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Covid Obit: William Gerdts, 91, Distinguished Scholar of American Art (& my tipster)

Because of my bent for investigative reporting, I've received some confidential leads over the years from major (and minor) figures seeking to expose artworld transgressions. William Gerdts, a consummate scholar of American art (who died on Apr. 14), was one of CultureGrrl's most illustrious tipsters. (Another was art historian Leo Steinberg, who died at 90 in 2011.) William GerdtsPhoto: Courtesy of Newark Museum of Art As also happened with another important recently deceased art scholar/curator---Alan Shestack---Gerdts' passing went … [Read more...]

View Metropolitan Opera’s “At-Home Gala” Online (plus: Met baritone’s performance in my parking lot)

Opera fans have a rare chance to visit renowned singers in their own homes, thanks to the Metropolitan Opera's At-Home Gala, streaming for the first time yesterday (Saturday) from 1-5 p.m. New York time, with repeat viewings today. Screenshot of Met General Manager Peter Gelb & Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, hosting the "At-Home Gala" from New York and Montreal, respectively A couple of weeks ago, my friend and neighbor enjoyed an earlier version of Met At Home in a chance encounter with Alexey Lavrov, a Metropolitan Opera … [Read more...]

Alan Shestack, 81, Old Master Prints Scholar, Generous Mentor, Thrice Museum Director

Considering his long, illustrious career as an art scholar and museum director, not to mention his generosity in sharing his deep insights with others (including me), I'm puzzled as to why there's been so little mention of the death last week of Alan Shestack, 81, who retired in 2008 as deputy director and chief curator of the National Gallery, Washington. His expertise was in 16th-century Netherlandish and German prints and drawings. So why was he gazing at two American modernist paintings in the image posted to accompany a tribute to him … [Read more...]

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

Desperate times call for desperate measures? At a time when "cutbacks," "furloughs," "layoffs" & "cancellation" have become the baneful bywords of museum management, the Association of Art Museum Directors has capitulated to the exigencies of the moment by loosening its tight strictures against the use of proceeds from art sales for anything other than acquisitions. It has also weakened its guidelines for preserving endowment principal. According to Wednesday's AAMD announcement: The resolutions state that AAMD will refrain … [Read more...]

Pollock’s Guest Appearance in the Metropolitan Museum’s Subdued 150th-Birthday Video

What if you threw a birthday party and no one could come? That's what happened earlier this month to the most sociable member of my family---CultureGranddaughter, who just turned 4. And that's what happened today to the Metropolitan Museum, which turned 150 on a plague-day when no visitors could enter, let alone celebrate. My invitation to the press preview that never happened If you've already seen the Max-&-Dan video that the Met posted today to mark this unexpectedly somber occasion, you may have wondered about the identity of … [Read more...]

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

When I returned home Mar. 12 from my proud-grandma visit to California (where I had what was probably my last chance for some time to cuddle my newborn granddaughter and her 3-year-old brother), I had to work my way through the announcements of museums' temporary closures that flooded my art-centric inbox. Eerily empty security lines for my half-empty Mar. 12 flight from San Francisco to NewarkPhoto by Lee Rosenbaum As it now stands (four weeks later), no art museum would be so foolhardy as to remain open in defiance of stringent … [Read more...]

Enlivening the Old Standards: When the Late Bucky Pizzarelli Played Fort Lee

Soon after I moved into our Fort Lee co-op building, almost 15 years ago, I struck up conversations with my neighbor---jazz bassist Jerry Bruno. The enormous instrument that this small, frail-looking man regularly lugged to his car in our building's basement garage, on his way to his jazz gigs, was a natural ice-breaker. I learned that Jerry had regularly accompanied legendary performers---among them, Frank Sinatra. But more recently, he was appearing at clubs with jazz guitarist (and fellow New Jersey resident) Bucky Pizzarelli, whose … [Read more...]

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

The Metropolitan Museum's jittery staff members, some of whose livelihoods are likely to be jeopardized due to the virus crisis, have been granted a month-long reprieve, as outlined in a new letter from President Daniel Weiss and Director Max Hollein. Faced with mounting pushback against its plan to consider implementing cutbacks beginning Apr. 5, the Met (as reported in the NY Times) has now postponed any such changes until May 2. Dynamic Duo: Max Hollein speaking (Daniel Weiss listening) at a May 2019 Met press briefing Photo by Lee … [Read more...]

Cotter Fodder: The Met Museum’s Sober Plan for the Virus Crisis vs. A Critic’s Pandemic Polemic

At a moment when museums around the country are shattered, shuttered and bracing for hard times, what could be more shockingly tone-deaf than Holland Cotter's 3,000-word "manifesto," published on the NY Times' website on Wednesday (and appearing in the Sunday hardcopy)? In America’s Big Museums on the Hot Seat (aka, "How to Save America's Biggest Museums: A Manifesto"---the hardcopy headline), the Time's co-chief art critic inopportunely opined that the widespread closures of art institutions due to the coronavirus pandemic provide "an … [Read more...]

Covid’s Metamorphoses: How Coronavirus Has Transformed the Artworld (updated)

Everything has changed since I left home (and temporarily paused blogging) two and a half weeks ago for the birth in California of the wonderful CultureGranddaughter---my fourth grandchild. Covid-19 fears had caused both my flights between Newark and San Francisco, usually fully booked, to be almost half empty. The line (or lack thereof) to get through security for our flight home from San Francisco's airportPhoto by Lee Rosenbaum Our hotel, the commodious, well appointed Homewood Suites, Palo Alto, usually packed on weekdays with young … [Read more...]

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

This could mark the beginning of a sea change in the balance of power between commercial art galleries and auction houses. The late Donald Marron was a class act, so it struck me as fitting (not to mention smart) that his estate's holdings of modern and contemporary art are not going to be hocked on the block at Sotheby's or Christie's---the usual fate of large collections that are put on the market. Relationships with knowledgeable dealers (not to mention curators) played a crucial role in honing Marron's taste and augmenting his … [Read more...]

“Wasteful & Unnecessary” Spending: Trump Dumps Arts & Humanities, IMLS, Public Broadcasting (again)

In what's become a vexing yearly ritual since President Donald Trump took office, the White House, in its proposed federal budget for Fiscal 2021, has again called for the elimination of federal funding for the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities (NEA and NEH), the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). In the proposed budget's recommendations for "Stopping Wasteful and Unnecessary Spending" (beginning on p. 16, here), NEA and NEH are among the agencies relegated to … [Read more...]

Singing & Signing: How Christine Sun Kim Brought Her Whitney-Biennial “Rage” to the Super Bowl

After making a powerful impression on me at last year's Whitney Biennial with her six drawings of pie charts plotting Degrees of Deaf Rage, deaf artist Christine Sun Kim on Feb. 2 reached a much wider, more diverse audience---the attendees at the NFL's Super Bowl. Standing mid-field (10 yards from the soloists) during the pregame festivities, she expressively signed "America the Beautiful" (sung by Yolanda Adams) and the National Anthem (Demi Lovato). Sadly, my pregame speculation on Twitter (@CultureGrrl) about Kim's expansively enacted, … [Read more...]

The Obama Portraits: The Book, The Traveling Exhibition, T-Shirts, Coasters, Umbrella…

Speaking of Kehinde Wiley (as I did in my previous post), the celebratory unveiling of the Obama Portraits almost two years ago at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG), was one of the most joyous occasions I've ever had the pleasure of covering, even though, as I later wrote, "neither portrait captures what, for me, is the essence of these two warmly compassionate, deeply intelligent, barrier-breaking achievers." Fond memories of that event came flooding back to me a few days ago, when I received a press copy of this new book, published by … [Read more...]

Rally for the Right to Bear (& to scare with) Arms Prompted “Extensive Precautions” at Virginia MFA

I hadn't wanted to write anything about this beforehand (for fear of putting a dangerous idea into someone's head), but I was worried about the welfare of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) during the Jan. 20 gun-rights rally in Richmond. I was concerned that there might be a replay of what had happened in August 2017 in Charlottesville, VA---a white-nationalist rally that devolved into violent confrontations, claiming the life of counter--protester Heather Heyer. Many articles written about the Richmond rally alluded to what happened … [Read more...]

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

It's been 10 years since I published what seems to have been some prescient commentary about the now (belatedly) completed Jean Nouvel-designed 1,050-foot tower (known to CultureGrrl readers as The MoMA Monster). The start of construction for that building, which has just opened for occupancy, had been delayed until late 2014, in part to await improved economic conditions (as David Penick, managing partner for Hines, the project's developer, had told me while the project was awaiting city approval). Here's what I wrote about that situation … [Read more...]

Pusillanimous Pussyfooters: Museums Object Mildly to the (unattributed) Threats to Iran’s Cultural Sites

Say his name! It was disheartening to realize that almost all of the statements issued yesterday by museums and their professional organizations "condemn[ing] the targeting of cultural sites for destruction" (in the words of the American Alliance of Museums) failed to cast blame for those shameful threats directly where the blame lies---on President Trump. As most of you by now know, he ignited a firestorm by tweeting this: If Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 … [Read more...]

MoMA’s Accessibility Crunch: Too Many Long Lines, Too Many Stairs, Not Enough Chairs

Whenever I've covered new or expanding museums around the country---more times than I can count over the course of almost five decades as an art writer---I've tried to return after the press previews to see how well the facilities worked for regular visitors, not privileged journalists. I gave the newly expanded Museum of Modern Art a test it was bound to fail by revisiting on the Sunday after Christmas---a tourist-heavy time of year. Below is my report card, along with some pro-tips for navigating the obstacles and minimizing the amount of … [Read more...]

The Year in CultureGrrl, 2019 Edition: Museums Become Easy Targets in Difficult Times

This was the year of our national discontent and contentiousness, as manifested in the artworld by the rallying cry, "Decolonize Museums!" (a euphemism for "Demonize Museums"). The Metropolitan, Whitney and Guggenheim museums and the Museum of Modern Art were all targets of this year's protest demonstrations. For me, as someone who came of age in the '60s and participated in anti-Vietnam War (but not anti-museum) protests, there was a certain sense of déjà vu in this year's turmoil. Also triggering ambivalent memories was my coverage, for a … [Read more...]

Cree Decree: Monkman Debunks U.S. Creation Myths in His Metropolitan Museum Commission (video)

In my skeptical post last month about Cree artist Kent Monkman's plan to subvert a national object of veneration in the Metropolitan Museum's collection---Emanuel Leutze's "Washington Crossing the Delaware"---I recklessly ventured some premature commentary: Monkman’s remake may affront devotees [of Leutze's epic painting] as sacrilege. To be fair, we haven’t yet seen his finished product, so squeamish critics [emphasis added] need to keep our counsel until Dec. 19, when the public will be able to see what he’s come up with under the aegis of … [Read more...]

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