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The Year in CultureGrrl, 2020 Edition: It’s not over until the Deaccession Diva sings

This was the year when I had to solve this conundrum:

How do you sustain an art blog when the only art you’ve seen since early February is what’s in your own apartment?

As someone in a virus-vulnerable category (seniors), I’ve been ultra-cautious and led a mostly boring life since the pandemic hit: Not only did I eschew museums; I haven’t even ventured into Manhattan since I flew home to New Jersey after visiting Mountain View for the birth of our healthy, happy granddaughter. Before being allowed to visit her at the hospital, my husband and I had to assure the attendants that we hadn’t recently been to China (where we could have been exposed to the “Wuhan virus”). Had the birth occurred later that week, I suspect we wouldn’t have been allowed in.

Our little girl had great timing, arriving exactly on her due date. That gave us several days to cuddle before heading home on the day before everything started shutting down. Now she only knows us as FaceTime images on my daughter’s laptop. As a Silicon Valley native, she’s already mastered the trick of pausing our on-screen interactions, while grinning at us mischievously.

Here’s how the usually bustling San Francisco airport looked when we arrived, masks on, for our flight home on Mar. 12:

SFO on Mar. 12, 2020
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Despite its serious challenges, I’d have to say that 2020 was a good year for my husband and me—blessing us with not one but two new grandchildren: Less than five months after our California granddaughter arrived, our second New York grandson was born.

We’ve stuck mostly to our apartment, save for walks nearby and visits to our Long Island son’s family, which we’ve now temporarily ceased, given the new spike. Starved for visual sustenance, I’ve found myself gazing appreciatively at my own modest collection. Not able to bring you new photos of art in museums, I’ve inflicted on you too many images (via my Twitter feed) of the ever-changing views that I enjoy gazing out my own living room window at the Hudson River, George Washington Bridge and Manhattan:

For someone whose primary beat, for most of a nearly five-decade “career,” was cultural journalism (exhibition reviews came much later), the turmoil of 2020 was a gift that kept on giving, particularly on a topic that’s become my sub-specialty—Deplorable Deaccessions. My history of hammering away at that perverse (mal)practice has included such diatribes as: “How Permanent is the Permanent Collection?” ARTnews, May 1990 (no online link); The Lost Museum: MoMA’s Distressing Disposals, Wall Street Journal, May 13, 2004 ; For Sale: Our Permanent Collection, NY Times Op-Ed page, Nov. 2, 2005; and, of course, numerous CultureGrrl blog posts over almost 15 years, such as Stealth Deaccessions: National Academy Sells Major Works by Church and Gifford, a story I broke on Dec. 5, 2008 and relentlessly pursued.

This year, as the self-styled “Deaccession Diva,” I unpacked the issues surrounding disposals in Syracuse, Brooklyn and Baltimore, and critically examined how “Cancel Culture” has canceled (some) culture. We’ve also analyzed another type of “cancellation”—how Covid has impacted the activities of museums (to the point of temporary or permanent closures) and their ability to pay their staffs (to the point of furloughs or layoffs).

Without further ado, let me extend to you my Best Wishes for an Art-Full, Virus-Free 2021, along with CultureGrrl’s Top 20 Stories for 2020, in chronological order, with an emphasis, as always, on the controversies that we’ve been following:

MoMA & the Nouvel Kid on the Block: Revenge of American Folk Art Museum’s Demolished Building?

Mutiny on the Bounty: Marron Estate’s Rich Art Trove to Be Dispersed by Dealers, Not Auction Houses

More on Shuttered NYC Institutions: A Brief Reprieve for Met’s Endangered Staff; A “Frick Breuer” Update

Small Consolation: Museums’ Hit-&-Miss Attempts to Engage Audiences Via “Virtual Exhibitions”

Deaccession Concession: AAMD Bends Its “Fundamental Principle” on Art-Sale Proceeds

“Overhead Premium”: Sotheby’s Invents a New Fee for Buyers

Monumental Misdirection: Topple Injustices, Not Lost-Cause Statues (Some Juneteenth Musings)

Instagram Slam: Don’t Cancel the Metropolitan Museum’s Embattled Keith Christiansen

Garrulous Gary Garrels: The Thought-Police Nab Another Unguarded Curator

Bondil Ordeal: Another Face Off Between a Prominent Museum Official & Staff

Consciousness Raised, Budgets Cut: Irreconcilable Imperatives at Metropolitan (& other museums)

Syracuse Refuse: Everson Museum Discards its Pollock to “Address Inequality” & Pursue the New

Jackson Pollock, “Red Composition,” 1946
Sold at Christie’s Oct. 6 for $12 million (its low estimate) by Everson Museum

$40-Million Collection-Care Goal: Brooklyn Museum’s 1st Round of Art Sales Under AAMD’s Relaxed Rules

Philip Guston Bluster: Why It’s Wise to Postpone a Show Depicting Cartoonish Ku Klux Klan Figures

Deplorable in Baltimore: Careening Down the Slippery Slope of Collection Monetization

Baltimore Museum Gets a Formal Letter Calling for a Halt to Planned Sales; Ex-Director Lehman Piles On

AAMD’s Failed Oversight: Murky “Clarification” of Its “Financial Flexibility” Resolutions

15 Past Presidents of AAMD Sign Letter Calling for Baltimore Museum to “Reconsider” Planned Sales

Deaccession Deactivation: Fallout from Baltimore Museum’s Pullout from Sotheby’s (& other pratfalls) UPDATED

Deaccession Dejection: Whither the Embattled Baltimore Museum of Art? (plus: Brooklyn’s castoffs)

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