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“Overwhelmed by Art”: My WSJ Article on Wadsworth Atheneum’s Dazzling Transformation

More on this here. Can the Wadsworth Atheneum regain its former reputation as a midsized museum with outsized importance? My article for tomorrow's Wall Street Journal (online now)---At the Wadsworth Atheneum, an Old Building Gets New Life---details the sweeping physical and conceptual transformation that could help it return to its former glory, when legendary director A. Everett “Chick” Austin Jr. oversaw the country’s first exhibitions of Italian Baroque paintings and Surrealism, and its first Picasso retrospective. Beset by white … [Read more...]

Blank Space: What’s Missing from the Metropolitan Museum’s “Ancient Egypt” Show? (with video)

The Metropolitan Museum's grand Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom (Oct. 12-Jan. 24) displays some 230 objects, ranging from monumental stone sculptures to delicate jewelry---"the first comprehensive exhibition to be presented of Middle Kingdom art," in the words of Met director Tom Campbell. Thanks in large measure to the museum's own excavations, about one-third of the show comes from the Met's own rich collection... ...while the rest is culled from 37 lenders in North America and Europe. There's one thing, though, … [Read more...]

ISIS Crisis: AAMD’s Risky “Safe Haven” Initiative for Endangered Archaeological Material

Understandably distressed by the inability of the international cultural community to prevent the continued decimation of world heritage by ISIS, members of Association of Art Museum Directors could be putting their own institutions at risk by implementing their newly issued Protocols for Safe Havens for Works of Cultural Significance from Countries in Crisis. Intended to protect "irreplaceable works of art and archaeological materials that are currently in danger of destruction" (in the words of AAMD's announcement), these protocols, if … [Read more...]

National Academy Update (plus: details on its shaky financials)

The "update" is that there is no update. On Saturday, I was told by architect Bruce Fowle, president of the National Academy, that a press release would be issued on Sunday or Monday, “clarifying her [director Carmine Branagan’s] status at the Academy.” On Monday (yesterday), I was told by the Dewey Blanton, the Academy's director of communications and public relations, that "it now seems more likely the release will not be ready until tomorrow" (that is, today). Having heard nothing, I emailed him today at 5:08 p.m. and Blanton … [Read more...]

More Perfect Union (than with Corcoran): University of Maryland & Phillips Collection Tie the Knot

It seems that Wallace Loh, president of the University of Maryland (UMD), never got over his desire to form a far-reaching partnership with a Washington, D.C., art museum. Change the partner from the (now dismantled) Corcoran Gallery to the thriving Phillips Collection, and you've got wedded bliss: The Phillips and UMD today jointly announced a new agreement for sharing resources and expertise. Their press release describes the plan as "ambitious, entrepreneurial, and risk‐supportive, ...essential qualities in today’s competitive arts … [Read more...]

Shakeup Rumored at the National Academy

Because of my past coverage, I've become an unofficial clearinghouse for rumors about trouble at the National Academy. Some haven't checked out and I've not published them. But I believe that the rumors I started hearing yesterday regarding an impending change of status of the Academy's director, Carmine Branagan, are likely to stick. One tipster (who gave me his name but has not yet responded to my query about how he knows what he knows) today provided me with more details about what he says is happening: He wrote that the board … [Read more...]

My Storify: Museum-Tech Tweeters Pummel Me, Re: My WSJ Article & Blog Posts

The museum digerati have struck back. Below is my Storify on the Twitter storm that erupted yesterday around my Wall Street Journal story and related blog posts about museums' use of technology in their galleries. I became the subject of a social-media feeding frenzy, in which I was transformed into a straw man (stick-in-the-mud adversary of tech-related experimentation, change and inclusiveness), the better to be knocked down. Twitter is no place to make nuanced arguments (although I gave it a try). I dropped out of the argument after … [Read more...]

Sudden Departure: Max Anderson Precipitously Leaves Dallas Museum Directorship

This is not how amicable resignations usually happen: The Dallas Museum of Art today announced that its director of less than four years, Maxwell Anderson, "has stepped down [emphasis added] as director of the DMA to take on the position of director of grant programs at the [Paris-based] New Cities Foundation in New York." In other words, he has already left, with no director's search, let alone a named successor, in place. The DMA is only now forming its search committee, with Walter Elcock, its board president, serving as its … [Read more...]

Tech Trauma: MoMA’s New Chief Tech Officer, Plus More on Museums’ Digital Disasters

The Museum of Modern Art's use of technology (including its Audio+ museum tours and its hyperactive, frustrating-to-navigate website) could certainly use improvement. But promoting from within may not be the best way to achieve that. MoMA today announced the appointment of Diana Pan, its director of technology and applications since 2009, to be its chief technology officer, effective immediately. Her new gig involves overseeing "the strategic direction and tactical delivery of all information technology systems and solutions to support … [Read more...]

Rethinking Displays: My Q&A with Salort-Pons, Detroit Institute’s New Director—Part II

Part I is here. We interrupt our two-part interview with Salvador Salort-Pons, the Detroit Institute of Arts' new director (effective Oct. 15) to bring a news bulletin regarding his predecessor, Graham Beal: Michigan State University announced last week that Beal will remain in-state for this academic year, as MSU's visiting Hannah Distinguished Professor, "the most prestigious faculty appointment at the university." In addition to teaching, Graham's duties will include serving as senior adviser to the provost, assisting in the search … [Read more...]

$600-Million Endowment?!? My Q&A with Salort-Pons, Detroit Institute’s New Director—Part I

Part II is here. In an appointment reminiscent of the Art Institute of Chicago's elevation to its directorship of Douglas Druick  and the Metropolitan Museum's appointment of Tom Campbell to its top spot, the Detroit Institute of Arts today named an inside candidate with solid art credentials, Salvador Salort-Pons, 45, to become its 11th director, effective Oct. 15. He succeeds Graham Beal---a tough act to follow---who retired on June 30. Whereas Druick, with a distinguished 26-year career in Chicago before assuming the top post, was … [Read more...]

The Broad Broadsided: Critics Take Aim

No good deed goes unpunished. That adage seems sadly apt when it comes to collector/philanthropist Eli Broad, whose eponymous downtown Los Angeles museum, opening Sept. 20, has already sustained potshots from leading art critics, giving new symbolic meaning to the signature dent in its Diller Scofidio + Refro-designed façade: Beginning with a display of some 250 selections from his 2,000-work collection, The Broad is intended to realize Eli's desire (as he expressed it to me in a 2008 interview) to have his collection "shown to the biggest … [Read more...]

Whopping Risk for Sotheby’s: Some $500 Million Guaranteed to Taubman Estate

In the annals of art auction guarantees for a single consignor, this one may well set a record. In its Form 8-K SEC filing yesterday, Sotheby's reported this about its upcoming sales of more than 500 works from the estate of its former chairman, A. Alfred Taubman: On Sept. 2, 2015, Sotheby’s entered into an arrangement with the Estate of A. Alfred Taubman (“the Estate”) under which Sotheby’s will sell works of art from the collection of A. Alfred Taubman at auctions expected to occur primarily in November 2015 and also in early 2016. Robert … [Read more...]

MoMA’s “Picasso Sculpture” Blunder: Mr. Lowry, Put Up Those Labels!

I know that I saw a landmark show of wit and whimsy yesterday, but I'm not entirely clear on exactly what was there: To be sure, there were lots of things that I recognized (and many others that I was glad to discover) in the Museum of Modern Art's sweeping Picasso Sculpture (Sept. 14-Feb. 7). But making sense of it all was something of a chore, because this sprawling display was label-free. To get rudimentary information about titles, materials and dates, you had to look closely at the object... ...and then figure out which … [Read more...]

“Inadequately Explained, Exasperatingly Dysfunctional”: My WSJ Piece on Tech in Museums

In my recent travels to art museums, I've spent far too much time gazing at digital screens instead of the art. That's because I've been researching an article for tomorrow's Wall Street Journal (online now) analyzing museums' use of technology to enhance the gallery experience. My article's unsung hero is Stephanie Cunningham, one of the Brooklyn Museum's group of educators and art historians armed with deep information resources at their fingertips and trained to answer, quickly and cogently, the questions posed to them by visitors on the … [Read more...]

Trumpeting a Strumpet; Slammer to Glamor: Modigiliani & Taubman Faceoff in Auction Wars

I had a did-he-really-say-that moment early last month, when listening to Sotheby's CEO Tad Smith woo stock analysts during the auction house's second-quarter conference call: Smith, new to Sotheby's, glowingly cited the late A. Alfred Taubman, the auction house's criminally convicted former chairman, as a role model. Taubman had done jail time for his role in the darkest period in Sotheby's's recent history---the price-fixing scandal that involved collusion with Christie's in setting the level of commissions. In a related class-action … [Read more...]

“Hamilton’s” Universal Appeal: A Writer’s Writer, Immigrant’s Immigrant (& a Christie’s Market Tie-In)

Belatedly, because I just got there on Saturday, I'm joining the "Hamilton" chorus. One of the many mind-blowing strengths of Lin-Manuel Miranda's explosive rap opera is that it resonates on so many levels for so many different theatergoers. It certainly strikes a chord with the young: Every actor's rap aria was followed by loud, appreciative "woo-hoos!"---not your standard Broadway ovation. But while the audience skewed younger, it was almost devoid of minorities, notwithstanding the show's overwhelmingly black and Latino … [Read more...]

Adjaye in Play? What’s Behind Worldwide Search for Obama Center’s Architect?

Could architect David Adjaye be in play to design the planned Obama Presidential Center on Chicago's South Side? He was, after all, the choice of Thelma Golden to design the new home (on the old site) for the Studio Museum of Harlem, which she directs. Golden is a recent addition to the board of the Obama Foundation, which is responsible for all aspects of the plans for the Presidential Center. Adjaye could benefit from the Obama Foundation's unorthodox decision, announced today, to mount a worldwide search for an architect to design the … [Read more...]

True-isms: Marion True, the Getty’s Sacrificial Ex-Curator, Vents Again

The lionization of the late dealer in dicey antiquities, Robert Hecht, on the occasion of the publication of his memoir, apparently struck a nerve with the Getty Museum's ex-curator of antiquities, Marion True: In her recent interview with Washington Post reporter Geoff Edgers, True again vented her bitterness about how she had been left to twist slowly in the wind by her colleagues and her superiors, including then Getty director John Walsh, who had overseen her controversial acquisitions: I never understood is why American museums did what … [Read more...]

Chewing Up Chiu: Thin-Skinned DC Critics Feel Snubbed by Hirshhorn’s NYC Fundraising Gala

Memo to Philip Kennicott and Kriston Capps: Get over it! These two estimable Washington, DC-based art writers have gotten bent out of shape over the decision by Melissa Chiu, director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden since September, to hold a 40th-anniversary gala in New York, where she had directed the Asia Society Museum from 2004 until her Hirshhorn appointment. There she had notable fundraising success as described in her Hirshhorn bio: Chiu secured about 80 percent of the Asia Society Museum’s budget through gifts from … [Read more...]

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