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$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...]

Frisco Frescoes: What to Do About Controversial WPA Murals at George Washington High School

More on this here and here. At its meeting tonight (occurring as I write this), the San Francisco school board was scheduled to consider a resolution "authoriz[ing] staff to develop a project...that removes from public view the [Victor] Arnautoff Mural at George Washington High School, using solid panels or reasonably similar equivalent material, means or methods." "This should satisfy those who were concerned about the possible destruction of art,” said Board President Stevon Cook, who announced on Friday his plan to introduce tonight's … [Read more...]

Agreeing to Disagree: My Q&A with Panetta & Hockley, Curatorial Odd Couple of the Split Whitney

Professional colleagues with sharp political and philosophical differences would do well to learn about the virtues of civility and respectful disagreement from Jane Panetta and Rujeko Hockley, co-curators of the controversy-plagued Whitney Biennial. They deftly double-teamed me during my brief, probing interview (see below), which occurred during the show's May 13 press preview. As they again did in their June 6 public conversation about their collaboration, they took turns answering questions, in a complicated verbal choreography so … [Read more...]

Kanders Slander: Trustees Resign Amidst Wreckage of Whitney Museum’s “Triple Chaser” Fiasco UPDATED

The persistent resistance got its way: As reported today by Robin Pogrebin and Elizabeth Harris of the NY Times, Warren Kanders, whose weapons-related business activities were attacked by protesters, has resigned (effective immediately) from the Whitney Museum's board. Therein lies a big problem, not just for the Whitney, but for the museum field as a whole. Already another Whitney trustee, mega-donor Kenneth Griffin [CEO of Citadel, the investment firm], has left the board in solidarity with Kanders. [UPDATE: According to an updated story … [Read more...]

“Unfinished” (again) at the Met: A Lone Loan of “Jerome” for Leonardo’s 500th Anniversary (video)

Having previously shown a fondness for the non finito in old master paintings, the Metropolitan Museum has made a virtue of necessity by doing it again---relying on a repeat loan (to Oct. 6) from the Vatican Museums of a single unfinished painting by Leonardo da Vinci---"Saint Jerome Praying in the Wilderness"---to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the artist's death: Leonardo da Vinci, "Saint Jerome Praying in the Wilderness," begun ca. 1483, Vatican MuseumsPhoto © Governatorato of the Vatican City State--Vatican Museums. All rights … [Read more...]

BlogBack: A CultureGrrl Reader on Critic Douglas Crimp, Met Curator Douglas Eklund & “The Pictures Generation”

"We seem to be fighting similar battles," wrote a CultureGrrl reader in response to “That Little Exhibition”: The Late Douglas Crimp on His Show that Anointed “The Pictures Generation”---my appreciation, posted Monday, of the critic/scholar, 74, whose pioneering work defined what became known as “The Pictures Generation.” I had noted that the Metropolitan Museum's press release for its 2009 "Pictures Generation" show (which I had reviewed here) had acknowledged its debt to “the landmark 1977 ‘Pictures’ exhibition at the not-for-profit New … [Read more...]

“That Little Exhibition”: The Late Douglas Crimp on His Show that Anointed “The Pictures Generation”

Ten years ago, I had a chance for a brief but illuminating chat with Douglas Crimp, the influential critic, curator and art historian who died Friday at the age of 74. We were at the press preview for a show at the Metropolitan Museum that had its genesis in Crimp's pioneering work defining what became known as "The Pictures Generation"---artists who "brought both a critical and playful attitude toward the plethora of images that surrounded them," in the words of the Met's press release. Douglas Crimp at the Met's April 2009 press … [Read more...]

Bye-Bye, Rothko; Welcome, Mickalene: SFMOMA’s Diversity Perversity (Continued)

Charles Desmarais, art critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, mostly admired what he saw last week when taken on a guided tour of the 11 works recently acquired by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art as part of its effort to diversify its collection. SFMOMA bought them by using an undisclosed portion of the $42.8 million in proceeds gleaned from its $50.1-million sale at Sotheby's of an untitled 1960 Rothko---a disposal that I had criticized. Here's how Desmarais characterized his overall reaction to the acquisitions: We have to start … [Read more...]

Race to the Bottom? What a “Private” Sotheby’s Might Really Mean

Although Sotheby's plan to go private may accomplish its goal of making it more competitive in attracting major consignments, it could also cut into profits: The cutthroat competition between Sotheby's and Christie's may devolve into a race to the bottom, if potentially costly concessions are increasingly made to lure the highest-valued property. If the as-yet-unconsummated sale of Sotheby's to BidFair USA (an entity owned by telecommunications mogul Patrick Drahi) goes through, Sotheby's would no longer be required to file reports to the … [Read more...]

Bravo De Salvo! Unpacking Donna’s Sudden Exit from the Whitney Museum’s Deputy Directorship

With less than two weeks' notice, the Whitney Museum has announced that Donna De Salvo "has decided to leave" the museum where she served with great distinction for the past 15 years, in order to "pursue other interests." Adding to the mystery of why this news was sprung on us so precipitously, Adam Weinberg, the Whitney's director, enigmatically commented: "We wish her the best as she embarks on the next phase of her career." Adam Weinberg & Donna De Salvo at press preview for 2014 Whitney Biennial Photo by Lee Rosenbaum What … [Read more...]

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...]

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