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Syson Siphoned: Met’s Departing Department Chair to Direct Fitzwilliam; 2 Future Stars Emerge (video)

Luke Syson, who in 2012 came to the Metropolitan Museum from the National Gallery, London, becoming the Met's chairman of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts in 2014, is now poised to join the wave of high-level departures from our country's preeminent museum. The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, recently announced that Syson, who most recently co-curated the Met's provocative "Like Life" exhibition, will step up to its directorship on Feb. 4. (It had previously lured away Timothy Potts, then director of the Kimbell Art Museum, for a short … [Read more...]

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s Campbell Gamble: Tom & Max Hollein Improbably Trade Places

My first reaction when this press release from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco hit my inbox today at 6:51 p.m. was: This has gotta be a hoax! Reading the first sentence of FAMSF's announcement made me even more incredulous: The Board of Trustees of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF) and the Corporation of the Fine Arts Museums (COFAM) today appointed Thomas P. Campbell as the new director and CEO of the largest public arts institution in Northern California, effective November 1, 2018 [emphasis added]. A two-day … [Read more...]

Unsold on “The Price of Everything”: HBO’S Art-Market Epic (with a fleeting CultureGrrl cameo)

I recently sat disconsolately through a screener of director Nathaniel Kahn's new artworld documentary, "The Price of Everything." Its dyspeptic take on the artworld turned my stomach. The film miscarries by not delivering what's promised in its own synopsis: While holding a funhouse mirror up to our consumerist culture, the film ultimately reaffirms the transcendent power of art itself [emphasis added] and the deep need we have for it in our lives. Instead of being elevated by a sense of art's "transcendent power," we mostly wallow … [Read more...]

Puncturing Bunkum: The Subtext of Banksy’s Subversive “Director’s Cut” (with video)–Part IV

In the process of ‘destroying’ the artwork, a new one was created. So said Sotheby's after the infamous Banksy shredding, trying to ennoble the egg on its face as Eggs Benedict. But the last benedict-ion belonged to the artist himself, in the form of his "Director's Cut" video posted last week on YouTube (and embedded in my post, below), wherein he punctures the red balloon of auction-house pretentiousness. Banksy's stealth video of the bidding on the above work at Sotheby's and the sales job that preceded it adds yet another layer of … [Read more...]

Latest Words on the Banksy Caper (& seller)–Part III

Parts I & II are here and here. I really wanted to put the Banksy Prank behind me, moving to more substantive matters (like recently opened exhibitions that have engaged or vexed me), but the Sotheby's plot thickened on Friday with a revelation by Jan Dalley, arts editor of the Financial Times (FT), that suggests the likely identity of the seller of "Girl with Balloon" (aka "Love is in the Bin"). Milking the publicity cow for all it's worth, Sotheby's, London, gave the mangled minorpiece the masterpiece-treatment (à la "Salvator … [Read more...]

Banksy’s Hanky-Panky at Sotheby’s, Part II: Can you Create a New Work by Shredding an Old One?

Part I is here. In case you thought that Sotheby's BalloonGate couldn't get any crazier, this just in from Sotheby's London: The winning bidder on Banksy’s "Girl with Balloon" offered at Sotheby’s last Friday has confirmed their decision to acquire the new work that was created that night, as part of the canvas passed through a hidden shredder seconds after the hammer fell. The new work has been granted a certificate by Pest Control, Banksy’s authentication body, and has been given a new title, "Love is in the Bin" [Huh?!?] The buyer, a female … [Read more...]

Where’s Cher? Is Mackie Too Tacky? Metropolitan Museum Goes “Camp” for Costume Institute Show

The Metropolitan Museum had just announced that its next Costume Institute extravaganza will be Camp: Notes on Fashion, May 9-Sept. 8, 2019. (Rest in Peace, Susan Sontag.) The good news is that the show won't usurp the museum's permanent-collection galleries, upstaging the Met's own treasures (as the just closed "Heavenly Bodies" annoyingly did). "Camp" will vamp in the museum's second-floor Cantor Exhibition Hall, which is dedicated to special exhibitions. The bad news is that while camp's reigning 21st-century diva, Lady Gaga, will be … [Read more...]

Banksy’s Hanky-Panky at Sotheby’s: Letting the Hot Air Out of Punctured “Balloon”—Part I

Parts II, III and IV are here, here and here. Banksy's elaborately orchestrated send-up of the auction market---contriving to have his $1.4-million "Girl with Balloon" self-mutilate at the fall of the hammer on Friday at Sotheby's London---is the subversive gift that keeps on giving. Here's Sotheby's image of the painting (which might have been more appropriately titled, "Girl without Balloon") in its intact state: The absurdity of this outlandish incident was amplified in the aftermath, as commentators strained to make sense of the … [Read more...]

When CultureGrrl Met Young Donald, Revisited in Light of the NY Times’ Exposé

In my August 2015 CultureGrrl post that recounted my encounter with Donald Trump (whom I interviewed in 1974 for this article in the NY Times Sunday Real Estate section), I expressed my astonishment at the puff piece about the young mogul-to-be, written by Times reporter Judy Klemesrud and published two years after my piece had appeared. To my even greater astonishment (and gratification), the Times itself on Wednesday admitted how off-base Klemesrud's piece had been. That very belated 300-word corrective (which didn't name the reporter but … [Read more...]

Termination or Continuation? Parsing the Uncertain Status of Federal Arts & Humanities Appropriations

While Congress and President Trump continue to kick the budgetary can down the road, federal funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities remains temporarily intact, with its future in doubt. With the federal government's 2019 fiscal year having begun Monday, NEA and NEH are among the many federal programs operating under a continuing resolution, signed by the President to avoid shutdowns. This "minibus" package, as it's called, maintains last year's funding levels until the legislature and chief … [Read more...]

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

As an admirer of the late Jack Whitten's paintings, I welcomed the chance to see his little-known, previously unexhibited wood sculptures and mixed-media assemblages now on view in the Met Breuer's Odyssey: Jack Whitten Sculpture, 1963–2017. But the considerable pleasures to be derived from this admirable show were partly undermined by its subtle but substantive commercial overtones. My previous happy encounters with Whitten's work included this Richter-esque painting, acquired by the Whitney Museum in 2015, in time for the opening of its … [Read more...]

Museum Musical Chairs (again): Frick to Sublease Building That the Met Leases from Whitney

My 2011 Museum Musical Chairs post now has an unexpected sequel---the "Frick Breuer." As foreshadowed in my recent interviews with Ian Wardropper and Max Hollein, their respective directors, the Frick Collection and the Metropolitan Museum have just announced (here and here) that the Met hopes to decamp from the Whitney Museum's former flagship building in 2020. The Frick would become the new temporary tenant to 2023), using the space to store and show some of the art that will be evicted from its building when it begins its planned … [Read more...]

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

In preparing for my recent interview with Max Hollein, the Metropolitan Museum's tech-savvy new director, I decided to revisit the museum's app, much ballyhooed four years ago, but disappointing when I recently app-lied it in the galleries. To my surprise, I discovered that the app's been zapped. (Read the black box at the bottom of my screenshot, below.) In June, I had criticized the "noticeable degradation" of the Met's digital presence, which occurred in the wake of "the overhaul and downsizing of the digital staff. Evidence of … [Read more...]

Holistic Hollein: A Halting Conversation with the Metropolitan Museum’s New Director

Max Hollein, the Met's new director, who spoke confidently and compellingly during our informal NYC lunches while he was directing three Frankfurt museums, twice surprised me in the space of one week with his uneasy, hesitant delivery during introductory remarks at two recent press previews (Jack Whitten last Wednesday; Delacroix today). He even seemed tense during a 25-minute, one-on-one with the not-very-formidable CultureGrrl this morning. (He was sequentially speed-dating a series of journalists: As I was walking in, MetMuseum-ologist … [Read more...]

Call to Action: Want to Help the Fire-Ravaged National Museum of Brazil?

Now you can: On its Facebook page, Rio de Janeiro's Museu Nacional (National Museum) of Brazil (whose plight I have detailed here and here) has posted an "action list" of ways in which concerned museum lovers can participate in what the devastated institution optimistically calls "the reconstruction of the museum." It's not clear when (or even if) that "reconstruction" may involve new construction. From aerial photographs of the rubble, it appears that the interior of the original structure is totally charred and gutted. Here's the … [Read more...]

Reduced to Rubble: Video from Incinerated Interior of National Museum of Brazil (plus: the aftermath)

WARNING: The video below (posted yesterday on Twitter) of the fire-ravaged interior of what was once the National Museum of Brazil (now largely reduced to rubble) may induce nausea and is not for the faint-of-heart: Inside the @MuseuNacional this morning. "The silence is like a thunder", in the words of @umac_icom Secretary Marcus Granato, who sent me the video #RiodeJaneiro — Marta C. Lourenco (@martaclourenco) September 3, 2018 The most heartbreaking moment of the video is captured in the screenshot below: … [Read more...]

Museum Inferno: Lessons from the Hellish Devastation at National Museum of Brazil

By now you have probably heard about the after-hours fire that yesterday ripped through the entire Museu Nacional (National Museum) of Brazil. The night guards in that eminent Rio de Janeiro institution reportedly escaped safely; the collections did not. Here is the 200-year-old museum, in better times: An editorial today in O Globo, the Rio-based newspaper, called this disaster, a "predictable tragedy": The tragedy of the National Museum reinforces the need for governments, politicians and society to make [budgetary] choices. It is … [Read more...]

Yale’s Intriguing “Leonardo” Examination Gets a Grade of “Incomplete”: Few Leonardos, Many Photos

Road Trip! That was my enthusiastic response to the press release and the advance publicity for the Yale Art Gallery's summer exhibition, Leonardo: Discoveries from Verrocchio’s Studio (to Oct. 7). Since another Leonardo "discovery" has been much in the news of late (including this recent twist, questioning its authorship), the show has more topicality than the museum's chief curator Laurence Kanter might have imagined when he began planning it. Unfortunately, the exhibition's compelling catalogue, which "seek[s] to recalibrate the … [Read more...]

Remember the Members: Parsing Max Hollein’s Letter to Metropolitan Museum’s Most Devoted Fans

Smart is the adjective that always crops up when people describe Max Hollein, the Metropolitan Museum's new director. Yesterday, he made one of his first smart moves by issuing a detailed letter to Met members, appending an email address through which they can share "any thoughts about the museum." To convey some idea of who Max is and what he plans to do, here are extensive excerpts from his members' missive (emphases added; my commentary in brackets): I write to introduce myself and hope that we will meet in the coming months at one … [Read more...]

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

My critical analysis at the end of last spring's round of major New York art auctions, in which I argued that auction-house arrangements with consignors "have become too arcane, convoluted and counterproductive for the market’s (and the auction houses’) good," has been supported by the figures in Sotheby's earnings report issued Monday: It revealed that for the six months ended June 30, 2018, its "net income [i.e., profit] of $50.8 million, or $0.95 per diluted share," was "a 23% and 21% decline, respectively" from the same period last … [Read more...]

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