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Farewell Transparency? Sotheby’s Plans to Go Private (plus a possible glitch)

It's not over until the shareholders and the regulators sing. But it looks like Sotheby's---publicly traded for the last 31 years---is set to go private, "in a transaction with an enterprise value of $3.7 billion," according to yesterday morning's announcement by Sotheby's. Intended to boost Sotheby's competitiveness for major consignments and other market-related business, this flight from public accountability will deal a knockout blow to whatever transparency remains in "willing buyer-willing seller" auction transactions that have become … [Read more...]

Calder & Noguchi Air Balls: SFMOMA Lobs Some Foul Shots for the Golden State Warriors

Although the Golden State Warriors narrowly lost the NBA Championship to the Toronto Raptors at last night's nip-and-tuck Game 6 of the finals, the California team can count on two consolation prizes: a spiffy new stadium---the Chase Center---set to open this fall in San Francisco (moving the team from Oakland); and some eye-catching artworks to adorn their new digs. Having controversially deaccessioned a classic Rothko (given to it by the artist himself) in order to fund future acquisitions, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is now … [Read more...]

Shifts at Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco: Wilsey Steps Down, Controversy Ramps Up

“None of us want her to step away. She is integral to the museum,” Jason Moment, the new president of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF), said of his predecessor, Diane ("Dede") Wilsey, in comments reported Monday by the San Francisco Chronicle's art critic, Charles Desmarais. That appraisal anticipated the board's Tuesday vote anointing Moment and giving Wilsey the newly created title of "chair emerita." Jason Moment, FAMSF's new presidentPhoto Courtesy of FAMSF Notwithstanding Wilsey's megadonor status and her 21-year … [Read more...]

Bunch Crunch: How Will Smithsonian Institution’s Secretary-Elect Navigate DC’s Political Minefields?

The elephants-not-in-the-room at this morning's press conference celebrating the appointment of Lonnie Bunch III as the Smithsonian Institution's new secretary (effective June 16) were the man currently occupying the Oval Office and conservative members of Congress---politicians not known to be sympathetic towards federal cultural support in general and politically sensitive exhibitions in particular. Although the questioners at today's press conference didn't probe how Bunch might handle the political controversies that come with the job of … [Read more...]

Lonnie Bunch Named Smithsonian’s New Secretary

More on this here. With three decades of experience at the Smithsonian, leading up to his current post as founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Lonnie Bunch, 66, is an ideal candidate to hit the ground running, on short notice, as the Smithsonian's 14th Secretary (effective June 16). Lonnie Bunch, addressing the press conference where his appointment as Smithsonian Secretary was announcedScreenshot from the live webstream As the driving force of the acclaimed, wildly successful NMAAHC, he was … [Read more...]

Philanthropy Fail: How Museums Got Hammered at the Major Spring Auctions

It's like a museum, only everything's for sale. That visitor's comment, overheard by me at Christie's presale display of its evening-sale offerings earlier this month, isn't usually true nowadays at the auction houses, especially when it comes to Impressionist and modern art: Relatively few major Monets, Manets, Cézannes or van Goghs remain in private hands, making those presale exhibitions a lot less museum-like than they were when I began covering auctions four decades ago. But the evening Impressionist/Modern and Contemporary sales at … [Read more...]

Sackler/Kanders: My 1978 ARTnews Exposé on Met’s Sackler Enclave (plus: my takes on opioids, tear gas)

It's time for me to re-up my September 1978 ARTnews investigation into the Metropolitan Museum's secret Sackler enclave, in the context of the recent news that the Met "will stop accepting gifts from members of the Sackler family linked to the maker of OxyContin" (in the words of today's NY Times report). My piece zeroed in on the "good" Sackler---the oldest brother, Arthur, a major collector of Far Eastern art who had nothing to do with OxyContin, having died before it was born. Arthur Sackler with His CollectionPhoto from Sackler … [Read more...]

Sontagian Revulsion: My Notes on “Camp” at the Metropolitan Museum

The Metropolitan Museum's Camp: Notes on Fashion installation, which opened today (to Sept. 8), begins promisingly with a deep dive into the early history of camp, including the derivation of that designation as an aesthetic category (first known usage: Molière's "The Impostures of Scapin"). But its sprawling, diffuse finale embodies the "camp" worldview at its worst---superficially attention-grabbing and frustratingly unenlightening. The 250-object display ultimately depresses rather than impresses, as it devolves into a parody of a museum … [Read more...]

Bred at the Shed: Three Boundary-Busting Inaugural Commissions (with video)

Audiences and critics were scratching their heads at some of the eclectic opening presentations and commissions at The Shed---New York City's recently opened incubator for unconventional new works in the visual and performing arts (sometimes commingled). As I suggested at the end of my previous post, the offbeat offerings intrigued me, even though (in two instances) I didn't quite know what to make of them. Below is a part of the deliberately dimly lit installation by Trisha Donnelly (to May 30), which I strained to see and struggled to … [Read more...]

Getting It Backwards: The Shed’s Architects Came 1st. Its Artistic Director, a Distant 2nd (with video)

More about this here. When an ambitious new cultural institution chooses its architect six years before appointing an artistic director/CEO, you know its priorities are upside-down and backwards. Such was the case with The Shed, New York's new multipurpose, multi-discipline cultural venue, which gave me a very mixed impression during its opening week. For many reasons, it seemed not quite ready for its close-up during my three recent visits: Late to open: Cedric's bar and eatery, a Danny Meyer establishment (shades of the Whitney … [Read more...]

To Be Returned? Met’s Own Notre-Dame Sculpture Figures in Museum’s Program on the Cathedral

In yesterday's post, I had suggested that the Metropolitan Museum could show its support for the fire-ravaged Notre-Dame Cathedral by returning to it the Head of King David now in the Met's collection, for eventual installation at the building for from which it had been removed during the French Revolution. Head of King David, ca. 1145, Metropolitan Museum Today, the Met announced that it would offer a free "informal program" on Monday at 4 p.m., "where Met experts who are familiar with Notre-Dame Cathedral will speak briefly about its … [Read more...]

Notre-Dame in Flames: What Happened, What’s Next

"We will rebuild it," vowed French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday, after people around the world collectively gasped at the horrific sight of Notre-Dame Cathedral engulfed in flames. The sickening collapse of its spire was captured on video---an image almost as nightmarish as the 9/11 collapse of the World Trade Center towers but, mercifully, without the catastrophic the loss of life: One fireman was reportedly injured yesterday, but there were no reports of fatalities. French corporations and US-based Apple have announced that they … [Read more...]

Rockin’ at the Met with “Play It Loud”: Guitar Action & My Copyright Infraction (with video)

The Eagles may have booted Don Felder out of the band, but he was the one who enjoyed a star turn at the Metropolitan Museum's memorable press preview for Play it Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll, which opened yesterday (to Oct. 1). Following comments by several rock luminaries (see below), Felder strolled up to the microphone, picked up his trusty double-neck sidekick, and treated us to a bravura performance (backed by a recorded track) from the song that he can put aside any time he likes, but can never leave. Don Felder, poised to … [Read more...]

Hear Here! My BBC Radio Talk on Leonardo’s “Salvator Mundi” Can Now Be Heard on CultureGrrl

My new friends at BBC Radio 5 have given me an embeddable form of the audio from my interview with on Leonardo's "Salvator Mundi" with Rhod Sharp, host of "Up All Night." What's more, unlike the version on BBC's website, this one has no expiration date. So if it was too complicated trying to deal with finding my nine minutes of fame on the audio bar for Wednesday's four-hour live broadcast (which aired on Tuesday evening, New York time), I can now offer you an easier way: Now that you've heard me, who would care to tip me off as to … [Read more...]

Lee on Leonardo (once again): BBC Radio Quizes Me on “Salvator Mundi” Conundrums (Corrected)

I was surprised on Sunday when the NY Times ran a long front-page article about the status (or lack thereof) of the $450.3-million Leonardo da Vinci that has unaccountably fallen off the public's radar screen. The Times piece was merely a detailed summary of all the reporting that has preceded it (including numerous posts that appeared on CultureGrrl), even though it was posted from Abu Dhabi, where the painting was thought to have been destined for display. I assume that Times reporter David Kirkpatrick's hope of getting something new from … [Read more...]

Mauling Sprawling Art Installations: Are Outdoor Works Destined for Desecration?

A family outing last Sunday to the Nassau County Museum of Art with my two Long Island grandchildren began auspiciously but ended on a discordant note: After my little ones cheerfully created fish-themed collages in the Manes Education Center, we went out to explore the sculpture installation on the spacious grounds of the Roslyn Harbor, NY, museum. We were instantly attracted to the dazzling domes of Marko Remec's "Vertebrate Progression (Field Totem)," 2018, sited in close proximity to the museum's main building and "stretch[ing] like a … [Read more...]

Tainted “Tintoretto”: Venice Mayor Mars Kaywin Feldman’s Blockbuster Debut at National Gallery UPDATED

Having heard Luigi Brugnaro, Mayor of Venice, expound on Tintoretto's "values" during yesterday's livestream of the National Gallery of Art's press preview for the Venetian artist's first full-scale retrospective in America (Mar. 24-July 7), I'm convinced that museums need to lay down some content guidelines (especially for non-museum professionals) to discourage pronouncements that are inappropriate for exhibition openings. Screenshot of Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro speaking today at National Gallery of Art (NGA director Kaywin Feldman, on … [Read more...]

Culture Closures: Trump’s FY2020 Budget Proposal Would Ax NEA, NEH, IMLS

Is it mere coincidence that First Lady Melania Trump tweeted a shoutout to the National Endowment for the Arts (@NEAarts) on the same day that her husband released a FY2020 budget proposal (pp. 110 & 111 of the above-linked .pdf) that would eliminate NEA and its sister agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities, because "activities funded by NEA [and NEH] are not considered core Federal responsibilities"? A productive & successful morning at the @WhiteHouse. Thank you to all who take part in the Interagency Working Group on … [Read more...]

Molesworth Speaks! Silenced at LA MOCA, She Vents (about Alice Neel) at Zwirner (with video)

Having been fired a year ago from the prestigious (but precarious) perch of chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Helen Molesworth resurfaced with a splash on Wednesday night at the David Zwirner gallery, New York. Feeling liberated, she flavored her well attended walkthrough of Alice Neel: Freedom (to Apr. 13) with a salty disquisition on "tits," "cocks," "pussies" and "asses" (with a pinch of explicit references to her own anatomy and sexual orientation, thrown in for good measure). Helen Molesworth and David … [Read more...]

Breach of Trust? Rothko Gave SFMOMA Its Soon-to-Be-Auctioned Painting at the Museum’s Request

Dear SFMOMA and Sotheby's: Have you no shame? In my previous post on the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's ill-conceived deaccession of an important Rothko, I noted that there were "circumstances specific to this disposal that make it uniquely problematic." Let me elaborate: In its online sales pitch for Rothko's "Untitled," 1960, to be auctioned in New York on May 16, Sotheby's claimed that the painting "is distinguished...by its connection to Peggy Guggenheim, preeminent philanthropist and patron of the 20th century." But SFMOMA … [Read more...]

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