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“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...]

My Apollo Magazine Debate on Satellite Museums; Plus: Latest Abu Dhabi Workers’ Rights Report


I recently got tapped by Apollo magazine to tackle the topic listed on the lower-right corner of the January cover (above): "The trouble with museum franchises." Little did I know how timely this would turn out to be, thanks to the just released 2014 independent monitor report on employment practices at projects (including the Louvre Abu Dhabi) on Saadiyat Island, where the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim satellite is planned (although only preliminary site preparation as been done thus far). Issued by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the latest … [Read more...]

The DIY Museum, Part I: New Souped-Up Cooper Hewitt (with video)


I visit museums to admire and understand the work produced by the most talented people in their fields, not to try my hand at doing what they do. That means I'm probably not the ideal visitor for the reconceived, interactive Cooper Hewitt that has finally reopened after a too-long, three-year hiatus. All photos by Lee Rosenbaum It's not that I don't appreciate the artistry and utility of good design. But when I see great art, I don't feel inspired to make some myself. Similarly, when I see great design, I don't feel inspired to become a … [Read more...]

“Forever Now,” Forever Yesterday: MoMA’s Failed Defense of 21st-Century Painting

Laura Hoptman, curator of "Forever Now"

As a lover of painting, I was rooting for the curator Laura Hoptman's survey of current art in that venerable genre---The Forever Now, which opened yesterday (to Apr. 5) at the Museum of Modern Art. Sadly, this show didn't do much to help the cause. I had high hopes that this 17-artist exhibition of works featuring pigment that is applied by hand, not digitally (sometimes on canvas, sometimes on another surface) would counter the end-of-painting talk by major curators like Hans Ulrich Obrist who (according to the recent New Yorker … [Read more...]

BlogBack: Spence Porter on British Museum’s Elgin Marble Loan

Spence Porter

I'm not the only one speculating about Neil MacGregor's reasons for temporarily losing his Marbles. New York playwright Spence Porter responds to Preparing for Lawsuit? Why Might Neil MacGregor Be Doubling Down on His Elgin Marbles Bet?: I'm not an attorney so this may be totally off base, but I can't help thinking of another reason for the British Museum to do the Russian loan. If the argument that the sculptures should be returned to Greece hinges on the idea that the marbles are a single unified work of art that needs to be reunited, … [Read more...]

Stubbornly Figurative in an Age of Abstraction: Jane Freilicher, 90, Dies

Jane Freilicher in her studio, 1984
Photo by Nancy Crampton, courtesy Tibor de Nagy Gallery

Jane Freilicher, the deftly atmospheric figurative painter whose death at the age of 90 was announced yesterday by her New York gallery, Tibor de Nagy, was one of the artists I interviewed for a Mar. 7, 1993 piece in the NY Times "Arts & Leisure" section (no link available) on "older" artists (then in their 50s and 60s) who were well known but had fallen out of fashion. What I wrote about her back then remained true: Unlike many once trendy artists, Jane Freilicher has never been flavor of the month. "A lot of people who had flash … [Read more...]

Preparing for Lawsuit? Why Might Neil MacGregor Be Doubling Down on His Elgin Marbles Bet?

Neil MacGregor
Photo by Jason Bell

In his sudden, astonishing campaign to make piecemeal loans of Parthenon Marbles to foreign museums, Neil MacGregor---a lawyer before he became a museum professional---may be laying the groundwork for the British Museum's defense against the Greek government's contemplated lawsuit to reclaim the so-called Elgin Marbles. After I posted my perplexity as to why the always astute MacGregor would do something so seemingly clueless as to suggest that the irate Greeks should be "delighted" with the British Museum's dispatch of River-God Ilissos … [Read more...]

Neil MacGregor Plays Russian Roulette with the Acropolis Marbles

River-God Ilissos, 438–432 B.C., British Museum (originally from west pediment of the Parthenon, Athens)

More on this here. Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, is not a stupid person. So what can he have been thinking when he recently said (as reported by BBC Radio 4) "that he hoped the Greek government would be 'delighted'" about his institution's loan to the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, of the River-God Ilissos---a reclining male figure originally from the west pediment of the Parthenon in Athens? In Friday's radio interview, MacGregor added: I hope that they [the Greeks] will be very pleased that a huge new … [Read more...]

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