an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me

“Birkenau” Blunder: Metropolitan Museum Says Richter’s Riffs on the Holocaust are “Poignant”

POIGNANT?!? "Horrific," "Profoundly Disturbing," "Jolting"...but surely not "Poignant." That mild adjective was used by the Metropolitan Museum's communications office in its headline (below) for the press release announcing the display (to Jan. 18) of Gerhard Richter's four paintings from his "landmark 'Birkenau' series" of 2014, in which black-and-white photographic images of inmates who had been killed by the Nazis in the Auschwitz-Birkenau gas chamber were colorfully overlaid and obliterated, using Richter's signature "squeegee" … [Read more...]

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

I've been planning to call out the lamentable decision of the Everson Museum, announced on Sept. 3, to jettison its only Jackson Pollock painting "in order to refine, diversify, and build the museum’s collection for the future" (in the words of the Syracuse, NY, museum's self-justification). Christopher Knight's scathing critique of this "inexcusable move" (his words) in yesterday's LA Times online, bumped this blunder to the top of my to-do list. Below is the oil-on-masonite, small (19¼" x 23¼") early drip painting that made both Knight … [Read more...]

Quick About-Face: Metropolitan Museum Follows Drastic Staff Reductions with Strategic Additions

In previous posts, I suggested that the Metropolitan Museum's radical downsizing of staff through layoffs and retirements (necessitated by the financial hit from the Virus Crisis) might give its current leaders an opportunity to install their own hand-picked team "sooner and less controversially than would have otherwise been possible" [emphasis added]. "Sooner" turns out to be immediately: As I previously stated (here and here), the museum urgently needed an in-house curator with expertise in Native American culture. It had relied on a … [Read more...]

Who’s Leaving the Metropolitan Museum? A Partial List of Retirees

Here we go again... The above headline echos my title for a June 2009 post, reporting on the Metropolitan Museum's staff purge during the Great Recession. So it's with dejected déjà vu that I now regretfully report the imminent departure of some 90 Metropolitan Museum staffers, from departments including security, facilities management, retail, education, conservation, curatorial (and more). They were incentivized to leave by a voluntary retirement program, instituted to help the Met address the economic fallout from the Virus Crisis. A … [Read more...]

Diversity Diversion: Plumbing Museums’ “Pipeline” Problem in Hiring Minorities

It's easy to say that art museums ought to be hiring more minority candidates, and it's also easy to get museums to agree that they should do so. Nevertheless, NYC's cultural institutions have been slow to fulfill those good intentions, according to the NY Times' pesky assessment by Sarah Bahr---Is New York’s Arts Diversity Plan Working? It’s Hard to Tell. Bahr examines the progress (or lack thereof) in meeting the goals set in "CreateNYC: A Cultural Plan for New Yorkers"---a 180-page city government report from 2017 that her article … [Read more...]

Yoko’s Joke: Signs of the Times for the Metropolitan Museum’s Impending Reopening

Either Max Hollein and Daniel Weiss, the director and president of the Metropolitan Museum, were knowing participants in Yoko Ono's mischievous potshot at their august institution, or they fell for her prank. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's the only explanation I can come up with for Max's and Dan's absurdly effusive praise for the conceptual/performance artist's "bold and inspiring work" (as described in the Met's press release) for the museum's grand façade: "DREAM TOGETHER," 2020, Yoko OnoPhoto: Metropolitan Museum The stark aspect of … [Read more...]

Mask Tasks: How Texas Tinterow Pulled Off the Early Reopening of Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

As the Metropolitan Museum prepares to reopen to the public on Aug. 29 (with many other major NYC museums expecting to welcome visitors beginning in late August-early September), the experience of the the first major U.S. art museum out of the re-starting gate---the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which intrepidly invited its public back three months ago---is an object lesson on how it might (or might not) work for others. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's reopening riff on its Modigliani---"Léopold Zborowski," c. 1916, which became a viral … [Read more...]

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

I have to hand it to Holland Cotter: For better or worse, the NY Times' co-chief art critic was right. I was wrong. In criticizing as "shockingly tone-deaf" Cotter's 3,000-word think piece published almost five months ago, I had opined that his sweeping plan for reinventing museums during their pandemic-related closures was a non-starter at a time when "museums have to tighten their belts and regain their footing before taking on new risks." Wangechi Mutu, "The Seated III," 2019, one of four sculptures by the female Kenyan artist … [Read more...]

NY Times Department of Corrections—Hillary Clinton/Maureen Dowd Edition UPDATED

The Twitterati collectively rubbed their eyes and raised their eyebrows yesterday when the NY Times' Opinion page tweeted a hoot that couldn't be blamed on the social-media staff: The mistaken posting accurately reproduced an astonishing error that appeared online yesterday (Saturday) in an Op-Ed column by Maureen Dowd, and was published in the "Sunday Review" section of today's hardcopy of the newspaper: Give Hillary Clinton a break! Where were the NY Times' copy editors when Dowd really needed them? Hillary won the internet yesterday … [Read more...]

Salort-Pons’ Response: Detroit Institute’s Director Tussles with Anonymous Detractors

Showing a courage and candor that’s been in short supply among museum officials who are navigating the choppy waters of racial tensions, political unrest and economic difficulty, Salvador Salort-Pons, director of the Detroit Institute of Arts, has publicly engaged with the issues raised in a Change.org petition calling for his removal. Salvador Salort-Pons Photo: Detroit Institute of Arts In their petition, DIA Staff Action—a self-described group of unnamed current and former DIA staffers—decried “years of a hostile work environment.” … [Read more...]

Nyerges on the Purges: Virginia MFA’s Director Defends Bondil, Himself, Other Beleaguered Leaders

Already battered by the economic ills inflicted by the global pandemic, many art museums suddenly find themselves barraged by attacks from aggrieved staffers and former employees accusing the higher-ups of racism, harassment and micro-aggressions. Striving to quell the unrest, art museum officials have pledged to do better and, in some cases (notably at the Metropolitan Museum and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) have promulgated detailed plans for anti-racism training and for initiatives to improve their institutions' equity and … [Read more...]

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

True to her outspoken nature, Nathalie Bondil, the summarily sacked 13-year director of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, is not going quietly. Having gotten a taste of her feistiness and grit during a meeting we had three years ago in New York, I'm not surprised. Bondil, who joined the museum in 1999 as curator of European art, became its chief curator the following year and its director in 2007. She accumulated a profusion of honors for her accomplishments, including the Legion of Honor (France's highest national distinction) and the Order … [Read more...]

Garrels Quarrels: BlogBacks on My Defense of SFMOMA’s Deposed Curator

After posting my contrarian defense on Tuesday of Gary Garrels, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s distinguished (now deposed) senior curator of painting and sculpture, I ducked, anticipating a pile-on of invective. Instead, I got confirmation of what I've always known: I've got a classy readership---intelligent, civil and reasonable...even while contesting my contentious views. Here's one detractor who, from his informed comments about my blog, is clearly a devoted CultureGrrl reader---Peter Kuntz, formerly an official of the … [Read more...]

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

In the second of what threatens to become a series of parlous CultureGrrl posts, I'm again risking the wrath of the thought-police by coming to the defense of another consummate museum curator who has had the misfortune of wandering into the cancel-culture crosshairs. Joining Keith Christiansen, the Metropolitan Museum's chairman of European paintings, in this predicament is Gary Garrels, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's senior curator of painting and sculpture, who on July 9 precipitously announced his resignation, effective July … [Read more...]

Trump’s New Sculpture Park for “American Heroes”? Fuhgedaboudit! The Bronx Already Has that Covered

I did a double take at the end of Donald Trump's long-winded July 3 paean to the four Mount Rushmore-enshrined Presidents, which devolved into a diatribe against "the violent mayhem we have seen in the streets of cities that are run by liberal Democrats in every case...the predictable result of years of extreme indoctrination and bias in education, journalism, and other cultural institutions." Trump went on to demonize not only Democrats, journalists and cultural institutions, but also educators who have been teaching children "to hate their … [Read more...]

“Live” But Not Too Lively: Auction Torpor (not Fever) at Sotheby’s Evening Sales

As I had anticipated, government strictures prevented Sotheby's from realizing its tentatively announced plan to hold "live evening and day auctions of Contemporary and Impressionist & Modern Art...in New York the week of 29 June...pending the lifting of certain restrictions and confirmation from the relevant authorities that we can proceed." When it became apparent that this wasn't going to happen, Sotheby's snatched victory from the jaws of defeat by redefining a "LIVE GLOBAL AUCTION EVENT" (the headline of yesterday's post-sale press … [Read more...]

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

The thought-police have come for Keith Christiansen, the Metropolitan Museum's chairman of European paintings. I'm posting (a blog entry, not bond) to bail him out. As reported in yesterday's paper by the NY Times' Robin Pogrebin, Keith's ill-advised (now removed) Juneteenth entry on his personal Instagram feed (also vanished) has ignited a firestorm of indignation for "making a dog whistle of an equation of #BLM [Black Lives Matter] activists with ‘revolutionary zealots,’" in the words of a tweet by Art & Museum Transparency---a group … [Read more...]

BlogBacks: John Ravenal & Alan Wallach (& me) on the Confederate Sculptures Fracas

I knew that my contrarian suggestions about what to do with the controversial sculptures of Confederate leaders on Richmond's Monument Avenue would provoke some pushback, but I hoped for the constructive critiques that I've come to expect from my knowledgeable, insightful readers. That's exactly what I got in two thoughtful responses to Monumental Misdirection: Topple Injustices, Not Lost-Cause Statues. As I wrote in that post, John Ravenal had given me my first look at Monument Avenue when I was on a 2010 Wall Street Journal assignment … [Read more...]

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

Those who prize equality and equity have been rightly horrified and mobilized by videos of the fatal encounters between police and George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis and Rayshard Brooks last Friday in Atlanta. But the fierce energy behind violent, destructive expressions of rage that leave ruins in their wake should be applied to battling today's glaring injustices, not to toppling impotent statues from bygone eras. Much time, energy and commentary has been squandered on the defacement, removal and sometimes destruction of monuments that … [Read more...]

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

Sotheby's has quietly upped its charges for purchasers of its offerings: An "Overhead Premium" of 1% of the auction hammer price will supplement its buyer's premium, effective Aug. 1. According to its announcement last month, little noticed by the public until Bloomberg's Katya Kazakina recently tweeted about it (more on that below), Sotheby's new charge will be "payable by all auction buyers in our global salesrooms and online sales." It will help to defray "the overhead costs relating to our facilities, property handling and other … [Read more...]

an ArtsJournal blog