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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

More on this 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 suggests) was … [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...]

“Baseless Claims”: Getty Blasts Phoenix Ancient Art for Megamillion Lawsuit Over Torlonia Collection

When I wrote approvingly last Friday about the Getty Museum's reinstallation plans for the antiquities collection housed in its Villa, little did I know that the museum was being sued that same day in an antiquities-related case to the tune of $77 million (plus damages, lawyers' fees and expenses). The full 38-page complaint is here. The lead plaintiff in this U.S. District Court civil case is Phoenix Ancient Art, a gallery in Geneva and New York, which accuses the Getty of breach of contract, fraud, unfair competition and various other … [Read more...]

Art Errors: Steve Cohen Evades Not Only the Feds, But Also the New Yorker’s Fact-Checkers

When I read the art-related passages in the New Yorker's Total Return: When the feds went after a hedge-fund legend (aka Steve Cohen, the mega-collector ), all I could think of was: Where are the magazine's fact-checkers when it really needs them? Sheelah Kolhatkar, a former hedge fund analyst and current staff writer at the magazine, will publish a book next month enlarging upon on her magazine article's subject---the failed effort of Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, to pin insider-trading crimes on … [Read more...]

Good News for the New Year: Reinstallation of the Getty Villa

If you're down in the dumps about Trump, or just coping with some post-holiday blues, I'm making an effort this month to perk you up with something atypical of the hypercritical CultureGrrl---good news. I'll start by my eating some of my critical words while extolling plans for the Getty Villa's long-overdue sweeping reinstallation of its antiquities collection at the Getty Villa, Malibu. This month, that work has finally started. Here's a designer's rendering of what, for now, appears to be a rather stark-looking gallery: According … [Read more...]

“Staying Strong” to Get Over the Trump Hump: Whitney Director Adam Weinberg Makes His Stand

Adam Weinberg went all Meryl Streep on us tonight. Like the impassioned actress speaking at the Golden Globes award ceremony last night, Weinberg never mentioned the President-elect by name earlier this evening, when he feelingly addressed the press at a cocktail reception at the museum. But neither speaker left any doubt that Trump was their subject. Weinberg's comments could provide a road map for other museums seeking ways to react swiftly and meaningfully to our fraught political situation, while still allowing room for diverse … [Read more...]

St. Louis Blues: A Bingham for Trump’s Inaugural Lunch Could Have Come from the White House

In my Friday post about the St. Louis Art Museum's (SLAM's) controversial plan to lend Bingham's “The Verdict of the People,” 1854–55, to grace the Jan. 20 Presidential Inauguration Luncheon, I questioned the appropriateness of a museum's allowing one of its treasures to leave the building not for scholarly and/or public purposes, but as decor for a private event. As it happens, there's an available Bingham that's closer at hand---at the White House: In his "Masterpiece" column in the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 4 (before SLAM's … [Read more...]

St. Louis Blues: Art Museum Unfairly Slammed As a Trump Chump

Let's be blunt: Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri understandably turned to his home state's museum when, as chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, he set out to find an appropriate American painting to grace the Jan. 20 Presidential Inauguration Luncheon. Who could slam SLAM (the St. Louis Art Museum) for obliging its Senator with this? As it turns out, a lot of people have cast blame on the museum, most notably some 2,550 (at this writing) signatories to a petition, who want the loan withdrawn … [Read more...]

Weine & Weiss (aka Ken & Dan): Alliterative Communications Partners at Metropolitan Museum

As chance would have it, I was on the premises of the Metropolitan Museum today when it issued its press release about regime change in Communications, the department with which I have the most contact. Kenneth Weine, an attorney, will soon become the Met's chief communications officer, with responsibility for media relations, as well as marketing, audience research, tourism, and internal communications. What the press release didn't say (but what the NY Times' Robin Pogrebin today reported) was that Elyse Topalian, the Met's point … [Read more...]

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