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Slinging the Art-Market Lingo: A Crash Course for Confused Journalists

The scene last night at Sotheby's

All of the muddled misinformation and misinterpretations being dispensed this week by well-intentioned but insufficiently informed art-market journalists are beginning to set my teeth on edge. In advance of tonight's numbingly long Christie's contemporary sale (85 lots, unless some are withdrawn), below is a timely corrective. It is intended to be helpful, not accusatory: I will not name the guilty, but for those of you who have been following the sales coverage, some of this may sound familiar: PRESALE ESTIMATE: This is what it says it … [Read more...]

Strong Start, Weak Finish at Sotheby’s $379.68-Million Contemporary Sale


Here's my running Twitter commentary on Sotheby's $379.68-million sale tonight of 63 lots. Eight of those lots didn't sell and another nine, which brought $15.92 million (including buyers premium), were sold to benefit LA MOCA. Even the buyers premium went to the museum, according to Sotheby's recent proxy statement. The statement also revealed that the auction firm would "reimburse the museum for expenses associated with the consignment. The expenses...are expected to exceed $300,000." So that left 46 lots on which Sotheby's could … [Read more...]

$179.37-Million Picasso: My Storify Report on Christie’s Record-Smashing Sale


Here's my running Twitter commentary on "Looking Forward to the Past," Christie's tightly curated, buoyant $705.86-million, 35-lot modern/contemporary sale: [View the story "Christie's Triumph: $179.37-Million Picasso Becomes Most Expensive Artwork at Auction " on Storify] … [Read more...]

Whither the Whitney: Michelle Obama and the Question of Outreach

Michelle Obama addresses attendees at Whitney's ribbon-cutting, while director Adam Weinberg looks on
Photo from the Whitney's Instagram page

During the last of my three visits to the Whitney Museum's new digs in the NYC's Meatpacking District, I was struck by how the location had changed but the ethnically non-diverse demographics of the visitors had stayed the same. This was at variance with First Lady Michelle Obama's remarks (full text here) at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the day before the public opening. Here are excerpts from what she said: There are so many kids in this country who look at places like museums and concert halls and other cultural centers and they … [Read more...]

Tad Smith, Sotheby’s New CEO, is Silent at Perfunctory Annual Meeting

Workers affixing image of LIchtenstein's TK to exterior of Sotheby's
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Now that I've published my Wall Street Journal Whitney piece, I'm playing catch-up on other stories, including the upcoming contemporary art auctions. I went first to Sotheby's, to cover the 9 a.m. annual shareholders' meeting and to preview the contemporary offerings. While there, I decided to connect my smartphone to the auction house's public wi-fi network. I know that communications over public networks aren't secure, and I've clicked on many disclaimer messages before joining networks. But this one was unusually … [Read more...]

The New Whitney: An Irreverent Companion Essay for My WSJ Review


As I suggested in Old Favorites in Provocative New Company, my piece in today's Wall Street Journal, I loved the new Whitney Museum's inaugural exhibition of its permanent collection, America is Hard to See. But unlike most reviewers, I didn't buy the party line about how terrific its galleries are. The conventional wisdom is exemplified by this tweet from the NY Times' architecture critic: Went to new @whitneymuseum on first day open to public, w crowds: gorgeous, light filled, art looked great. So far, flawless. — Michael Kimmelman … [Read more...]

Coming Tomorrow: My WSJ Review of the New Whitney UPDATED

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

UPDATE: Here's my review. And here's Julie Iovine's companion piece. With my appraisal of the spacious new downtown digs of Whitney Museum set to appear in tomorrow's Wall Street Journal (online tonight), I will finally be able to break my uncharacteristic (WSJ-mandated) silence about this year's most important, game-changing development on the New York art scene. Unlike the battalion of jump-the-gun reviewers, we tortoises waited until we could see how well the place worked when fully installed and occupied by its intended … [Read more...]

Bailey Bails, Philippe Leaps: Big Surprises At Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and Hispanic Society of America

Colin Bailey

I don't know which astonished me more---Colin Bailey's short-notice decision to desert the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in June, after barely two years as its director, or Philippe de Montebello's decision to attach his formidable reputation to the sadly substandard Hispanic Society of America, by becoming its chairman. (Mitchell Codding remains its executive director.) Hobbled with staff turnover and without a permanent director for 16 months after John Buchanan's death, FAMSF desperately needed stability and scholarly ballast when … [Read more...]

Global Guggenheim Updates: Abu Dhabi (workers’ rights), Bilbao (renewal), Helsinki (finalists’ show)

Image of photo of Guggenheim Abu Dhabi model, shown at Philadelphia Museum's recent Frank Gehry show
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Will the Guggenheim's Middle East plans be affected by last week's NY Times revelations about yet another report detailing widespread violations of workers' rights guidelines in Abu Dhabi? (This latest chapter concerns New York University's new campus there.) Although its announced completion date remains 2017, there is still "no construction underway" on the Guggenheim's project, Tina Vaz, its director of communications for global initiatives, told me today. She added: We cannot comment on the specifics of the report. We do note … [Read more...]

“One-Way Ticket’s” Missed Connection: Lawrence’s “Migration” Show at MoMA Bypasses a Crucial Stop

MoMA director Glenn Lowry and curator Leah Dickerman
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

As I suggested near the end of my previous post, my enthusiasm for the Museum of Modern Art's profoundly illuminating, entertaining (thanks to its rich musical component) and deeply researched One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and Other Works was tinged with a drop of disappointment. During her opening remarks at the press preview, curator Leah Dickerman noted that one of the reasons for rehanging Lawrence's epic 60-panel account of the Great Migration of African-Americans from South to North was "to understand how it can … [Read more...]

“One-Way Ticket”? Lawrence’s “Migration Series” Should Remain Whole after MoMA’s Showing (with video) UPDATED

Panel 1 caption: During the World War there was a great migration North by Southern Negroes.
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

More on MoMA's Lawrence show here. Jacob Lawrence's "Migration Series" is our country's Parthenon Marbles---a monumental frieze-like epic, meant to be experienced in a single, stately procession, but sadly sundered by two covetous owners. In the 1942, within months of their completion by the precocious 23-year-old, the 60 small tempera paintings chronicling the movement of millions of African-Americans from South to North were divvied up by the Museum of Modern Art (which bought the even-numbered panels) and the Phillips Collection in … [Read more...]

Inaugural Jolt: The Whitney and Metropolitan Museums Go Against Type in Their New Digs

The New Whitney
Photo by Tim Schenck

In the inaugural displays that they have recently announced for their new digs, the Whitney and Metropolitan museums seem to be sending contrasting messages, bucking their respective images as provocatively experimental and conservatively sedate.                     With its 50,000-square-foot Renzo Piano-designed indoor gallery space to be devoted to some 650 works from its permanent collection (May 1-Sept. 27) and with a Frank Stella retrospective in … [Read more...]

More on “Cash Cow” Collections: Scotland’s Dazzling Rent-a-Show at the De Young

Velázquez, "An Old Woman Cooking Eggs," 1618
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

In Monday's post about the latest regrettable sales of art from the collection of Randolph College's Maier Museum, I adopted the NY Times' use of the term "cash cow" to signify what I've previously dubbed "deplorable deaccessions"---museums' disposals of art to raise money for purposes other than acquisitions. My own past use of "cash cow" has referred to a another dicey fundraising gambit that some museums resort to---exacting high fees for loans of permanent-collection shows to sister institutions (what I've previously termed … [Read more...]

“Cash Cow” Collections: Two More Maier Museum Works Sold, by Hicks & Hennings

Ernest Martin Hennings. "Through the Arroyo"

While a front-page NY Times piece by Doreen Carvajal yesterday focused primarily on recent European examples of museums' holdings being regarded as possible "cash cows" (in the words of the headline), an under-the-radar development in the U.S. has just added another chapter to the saga of deplorable deaccessions from Randolph College's Maier Museum. Randolph President Bradley W. Bateman last week announced the recent sales of Ernest Martin Hennings’ “Through the Arroyo” and Edward Hicks’ “A Peaceable Kingdom”---the remaining two of the … [Read more...]

Grousing about Klaus: Biesenbach and MoMA Get Björked

Klaus Biesenbach, speaking about upcoming exhibitions at last April's MoMA press briefing
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Just when Klaus Biesenbach must have thought the critics' response to his Björk retrospective couldn't get worse, he became the butt of an unfunny April Fools joke today on the website of the Art Newspaper. There's admittedly much to debate about the Museum of Modern Art's chief curator-at-large, who undeniably has had a mixed track record of hits and misses. But the recent swarm of attacks seems to me both excessive and meanspirited---a function of our Internet Age, in which clicks are king. The "Björking" that MoMA's controversial … [Read more...]

Extolling Viñoly: Q&A with Bill Griswold on Cleveland’s New Additions & How He’ll Pay for Them

Bill Griswold talking with a staff member about Family Game Night, in which he participated
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

William Griswold came to the Cleveland Museum of Art ready to party. With the museum celebrating its centennial in 2016, "there will be the requisite parties all year long, starting early in the year but certainly reaching a fevered pitch in June [the anniversary month]," he told me over lunch while visiting to work on two articles, including this Wall Street Journal review of the museum's current Senufo show. Looking ahead to more substantive centennial plans, Bill revealed: We hope to bring important loans of individual works of art … [Read more...]

Boffo Senufo: Companion Images for My WSJ Piece on Cleveland Museum’s African Show


As I suggest in my Wall Street Journal review on tomorrow's "Arts in Review" page (online now), the Cleveland Museum's stunning installation of what Westerners (but not the creators themselves) call "Senufo" art produces an immediate "wow" effect. But the museum's African art curator, Constantine Petridis, had a didactic, as well as aesthetic, agenda in how he orchestrated this display. Although he chose the objects for their beauty and power, Petridis kicked off the presentation in a way that struck me, at first, as … [Read more...]

More Metropolitan Museum Good News: Elated Over Ellsworth, Chipper About Chipperfield

Maxwell Hearn
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

While Christie's last week was triumphantly totaling up some $131.6 million in sales from the estate of the consummate Chinese art connoisseur, collector and dealer, Robert Ellsworth, the Metropolitan Museum's Asian Art Department chairman, Maxwell "Mike" Hearn, was quietly anticipating some Ellsworth worth for his own institution. "It's a new golden age," Hearn told me excitedly during our brief chat last week in the museum's Astor Court, just before the Met's press announcement of the public phase of its $70-million fundraising … [Read more...]

Mysterious Disappearance: Michael Taylor’s Unceremonious Departure from Dartmouth’s Hood Museum UPDATED


UPDATE: Michael Taylor promptly replied to my post: This is an ongoing situation and all I can say right now is that: "I have left my position as Director of the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College to pursue other career opportunities." Under mysterious circumstances, Michael Taylor has abruptly exited Dartmouth's Hood Museum, which he directed since 2011, after having served as curator of modern art at the Philadelphia Museum. So far, no one is saying why he's left the building. I have made no secret of my admiration for … [Read more...]

Weiss’ Wishes: Dan’s Plans for the Metropolitan Museum–Part II

Time to pack up again?
Dan Weiss unpacking cartons in his then new Haverford office, July 2013

Part I is here. During our recent phone conversation, Daniel Weiss, soon-to-be president of the Metropolitan Museum, repeatedly (and understandably) deflected my persistent queries seeking specific details about what he hopes to accomplish at the Met. "I'm not there yet!" he patiently reminded me. What Weiss did convey to me was a deep, sympathetic understanding of the Met's complex operations and activities, as well as a profound respect for what its professionals have accomplished. Although he's "not there yet" physically, he seems … [Read more...]

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