should museum directors and curators parlay their nonprofit contacts into for-profit pursuits? The latest news in museum-to-market defections---last week's announcement that Eric Shiner, the five-year director of the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, will leave Aug. 15 to join Sotheby's---is one of several eyebrow-raising transitions suggesting that the financial incentive and frisson of becoming an art-market player are overcoming some directors' and curators' reluctance to forsake disinterested scholarly, educational and populist … [Read more...]

Climate-Control Crisis Closes Brooklyn Museum

The Brooklyn Museum dropped this bombshell in my inbox at 5:23 p.m.: Because of an air-conditioning outage, the Brooklyn Museum will be closed tomorrow, Friday, July 8 through Sunday, July 10. Our team is working around the clock to replace the damaged systems during this time. All museum collections are being constantly monitored and sensitive materials are being moved to climate controlled spaces. Please check for updates and for more information on rescheduled programs. New York City is in the midst of a … [Read more...]

Injured Elvis’ Secret Tryst with Conservators: SFMOMA’s Neal Benezra Tells All

Journalists (including me) extracted only minimal information from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's press office about the "minimal" damage suffered by Warhol's celebrated "Triple Elvis [Ferus type]," 1963, on 100-year loan from the Doris and Donald Fisher Collection. But Neal Benezra, the museum's director, was more forthcoming when I caught up with him last week in New York at the press preview for the exhilaratingly eclectic, must-see Bruce Conner retrospective, premiering at the Museum of Modern Art (to Oct. 2), before traveling … [Read more...]

“Masterpiece of Design”: MoMA Flies Its Copy of “Rainbow Flag” for Pride Week; SFMOMA Marches!

I scooped the Museum of Modern Art on Twitter, regarding its observance of Pride Week. On Thursday, I tweeted about the museum's prominent display (in front of the picture window overlooking its Sculpture Garden) of the iconic "Rainbow Flag," as it is titled on its wall label. (The museum's collection website gives it a different name---"LGBT Flag.") Two days later, MoMA posted its own tweet about its current display of this enduring gay pride symbol, with a link to its informative 2015 interview with Gilbert Baker, the self-described … [Read more...]

“Commercial in Confidence”: National Gallery of Victoria Upholds MoMA’s Secrecy on Loan (or rental) Fees

In my post last week spotlighting the lack of transparency about the financial terms (collegial loan or money-making rental?) of the Museum of Modern Art's planned dispatch of some 150 masterworks for temporary display at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), Melbourne, I promised that if I learned more from the NGV, you'd learn more. Here's how a spokesperson from the Australian museum answered my recent queries (emphasis added): We are delighted to be working in partnership with MoMA to bring some of the world’s best contemporary … [Read more...]

Broken Link: Sree Sreenivasan, Metropolitan Museum’s Chief Digital Officer, to Depart

This bombshell (in the form of an internal memo) has just been dropped by Thomas Campbell and Daniel Weiss, director and president, respectively, of the Metropolitan Museum. (Photos, text in italics and links are mine, not theirs): We wanted to share the news that Sree Sreenivasan will be leaving his position at the Met after three years serving as the Museum’s first chief digital officer. This decision has been made in the context of the recentering of the Museum’s work and our current financial restructuring. In his time with us, Sree has … [Read more...]

ARTnews Lives! (former parent company files for bankruptcy)

A lot of confusion ensued from this artnet post today, in which Brian Boucher reported: Artnews S.A., the Polish company that briefly published the New York-based ARTnews magazine and, even briefer still, Art in America, has filed for bankruptcy and liquidation of its assets, according to the Polish website Investments. Did this mean that ARTnews was going to fold? Not so, according to the official statement, just issued by Rubenstein Associates, the media relations firm, on behalf of collector/publisher Peter Brant's BMP Media … [Read more...]

“What Is an Art Museum?” Some 50 AAMD Members Tell Us (video)

For museum junkies like me, the video below, produced by the Association of Art Museum Directors in connection with its 100th birthday, is a delight---not only for the contagious enthusiasm and astute insights of museum leaders from around the country, limning the value of the museum experience, but also, in my case, for the chance to reencounter many directors whom I've known and interviewed but haven't seen in years. As part of his institution's recent press release announcing an intriguing show that will juxtapose the works of Jasper … [Read more...]

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