These two estimable Washington, DC-based art writers have gotten bent out of shape over the decision by Melissa Chiu, director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden since September, to hold a 40th-anniversary gala in New York, where she had directed the Asia Society Museum from 2004 until her Hirshhorn appointment.
There she had notable fundraising success as described in her Hirshhorn bio:
Chiu secured about 80 percent of the Asia Society Museum’s budget through gifts from individuals and foundations and new fundraising initiatives such as the Contemporary Art Council, which…supports the contemporary art exhibition program with funds and donations of artworks.
If she wants to jumpstart the Hirshhorn’s fundraising efforts, tapping her contacts from New York’s robust cultural philanthropic community seems like a no-brainer. We all know what happened when the museum tried to raise funds for its much-hyped (and justifiably criticized) seasonal, inflatable Bubble. As part of the federally funded Smithsonian, the Hirshhorn is a national, not local, institution. Raising its relatively low profile and reaching farther afield for financial support make sense both programmatically and fiscally.
Nevertheless, Kennicott and Capps have double-teamed Chiu (in the above-linked articles in the Washington Post and Washington City Paper, respectively), accusing her of “insulting” and “snubbing” the local community. But, as Capps himself had previously written, the museum threw a gala in DC just three months ago, which “doubled as the museum’s 40th anniversary party and, maybe more important, as a debutante ball [emphasis added] for the Hirshhorn’s new director, Melissa Chiu.”
“Debutante ball”?!? Do we detect a whiff of male chauvinism? Who’s insulting whom?
To me, it’s Kennicott and Capps who have been insulting, with their petty, unjustified sniping at an internationally respected leader who brings to her new gig a distinguished track record of accomplishment. Helping the Hirshhorn enhance its reputation and reach should be a win-win for the museum, the Smithsonian and the Washington community.
Five days after Kennicott’s piece, the Washington Post ‘s Peggy McGlone gave Hirshhorn officials a chance to air their views on this tempest-in-a-teapot:
Rather than snubbing the District, the New York gala is part of the effort “to totally transform” the modern and contemporary art museum, which must broaden its audience and donor base to survive, Hirshhorn Deputy Director Elizabeth Duggal said.
As it happens, Ai Weiwei, who has been in the news of late, is listed as one of the artist-honorees for the Nov. 9 NYC gala. I asked Chiu (who in 2011 had mounted a show of Ai’s New York photographs at Asia Society) whether the now free-to-travel Chinese artist plans to show up in person.
Here’s Melissa’s reply:
We are working to confirm whether Ai Weiwei will be able to attend, now that his circumstances have changed. We’ll be sure to let you know when we have confirmation.
We do have plans to install his enormous “Cube Light” work in the Hirshhorn lobby in December.
That uncharacteristically frivolous chunk of glitz was part of the Hirshhorn’s 2012-13 survey show, Ai Weiwei: According to What?: