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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 managed to buttonhole Barack Obama‘s portraitist—flamboyant in both art and attire:

Kehinde Wiley chatting with me at the National Portrait Gallery on the evening before his portrait of Barack Obama was to be hung on the wall behind him
Photo by Menachem Wecker

Our tête-à-tête was chaperoned by the portrait (on the left) of a former President who had been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior, which was painted by someone more recently accused of inappropriate sexual behavior. If it weren’t for the inappropriate federal government shutdown, I would have called the National Portrait Gallery today to check whether it had substituted another portrait of President Clinton for Chuck Close‘s version, as had been discussed (but had not yet been decided) when I visited in February. (From the NPG’s website, it looks like the Close portrait may still be hanging.)

Most flattering to my personal vanity in 2018 was my shiny-haired flash of Twitter stardom: A stealthy Metropolitan Museum photographer contrived to capture my best side at the May preview for his museum’s Souls Grown Deep exhibition. My hairdresser loved this:

CultureGrrl on the @MetMuseum Twitter feed
Coiffure by Gino

But enough about me (and Gino). Once again, art-lings, let me offer you my Best Wishes for an Art-Full New Year, along with CultureGrrl’s Top 20 Stories for 2018, in chronological order, with an emphasis on the controversies that we’ve been following and exhibitions that caught my eye.

I’ll end this post with a postlude about an issue that I’ve largely ducked this year, despite my growing distress about our politically dysfunctional country—the vexing question of whether museums should be “political” and if so, in what ways:

Admission Revision: Metropolitan Museum Raises Eyebrows with Mandatory Fees for Non-New Yorkers

Pay-to-Play? Maezawa Bankrolls Brooklyn Museum Show of His $110.5-Million Basquiat

Obama Drama: Unveiled, Hung and Exiled (with video)

Bible Bumble: Copy Confusion Muddles Museum of the Bible

Fallen Giants: Richard Meier at Cornell University & the Getty Center (and other besmirched luminaries)

Morbid Fascination: The Undead Haunt the Met Breuer’s “Like Life” (with video)

Berkshire Blurbs: Lucas Museum Buys “Shuffleton’s”; Sotheby’s Lowers Some Estimates

What Obstacles Will Max Hollein Need to Surmount as Metropolitan Museum’s New Director?

Two Takes on How Christie’s Won the Rockefeller Consignment (plus: CultureGrrl’s Video Tour)

Gloom at the Top: Why Megabucks Auctions Are Broken (and how to fix them)

“Shaftsbury” Shafted; Church Besmirched: The Berkshire Museum’s Lose-Lose Auctions

Infernal “Heavenly Bodies”: How the Directorless Metropolitan Museum Went Astray

Jaw-Dropper from Wardropper: Expansion to Temporarily Expel Frick Collection’s Collection

Profit Flop at Sotheby’s: Auction Houses’ Self-Defeating Assumption of Consignors’ Risk (UPDATED)

Technical Corrections: Metropolitan Museum Zaps Its App; SFMOMA Cans App’s Claptrap UPDATED

Jack Whitten’s Sculpture Show Uncovers his Secret Strengths (& the Met Breuer’s Hidden Weakness)

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

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

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

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

How should museums navigate this politically fraught moment, when their most vocal constituents are clamoring for them to take forceful stands? For a thoughtful take on this, see the Art Newspaper essay by Tristram Hunt, director of London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, who argues that museums’ proper stance is to fulfill their traditional role as “trusted arenas of public space, civic leadership and intellectual credibility”:

Museums need to provide a civic arena for contentious debate. Through our exhibitions and public program, we can frame and generate discussion with the kind of respectful and inclusive approach [emphasis added] that is so often absent from contemporary political discourse. As politics gets more heated, we shouldn’t fear that it is too difficult to entertain all shades of opinion under our roofs. We can show leadership in curating the ethics of disagreement.

I largely endorse Hunt’s view, although I believe (as I suspect he does) that museums can and should take unequivocal stands on certain bedrock principles, including freedom of expression and human rights.

For me (and, I suspect, for many others), museums and other cultural venues can also provide tranquil escapes from misgivings about the trombenik—a Yiddish word, pronounced, “TRUMP-eh-nik,” which means (as defined in Leo Rosten‘s “The Joys of Yiddish”): “a blowhard, a braggart, a glutton, a parasite, a fake.”

Whenever I’m down in the Trump dumps, I can always find solace in gazing at art or listening to music. Best of all, I can delight in accompanying my favorite chamber group for piano six hands:

Photo by CultureGrandma

A NOTE TO MY READERS: If you’ve enjoyed my coverage over this past year, please consider supporting CultureGrrl by clicking the “Donate” button in the righthand column. Contributors of $10 or more are added to my email blast for immediate notification of my new posts. If you’ve previously given, please consider re-upping your support in the New Year.

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