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Jayne Wrightsman’s “No Loans” Edict for Gifts & Bequests to the Metropolitan Museum

Today's announcement by the Metropolitan Museum about the "exceptional bequest" by trustee emerita Jayne Wrightsman (who died in April at 99) omits mention of a crucial way in which this windfall of some 375 objects, along with "substantial [but unspecified] additional funding," is indeed "exceptional": Under the conditions imposed by Wrightsman, the Met is hamstrung as to how it can deploy those acquisitions. Jayne Wrightsman, left, at Met’s 2008 loan show from Victoria and Albert Museum of Medieval and Renaissance Treasures (with Dragon … [Read more...]

Big Learning Curve for Sotheby’s New CEO in a Season of Lowered Expectations: My Q&As

With art-market pundits expressing cautious pessimism (here, here and here) about the prospects for this week's underwhelming Impressionist/Modern and Contemporary offerings at the New York auction houses, it's not the most auspicious of times for Sotheby's to be seeking solid footing after a management upheaval---a new owner, Patrick Drahi, and new CEO, Charles Stewart. At last week's very sparsely attended press preview for this week's major auctions, I got a chance to chat about Sotheby's era of uncertainty with four of the company's … [Read more...]

Discriminatingly Nondiscriminatory: MoMA Expands the Canon (but Leaves Out Native Americans)

Although I griped in my previous post about jarring juxtapositions of strange bedfellows in the reinstalled Museum of Modern Art, I also came across new matches made at MoMA that seemed meant-to-be. Those involved works that strongly resonated with each other, but that might not have been previously displayed together because artists from certain demographics---women, minorities, non-Westerners---had not typically been treated as equal partners in MoMA's galleries with white European and North American males. Female artists, in particular, … [Read more...]

Picasso Fiasco: Jarring Juxtapositions & Missed Connections at the New MoMA

The aggressively transgressive new MoMA, trying to combat museum-ennui by shaking up its displays, has aimed its cannon at the canon. Its disruptive installation strategy audaciously breaches traditional geographic, temporal and art-historical boundaries, arranging shotgun marriages among strange (and strained) bedfellows and sundering longtime soulmates. Particularly unsettling is the Museum of Modern Art's new penchant for putting lesser-known, less seminal works on equal footing with the icons, while separating some collection highlights … [Read more...]

“Getty Fire” Update: “Improved but Still Active”

This just in from Lisa Lapin, the Getty Trust’s vice president for communications, who this morning gave me a comprehensive report on the effect of the wildfire that had encroached on the Getty Center's property (but not on the museum itself): Situation improved, but still active. Fire Department estimates 48-72 hours to control and extinguish, according to their last press conference [my link, not hers]. We are going to stay closed tomorrow at both Getty Center and Getty Villa. While we are safe, we want to allow emergency responders space … [Read more...]

Worse Than 2017: The Getty’s Emergency Response to the Fire on Its Property

More on this here. Dubbed #GettyFire on Twitter, the conflagration threatening the Getty Center in LA today is a worse threat that the wildfire that menaced it in 2017. Unlike the previous one (about which I reported here), which was across the 405 freeway from the Getty, this one is "100% on our side of the 405, immediately north and west of us, and on our property [emphasis added]," according to Lisa Lapin, the Getty Trust's vice president for communications, who responded this morning to my query. Lisa Lapin Lapin added: Our … [Read more...]

Where Am I? MoMA’s Impermanent Displays of Its Permanent Collection (with video)

Which Way to Starry Night? That headline for Robin Pogrebin's NY Times report on the recently reopened Museum of Modern Art captures the disorientation of visitors as they attempt to figure out what's where in museum displays that have been expanded and entirely reshuffled. Here's one guidepost that flummoxed me at the press preview, as I tried to find my way to Gallery 516 (Artist's Choice: Amy Sillman), after consulting a guard who couldn't help: Photo by Lee Rosenbaum When I finally did reach my destination, I came upon a lone … [Read more...]

Confronting the MoMA Monster: How Its Rehang Lynches the Collection

How do I not love the Museum of Modern Art's reinstallation of its permanent collection in it expanded, renovated galleries? Let me count the ways. The galleries featuring two of MoMA's most beloved works best exemplify what's wrong with the museum's wayward arrays. As my Twitter followers already know, I managed to get a privileged look at what is arguably the museum's signature masterpiece. Never again am I likely to find myself as blissfully alone with van Gogh’s always mobbed “The Starry Night” as when I saw it at the end of one of … [Read more...]

“The Frick Breuer”? Metropolitan Museum May Hand Over the Keys for the Whitney’s Rental in July…

...or maybe not. The Metropolitan Museum last year had agreed to let the Frick Collection take over the Met's lease next summer on the Whitney Museum's Marcel Breuer-designed former home, conveniently located just a few blocks north of the Frick. But whether this bit of musical chairs will actually happen remains uncertain. The Frick still hopes to mount displays next year in the 1966 Brutalist building, while its own 1914 Beaux Arts home is being renovated and expanded. That elegant facility was designed as Henry Clay Frick's residence … [Read more...]

Balking at Walker: Darren, Ford Foundation’s President, Becomes National Gallery’s New Trustee

The news that Darren Walker, activist president of the deep-pocketed Ford Foundation, has been named as one of the National Gallery of Art's five "general trustees" (as distinguished from its trustees emeriti and ex officio members) gave me pause. My misgivings arose from what struck me as Walker's astonishingly clueless views on the current state of American museums, as expressed in his July 26 Op-Ed piece for the NY Times. Darren Walker, President, Ford Foundation Walker's likely agenda for the NGA (as foretold in his Times piece, … [Read more...]

Brazilian Whistle-Blower: Conservationist Roberto Burle Marx at the New York Botanical Garden

Brazilian Modern: The Living Art of Roberto Burle Marx turned out to be more timely than the New York Botanical Garden could have known when it began to organize what it billed as its "largest botanical exhibition ever." But the show, which closes Sunday, muffed its opportunity to make a strong stand in defense of these plants on their home turf in the wild---the Amazon rain forest. Barely alluded to in the NYBG's show is what the NY Times has recently described as the "ecological disaster in the Amazon" that has "escalated into a global … [Read more...]

Burnishing Bertoldo: The Frick Spotlights Donatello’s Pupil/Michelangelo’s Teacher (with video)

Bertoldo di Giovanni, a favorite of Lorenzo de' Medici and now the subject of a compact but comprehensive Frick Collection survey (to Jan. 12), is a Florentine sculptor who has been overshadowed by his more illustrious teacher (Donatello) and revered pupil (Michelangelo). As with last year's Leonardo show at Yale, which explored the blurred lines between Italian Renaissance masters and members of their studios, the Frick's examination of Bertoldo is an impressive exercise in curatorial connoisseurship but only moderately successful in producing … [Read more...]

Nature Calls: Blenheim Palace Gives Thieves a Golden Opportunity to Steal Cattelan’s Toilet

Q: How do you invite thieves to steal a famous, expensive, publicly exhibited artwork? A: Publicly announce that no guards are protecting it. That strange-but-true scenario played out very early yesterday morning at Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. In talking last August about plans for a Maurizio Cattelan show, Victory Is Not an Option (which opened on Thursday), Edward Spencer-Churchill, founder of the five-year old Blenheim Art Foundation, blithely informed the Sunday Times that Cattelan's infamous 18-karat toilet, … [Read more...]

$8.27 Million & Counting: Metropolitan Museum’s Disposable Irving Gift of Chinese Art

When I attended the the Metropolitan Museum's celebratory press conference in March 2015 that announced multiple major benefactions to its Asian Art Department, little did I know that five years later the Met would auction off a good chunk of those lauded gifts---more than 300 of the 1,277 works of Asian art given by then trustee emerita Florence Irving and her husband Herbert. Florence and Herbert IrvingPhoto from Sotheby's press release The Irvings were major supporters of the Met’s Department of Asian Art for more than 25 years, having … [Read more...]

Toxic or Tonic? The Late David Koch’s Munificent Cultural Philanthropy (with video)

I did a double-take recently while reading this excerpt from the first paragraph of Robin Pogrebin’s and Elizabeth Harris’ mostly hagiographic eulogy for the late David Koch as arts donor: Within cultural circles, he was largely uncontroversial, a result of his prodigiously generous support for the arts and the enthusiasm he demonstrated for institutions like Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Largely uncontroversial?!? Here he is with two Met luminaries at the 2013 groundbreaking ceremony for its revamped, … [Read more...]

Failed Diplomacy: Can Lonnie Bunch, Smithsonian’s New Secretary, Out-Bully the Bully-in-Chief?

I was jolted by several seismic "did-he-really-say-that?" shocks while reading Peggy McGlone's excerpts in the Washington Post from Lonnie Bunch III's upcoming memoir about the creation of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Bunch founded and led the NMAAHC before his promotion in June to the top spot at the Smithsonian Institution (which oversees the African American museum): Cover of Lonnie Bunch's new book, published by Smithsonian Books Judging from his imprudent published pronouncements, it appears to me that … [Read more...]

The “Times Change” Excuse for Past Antiquities Misdeeds: Kapoor/Metropolitan Museum Edition

"Times Change" is a time-dishonored argument for justifying moral lapses, whether they're #MeToo transgressions (Plácido Domingo version) or retention of antiquities that were likely looted (Philippe de Montebello version). Those accustomed to the old rules need to get with the new program: The operative slogan has changed from "Times Change" to "Time's Up!" Speaking of which, here are a couple of the Metropolitan Museum's recent givebacks of dicey acquisitions: Two cross-armed sentinels, residing at the Met for 20 years, seen here … [Read more...]

Hear Me Here: Podcast of My KPCC Commentary on the Frisco Fresco Fracas (plus a new controversy)

If you missed me yesterday in real time, when I was interviewed on Southern California Public Radio by arts and culture reporter Chloe Veltman about the brouhaha over Victor Arnautoff's provocative "Life of Washington" mural at San Francisco's George Washington High School, here's another chance---a soundbar for the podcast, courtesy of KPCC, Los Angeles: And in two related developments: ---An editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle strongly argued for making the "bold and correct move" of "keep[ing] the murals on display as significant … [Read more...]

Radio Alert: Hear Me Unpack the Frisco Fresco Fracas on SoCal’s KPCC

You read it here first, art-lings. But this afternoon, if all goes according to plan, I'll share my views with listeners of Southern California Public Radio (SCPR) about Victor Arnautoff's hot-button (soon to be invisible?) WPA murals at San Francisco's George Washington High School. I'll be chatting with Chloe Veltman, KQED Arts & Culture reporter and guest host for The Frame, SCPR's arts and entertainment program. Chloe Veltman There will be so many ways for you to hear me! If you're in range of KPCC (89.3 FM) you can do it the … [Read more...]

Mural Muddle: San Francisco School Board’s Lose-Lose Decision on Its WPA Art

In a close vote last night after a a reportedly contentious public discussion, San Francisco's school board made plans to carry the donkey on its back: In a 4-3 decision that's likely to satisfy no one, it elected to "remove the 'Life of Washington' mural from view by covering it without destroying it," in the words of today's press release. The cost of covering the murals with acoustic panels "initially was estimated in June at $875,000," according to Jill Tucker's report last night for the San Francisco Chronicle. Wouldn't that money be … [Read more...]

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