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For MLK Day: Recap of My Visit to the National Museum of African American History & Culture

Visitors who had scored timed entry passes for a Martin Luther King Day pilgrimage to the deeply engrossing, profoundly moving National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in DC were out of luck: Its doors remained locked today, due to the federal government shutdown. (Pass holders will eventually be sent instructions on how to reschedule.) Entrance to NMAAHCPhoto by Lee Rosenbaum, Feb. 11, 2018 I tweeted about (but never got around to posting on) the NMAAHC while I was in Washington last February for an event at … [Read more...]

“Exciting Future”? Monitoring the Uncertain Condition of the Embattled National Academy

Without no permanent director and no home in which to display highlights from its 7,700-object collection of American art, the shuttered National Academy of Design (NAD), New York, is extricating some 100 key works from long-term storage to send them on a three-year, eight-venue national tour, beginning next month, under the auspices of the American Federation of Arts. "Get updates about our exciting new future," proclaims the homepage of the long-dormant NAD, which closed its doors to the public on June 1, 2016, at the age of 190, with the … [Read more...]

Abstraction Dejection: Riffing with Griffey at the Metropolitan Museum

It's always dangerous for a critic to bring preconceptions to an exhibition she hasn't seen yet. But it's a pitfall that I sometimes fall into, against my better judgment. I went out on a limb in October when I optimistically touted an exhibition that wasn't opening at the Metropolitan Museum until mid-December---Epic Abstraction: Pollock to Herrera, organized by Randall Griffey, the museum's curator of modern and contemporary art. Hailing Randy as "an up-and-comer" at the Met, I expressed my admiration for his Reimagining Modernism, History … [Read more...]

Smithsonian Pandemonium: Skorton Leaves, Museums Shuttered

It's been a bad-news month for the Smithsonian: On Dec. 20, Secretary David Skorton, a cardiologist-turned-administrator, announced he'd be leaving his Smithsonian post on June 15 to become president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC---initials that mean something else to art aficionados). He has arguably been the most successful, least embattled Smithsonian leader in recent memory, but has served, to date, a mere three and a half years in that post. David SkortonPhoto from AAMC's announcement Just two days … [Read more...]

The Year in CultureGrrl: Impolitic About Art & Politics

In this Era of Bad Feelings, when so many of our fractious political and cultural conversations have been driven by the dangerously erratic course of a President lacking a GPS, I savored a feel-good moment last February when I covered the high spirited friends-and-family reunion of the Obama Administration (linked below)---the high point of my 2018 professional adventures. We had gathered to witness the unveiling of the newest, convention-flouting addition to the America's Presidents display in National Portrait Gallery, after which I … [Read more...]

Warring with Warhol: What I Most (& Least) Appreciated About the Whitney’s Retrospective

Although I gave Andy Warhol---From A to B and Back Again (to Mar. 31) a mixed review last week, one focus of the Whitney Museum's widely praised extravaganza particularly interested me. It's an aspect that general audiences, who usually pay more attention to the art than the writing on the walls, could easily miss. What engaged my wonky attention and engendered my appreciation was the Whitney's pinpointing when, how and why groundbreaking changes occurred in the work of Warhol---an artist with a Picasso-esque penchant for radical shifts in … [Read more...]

Warhol’s Warhorses at the Whitney: Insert Your Own Meanings Here

In my Dec. 8 post analyzing the plans for what turned out to be a (literally) incendiary protest demonstration at the Whitney Museum, I pinpointed the artwork that "for me was the most haunting work" in that museum's current Andy Warhol retrospective (to Mar. 31): Andy Warhol, “Mustard Race Riot,” 1963, Museum Brandhorst, MunichPhoto by Lee Rosenbaum Little did I know when I saw it at the Election-Day press preview that this painting would gain more relevance in the context of the confrontation at the Whitney on Dec. 9 between protesters … [Read more...]

Kaywin’s Win: Feldman to Direct the National Gallery UPDATED

When museum trustees set out to hire a new director, they tend to seek someone very different from the current one, a prominent art museum director once told me. They want change. That certainly seems to be the case with the National Gallery of Art's (NGA's) choice of Kaywin Feldman, director since 2008 of the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA), to lead the most prominent art museum in our nation's capital. As announced today, she will on Mar. 11 succeed Earl "Rusty" Powell III, the NGA's director for 25 years. Kaywin Feldman, National … [Read more...]

Litmus Fracas at the Whitney: Should Museum Board Members Be Politically Vetted?

Having provocatively displayed an anti-MoMA poster in its last Biennial, the Whitney Museum probably had this coming: A protest demonstration at the museum is being planned by Decolonize This Place [DTP], an ad hoc political action group, for noon tomorrow (Sunday). It will target Whitney vice president Warren Kanders, who (as reported on Nov. 27 by Jasmine Weber in Hyperallergic) leads a company that manufactures the tear gas recently used against migrants at the Mexican border. Here's the scene outside the Whitney on a busy but peaceful … [Read more...]

Vision Transfusion? Berkshire Museum Stops Hemorrhaging Art

Closing the barn door after its finest steeds have vanished, the Berkshire Museum today announced that "there will be no further sales" from its collection beyond the 22 works already sold through Sotheby's: In his Berkshire Eagle report, Larry Parnass today suggested that the museum's woefully belated decision to curtail its widely condemned deaccessioning spree was influenced by advice from Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey's office. The AGO, according to Parnass, recently opined that the beleaguered museum should now … [Read more...]

Hopping with Hopper, Hocking a Hockney: My Irreverent Takeaways from the Major Fall Sales

The big fall evening auctions of Impressionist, modern, postwar and contemporary works at Sotheby's and Christie's were a mixed bag, yielding generally solid but unspectacular results. The sweet spot for the typical offering fell slightly short of or just grazed the low estimate, with some very notable exceptions on both the upside and the downside. In other words, the auction houses' presale estimates of the prices that their offerings would fetch were often aspirational, but the reserves (prearranged, confidential prices below which works … [Read more...]

$91.88-Million Hopper Sale Makes “Chop Suey”of Ebsworth’s Vow to Seattle Art Museum (with video) CORRECTED & UPDATED

In my Wall Street Journal review of the 2007 opening of the expanded Seattle Art Museum, I noted that SAM's campaign to "augment its permanent collection, in time for its 75th anniversary next year," had been "successful beyond the wildest curatorial dreams, adding nearly 1,000 owned, pledged and promised works to the collection"... ...or maybe not. Billed as a major catch from that cache were 65 works promised from the collection of Barney Ebsworth (who died last April). Ebsworth selections had been highlights of SAM's inaugural … [Read more...]

Lord Harry Gets Mixed Results (& hurls verbal missiles) at Sotheby’s Impressionist/Modern Sale

Auctioneer Harry Dalmeny (new to me) at Sotheby's Impressionist/Modern sale tonight had a strange way of trying to entice bidders by pelting them with barbed wisecracks: ---I'll have to hurry you: I've got a late flight. ---The next bid is going to have to be a bit more than nothing. And this honest self-assessment, in the midst of bidding for the record-breaking Magritte: ---I'm an equal-opportunity insult-er. In England, he's known as Lord Harry Dalmeny, whose propensity for provocations reportedly got him into a ton of trouble a … [Read more...]

Subdued Impressionist/Modern Auction at Christie’s Kicks Off the Big Fall Market Test

Tonight's Impressionist/Modern sale at Christie's was brisk, thanks to the no-nonsense auctioneer, Adrien Meyer, but bidding-war fireworks came only once, for a snowstorm (Monet's). Below is my Twitter recap. Pro Tip: You'll need to click each image twice to view the full picture. Monet Water Lilies disappointed at $28m hammer ($30m low est.) Biggest failure: a van Gogh garden scene (without people), unsold at $30m vs est. "in region of $40m" pic.twitter.com/uyUriwNxOw — Lee Rosenbaum (@CultureGrrl) November 12, 2018 The recent … [Read more...]

Leonardo Canards: Conservator Dianne Modestini Debunks Doubts Over the Elusive “Salvator Mundi”

Dianne Dwyer Modestini, who painstakingly restored Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi," is exasperated by the questions that have been raised about the condition and attribution of the rediscovered painting that was to have been unveiled on Sept. 18 at the Louvre Abu Dhabi. It has not yet resurfaced since it was sold at Christie's on Nov. 15, 2017: Joining the many reporters who have tried to learn about the painting's current status, I recently made my own series of inquiries---to Dianne and several others who I thought might know … [Read more...]

Syson Siphoned: Met’s Departing Department Chair to Direct Fitzwilliam; 2 Future Stars Emerge (video)

Luke Syson, who in 2012 came to the Metropolitan Museum from the National Gallery, London, becoming the Met's chairman of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts in 2014, is now poised to join the wave of high-level departures from our country's preeminent museum. The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, recently announced that Syson, who most recently co-curated the Met's provocative "Like Life" exhibition, will step up to its directorship on Feb. 4. (It had previously lured away Timothy Potts, then director of the Kimbell Art Museum, for a short … [Read more...]

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s Campbell Gamble: Tom & Max Hollein Improbably Trade Places

My first reaction when this press release from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco hit my inbox today at 6:51 p.m. was: This has gotta be a hoax! Reading the first sentence of FAMSF's announcement made me even more incredulous: The Board of Trustees of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF) and the Corporation of the Fine Arts Museums (COFAM) today appointed Thomas P. Campbell as the new director and CEO of the largest public arts institution in Northern California, effective November 1, 2018 [emphasis added]. A two-day … [Read more...]

Unsold on “The Price of Everything”: HBO’S Art-Market Epic (with a fleeting CultureGrrl cameo)

I recently sat disconsolately through a screener of director Nathaniel Kahn's new artworld documentary, "The Price of Everything." Its dyspeptic take on the artworld turned my stomach. The film miscarries by not delivering what's promised in its own synopsis: While holding a funhouse mirror up to our consumerist culture, the film ultimately reaffirms the transcendent power of art itself [emphasis added] and the deep need we have for it in our lives. Instead of being elevated by a sense of art's "transcendent power," we mostly wallow … [Read more...]

Puncturing Bunkum: The Subtext of Banksy’s Subversive “Director’s Cut” (with video)–Part IV

In the process of ‘destroying’ the artwork, a new one was created. So said Sotheby's after the infamous Banksy shredding, trying to ennoble the egg on its face as Eggs Benedict. But the last benedict-ion belonged to the artist himself, in the form of his "Director's Cut" video posted last week on YouTube (and embedded in my post, below), wherein he punctures the red balloon of auction-house pretentiousness. Banksy's stealth video of the bidding on the above work at Sotheby's and the sales job that preceded it adds yet another layer of … [Read more...]

Latest Words on the Banksy Caper (& seller)–Part III

Parts I & II are here and here. I really wanted to put the Banksy Prank behind me, moving to more substantive matters (like recently opened exhibitions that have engaged or vexed me), but the Sotheby's plot thickened on Friday with a revelation by Jan Dalley, arts editor of the Financial Times (FT), that suggests the likely identity of the seller of "Girl with Balloon" (aka "Love is in the Bin"). Milking the publicity cow for all it's worth, Sotheby's, London, gave the mangled minorpiece the masterpiece-treatment (à la "Salvator … [Read more...]

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