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Fixing the Actual “Glass Ceiling” at the Metropolitan Museum: My Q&A with Keith Christiansen

With all the recent pushback against the supposed "glass ceiling" at the Metropolitan Museum (occasioned by the naming of an eminently qualified male, Max Hollein, to assume its directorship), let's take a look at another glass-ceiling problem there, which is unambiguous and needs immediate remediation: Keith Christiansen, the Met's chairman of European paintings, ended the museum's December press breakfast with a preview of the sweeping changes that have begun this month in the galleries under his purview. In a $150-million project that … [Read more...]

What Obstacles Will Max Hollein Need to Surmount as Metropolitan Museum’s New Director?

Max Hollein will have two strikes against him---one insignificant, one potentially serious---when he walks in the door this summer as the Metropolitan Museum's new director. The first liability is irremediable, unless he's planning a sex-change: He is not a woman. In this identity-politics era, that's a lamentable deficiency for some, notably Lisa Oliver, an assistant professor of art history at Wellesley College and former Met fellow (2014 to 2015). The NY Times saw fit to give this minor player a major platform, with two op-ed … [Read more...]

Berkshire Blurbs: Lucas Museum Buys “Shuffleton’s”; Sotheby’s Lowers Some Estimates

No surprise here: The planned Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, Los Angeles, which broke ground last month, today announced its acquisition of Norman Rockwell's "Shuffleton's Barbershop" from the Berkshire Museum (price undisclosed). This means that Don Bacigalupi, president of the deep-pocketed museum, now has the dubious distinction of being the enabler of not one but two transactions bankrolled by megabucks patrons (here's the other one) that have been deplored by museums' professional organizations. Here's Don at the Lucas, which is … [Read more...]

Fine with Hollein: Max to Be Metropolitan Museum’s New Director

Okay, I knew this. Last week, I contacted Max Hollein, who this afternoon has just been named (by Robin Pogrebin, at the above link) as the Metropolitan Museum's next director, effective this summer. (Press release from the Met came shortly after the NY Times piece, and perhaps others that I didn't see, went online.) I had asked Max last Wednesday if he could send me his private (non-museum) email, which he promptly did, using that opportunity to hype his current museum's (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco's) just opened "major and … [Read more...]

Market Madness: Sotheby’s to Auction 13 Berkshire Museum Works this May

Farewell, George Washington. Notwithstanding its direct relevance to the Berkshire Museum's mission (which includes both history and art) and the museum's professed concern for the education of schoolchildren, a portrait of our first President is among its works to be sold at Sotheby's American Art sale on May 23: (Presale estimates are as of Sotheby's September release of the full checklist for the Berkshire deaccessions.) As the museum announced today, some 13 of the 40 works that on Apr. 5 were approved for sale by … [Read more...]

Picking on the Frick: Is It Shortchanged by Its Significantly Downsized Expansion Plan?

"We're able to achieve everything we need," Ian Wardropper, the Frick Collection's browbeaten director, told Robin Pogrebin of the NY Times about his institution's revised renovation and expansion plans. Not exactly. Before the Frick can get "everything we need," its plan (revised and reduced after the 2014 proposal was derailed by opponents) must be scrutinized by various city bodies whose approval is required. The press release (linked in the first paragraph) mentions the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Board of Standards … [Read more...]

Deaccession Dejection: Court Allows Berkshire Museum Sales (UPDATED 5Xs)

Justice David Lowy of Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has just handed down a lamentable decision that rubber-stamps the devil's bargain between the Attorney General and the trustees of the Berkshire Museum (the details of which I previously reported here). Maybe we'll finally learn the identity of the nonprofit museum that has made an unspecified offer for the star discard, "Shuffleton's Barbershop," with a promise to display it prominently and to lend it to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA, for 18-24 months. Here's … [Read more...]

Morbid Fascination: The Undead Haunt the Met Breuer’s “Like Life” (with video)

"Ewww, gross!" exclaimed a seasoned critic (not me), disconcerted by one of many creepy, gruesome works that affront delicate sensibilities in the Met Breuer's Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body (1300–Now), to July 22. This provocative flesh-fest of some 120 strange bedfellows is the fever dream of two high-profile Met curators, who have approached their common project from different art-historical time frames and contrasting interpretive angles. Luke Syson has brought his usual astute analysis and deep scholarship to the historic … [Read more...]

April Showers: 28 La Salle University Deaccessions in Three Christie’s Auctions (with estimates)

Without a press release, let alone any fanfare, Christie's has now published the complete catalogue information (including presale estimates) for 28 of the 46 works that were deaccessioned by La Salle University to bankroll its "five-year strategic plan, whose overarching goal is exceptional student outcomes resulting from deeply engaged, integrated, innovative high-impact teaching and learning," in the words of Christie's online essay about the sale. Below is the work in the April sales bearing, by far, the highest estimate. I had featured … [Read more...]

Why Did the Attorney General Cave in Berkshire Museum Case? My Q&A with the Rockwells’ Lawyer

Those, like me, who were caught off-guard by the astonishing deal (now awaiting court validation) cut last month by the Berkshire Museum and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey feel justifiably blindsided by the AG's about-face. With scant explanation, she pivoted from a seemingly adversarial stance towards the museum's deaccessions of the cream of its collection to acceptance of the shameful sell-offs, notwithstanding the fact that they would run afoul of professional standards and would violate what the AG had deemed to be … [Read more...]

Berkshire Museum in Court: Pointed Questions, No Resolution (plus, a push for a deaccession law)

While the Berkshire Eagle's Larry Parnass rushes off to file his story on the just concluded court hearing on the Berkshire Museum's art-sale plans, let's interpret what we've learned from Larry's live tweets on how the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court proceedings went. No decision or course of action was proffered today by Justice David Lowy, who could allow the art sales to proceed, with or without certain restrictions, or could refer the case to the full court for more expansive consideration. Further delay would likely cause the … [Read more...]

Court Hearing/Protest Demonstration: Crucial Week in Berkshire/La Salle Deaccession Deliberations

Coming to a boil this week, the heated controversies over the fate of endangered collections at two small, little-known museums pose a huge potential threat to museums around the country. And there's only one sure way to arrest this downward spiral. Tomorrow (Tuesday) at noon, an hour-long cy près hearing will be held by Justice David Lowy in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that may determine whether it would be "impossible or impracticable" for the Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, MA, to remain financially viable and fulfill its mission … [Read more...]

Fallen Giants: Richard Meier at Cornell University & the Getty Center (and other besmirched luminaries)

"He's a giant. We are all basking in the glow of his legacy." So said Kent Kleinman, Cornell University's Dean of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, as quoted in a Cornell Chronicle article about architect Richard Meier's visit to his (and my) alma mater. "For him to come back and share his life as an architect with the next generation of architects is really an incredible privilege," Kleinman gushed. That was in October 2012, when Meier sat in on a studio class co-taught by Assistant Professor Caroline O'Donnell, the … [Read more...]

“Plundering the Art Museum”: La Salle University Faculty Senate Blasts Planned Art Sales (full text) UPDATED

In a statement approved unanimously by those attending its Mar. 6 meeting, the Faculty Senate of La Salle University, Philadelphia, blasted the proposed sale through Christie's of 46 highlights of from the collection of the institution's art museum. The proceeds would go towards implementing a five-year strategic plan, "Momentum: 2022," that the university says will "position [it] for growth and sustainability, and further enhance student experience and outcomes, and innovation in teaching and learning." The Faculty Senate statement was … [Read more...]

Bible Bumble: Copy Confusion Muddles Museum of the Bible

My belated visit to the three-month-old Museum of the Bible (MOTB) during my recent Washington sojourn began inauspiciously and went downhill from there: When I asked the woman at the ticket counter where I should begin my journey through the galleries, she advised that I skip the top floor and work my way down from the floor below. I wisely disobeyed those instructions, once I learned that the floor I was encouraged to skip featured an exhibition of some 800 objects on loan from the Israel Antiquities Authority's National Treasures. This … [Read more...]

Far Out! Psychedelia at Metropolitan Museum’s “Golden Kingdoms” (with video)

In a tweet today, Joanne Pillsbury, the Metropolitan Museum's curator of the Arts of the Ancient Americas, called attention to one of two miniature objects that caught my eye (perhaps for the wrong reasons) at yesterday's press preview for Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient America, which received deserved acclaim during its recent run at the Getty Museum. Here's Joanne's tweet: Raise the conch-shell trumpet! #GoldenKingdoms opens to the public @metmuseum on Wednesday, February 28th! pic.twitter.com/gUKFPupcjN — Joanne … [Read more...]

My Live Tweets from the Obama Portraits Event: Eclectic Crowd, Controversial Art

In case you still have an appetite for more about the Obama portraits unveiling and installation, here's my series of live tweets from the scene: … [Read more...]

“Respect” Not “Hagiography”: How National Portrait Gallery Sizes Up Obama & His Predecessors

In pithy new blurbs, the National Portrait Gallery's revamped and reinterpreted "America's Presidents" installation strives to tell each former officeholder's "unique stories of both triumph and failure" (in the words of the introductory wall text). The individual labels for the portraits of our 44 previous chief executives explore both the heights and depths of their terms in office. To the best of my knowledge, most members of the national art press who attended last week's unveiling of Barack and Michelle Obamas' portraits in the … [Read more...]

Obama Drama: Unveiled, Hung and Exiled (with video)

More on this here. "It’s kind of amazing to think that [the Obama portraits] will be living next to the other portraits [emphasis added] of all of the other presidents and first ladies," Rujeko Hockley, assistant curator at the Whitney Museum, gushed in an interview with The Nation about the latest presidential commissions by the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery. Sad to say, Ru, Barack Obama is not actually "next to the other portraits" of the U.S. Presidents. As you will see in my video, below, he's tucked away behind … [Read more...]

Berkshire Debacle: The Attorney General Caves

Read it and weep. The Massachusetts Attorney General has acceded to a plan for the Berkshire Museum to sell as many of its 40 deaccessioned works as necessary to come up with the $55 million that it says it needs for endowment and capital projects.  Already spoken for is the most valuable and beloved of those works, Norman Rockwell's "Shuffleton's Barbershop" (below). According to the Complaint for Equitable Relief filed by the Berkshire Museum trustees today in Supreme Judicial Court of Suffolk County, an unidentified nonprofit museum … [Read more...]

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