an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me

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

How did Christie's manage to best Sotheby's in landing the hotly contested, monumental David Rockefeller consignment? That trove goes on the block next week, led by this waif, who carries the sales' heftiest presale estimate on her fragile shoulders. Ask why she's gone to Christie's, and you'll get two different answers, depending on which auction house you speak to. Marc Porter, chairman of Christie's Americas, told me his firm had won the prize on the strength of its expertise and success in marketing large collections … [Read more...]

Hearts for Hartwig: My Appreciation for Getty’s Soon-to-Retire Communications Head UPDATED

It's not like me to sing the praises of museum communications officials, even though I constantly rely on them for help (and they often are extremely helpful). As a critic and investigative journalist intent on clarifying what's been blurred by PR spin, my relationship with spokespersons is often more adversarial than collegial. Not so with Ron Hartwig, who today announced his retirement this summer after 13 years as the Getty Trust’s vice president of communications. He has always patiently, promptly, cordially and (best of all) … [Read more...]

Barnes Foundation to Subdivide (& monetize?) 137 Acres; Offloads Costs of Lower Merion Properties

Some six years after it controversially moved to Philadelphia, the Barnes Foundation appears to have decided to monetize the original properties of its founder, the legendary collector Albert Barnes, in both Lower Merion and Chester County. In a 2004 NY Times op-ed piece---Destroying the Museum to Save It---I had argued that the Barnes should have considered selling Ker-Feal, its little used 137-acre country estate in Chester County, PA, to help raise sufficient money to sustain its main facility in Lower Merion, PA. Instead, the Barnes … [Read more...]

An Educated Guess: What Did the Lucas Museum Pay for Rockwell’s “Shuffleton’s Barbershop”?

In the two weeks since the announcement of the Berkshire Museum's widely deplored sale of Norman Rockwell's "Shuffleton's Barbershop" to the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, Los Angeles, none of the parties to the transaction have revealed the price paid for the privilege of spiriting away this Massachusetts masterpiece: But by analyzing what we do know, it's not hard to come up with a ballpark figure. In announcing the planned disposals next month of 13 of the 39 works that Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has permitted it to sell … [Read more...]

La Salle Art Museum’s Promo Video Highlights Deaccessioned Works

"Wander through six permanent galleries [emphasis added]," the caption for the video walk-through on the La Salle University Art Museum's homepage exhorts potential visitors. But while the galleries may be "permanent," the installation shown on the homepage isn't. Some of the works featured in the video have left this building... ...and were last seen publicly here (a gallery at Christie's): As you will see below (unless La Salle has updated its homepage by the time you read this), two of the three works accorded starring roles … [Read more...]

Deaccession Dejection: La Salle’s Sales Slide at Christie’s UPDATED

This is an I-told-you-so post. Some six of 16 old masters deaccessioned by the La Salle University Art Museum were left stranded on the auction block at Christie's this afternoon. Of the 10 that did sell, only four equaled or exceeded their presale estimates. Br. Daniel Burke, the museum’s late founder and university's president emeritus, might have derived grim satisfaction knowing that the work behind him in the photo below would remain with the museum, despite the university's efforts to unload it (unless Christie's and/or La Salle … [Read more...]

La Salle Sales Shortfall: Two of Five 19th-Century Offerings Fail to Sell

More on this here. Today's auction at Christie's of the first five of 46 deaccessions from the La Salle University Art Museum got off to an inauspicious start when the auction house's earlier sales ran late, causing an hour's delay in start time for the 19th-century European sale. "All registered clients for either sale were notified via email," a Christie's spokesperson assured me. Also inauspicious, in an auction that has been widely criticized within the university and by museum professionals, was the failure of two of the five La Salle … [Read more...]

Fixing the Actual “Glass Ceiling” at the Metropolitan Museum: My Q&A with Keith Christiansen

With all the recent pushback against the supposed "glass ceiling" at the Metropolitan Museum (occasioned by the naming of an eminently qualified male, Max Hollein, to assume its directorship), let's take a look at another glass-ceiling problem there, which is unambiguous and needs immediate remediation: Keith Christiansen, the Met's chairman of European paintings, ended the museum's December press breakfast with a preview of the sweeping changes that have begun this month in the galleries under his purview. In a $150-million project that … [Read more...]

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

Max Hollein will have two strikes against him---one insignificant, one potentially serious---when he walks in the door this summer as the Metropolitan Museum's new director. The first liability is irremediable, unless he's planning a sex-change: He is not a woman. In this identity-politics era, that's a lamentable deficiency for some, notably Lisa Oliver, an assistant professor of art history at Wellesley College and former Met fellow (2014 to 2015). The NY Times saw fit to give this minor player a major platform, with two op-ed … [Read more...]

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

No surprise here: The planned Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, Los Angeles, which broke ground last month, today announced its acquisition of Norman Rockwell's "Shuffleton's Barbershop" from the Berkshire Museum (price undisclosed). This means that Don Bacigalupi, president of the deep-pocketed museum, now has the dubious distinction of being the enabler of not one but two transactions bankrolled by megabucks patrons (here's the other one) that have been deplored by museums' professional organizations. Here's Don at the Lucas, which is … [Read more...]

Fine with Hollein: Max to Be Metropolitan Museum’s New Director

Okay, I knew this. Last week, I contacted Max Hollein, who this afternoon has just been named (by Robin Pogrebin, at the above link) as the Metropolitan Museum's next director, effective this summer. (Press release from the Met came shortly after the NY Times piece, and perhaps others that I didn't see, went online.) I had asked Max last Wednesday if he could send me his private (non-museum) email, which he promptly did, using that opportunity to hype his current museum's (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco's) just opened "major and … [Read more...]

Market Madness: Sotheby’s to Auction 13 Berkshire Museum Works this May

Farewell, George Washington. Notwithstanding its direct relevance to the Berkshire Museum's mission (which includes both history and art) and the museum's professed concern for the education of schoolchildren, a portrait of our first President is among its works to be sold at Sotheby's American Art sale on May 23: (Presale estimates are as of Sotheby's September release of the full checklist for the Berkshire deaccessions.) As the museum announced today, some 13 of the 40 works that on Apr. 5 were approved for sale by … [Read more...]

Picking on the Frick: Is It Shortchanged by Its Significantly Downsized Expansion Plan?

"We're able to achieve everything we need," Ian Wardropper, the Frick Collection's browbeaten director, told Robin Pogrebin of the NY Times about his institution's revised renovation and expansion plans. Not exactly. Before the Frick can get "everything we need," its plan (revised and reduced after the 2014 proposal was derailed by opponents) must be scrutinized by various city bodies whose approval is required. The press release (linked in the first paragraph) mentions the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Board of Standards … [Read more...]

Deaccession Dejection: Court Allows Berkshire Museum Sales (UPDATED 5Xs)

Justice David Lowy of Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has just handed down a lamentable decision that rubber-stamps the devil's bargain between the Attorney General and the trustees of the Berkshire Museum (the details of which I previously reported here). Maybe we'll finally learn the identity of the nonprofit museum that has made an unspecified offer for the star discard, "Shuffleton's Barbershop," with a promise to display it prominently and to lend it to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA, for 18-24 months. Here's … [Read more...]

April Showers: 28 La Salle University Deaccessions in Three Christie’s Auctions (with estimates)

Without a press release, let alone any fanfare, Christie's has now published the complete catalogue information (including presale estimates) for 28 of the 46 works that were deaccessioned by La Salle University to bankroll its "five-year strategic plan, whose overarching goal is exceptional student outcomes resulting from deeply engaged, integrated, innovative high-impact teaching and learning," in the words of Christie's online essay about the sale. Below is the work in the April sales bearing, by far, the highest estimate. I had featured … [Read more...]

Why Did the Attorney General Cave in Berkshire Museum Case? My Q&A with the Rockwells’ Lawyer

Those, like me, who were caught off-guard by the astonishing deal (now awaiting court validation) cut last month by the Berkshire Museum and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey feel justifiably blindsided by the AG's about-face. With scant explanation, she pivoted from a seemingly adversarial stance towards the museum's deaccessions of the cream of its collection to acceptance of the shameful sell-offs, notwithstanding the fact that they would run afoul of professional standards and would violate what the AG had deemed to be … [Read more...]

Berkshire Museum in Court: Pointed Questions, No Resolution (plus, a push for a deaccession law)

While the Berkshire Eagle's Larry Parnass rushes off to file his story on the just concluded court hearing on the Berkshire Museum's art-sale plans, let's interpret what we've learned from Larry's live tweets on how the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court proceedings went. No decision or course of action was proffered today by Justice David Lowy, who could allow the art sales to proceed, with or without certain restrictions, or could refer the case to the full court for more expansive consideration. Further delay would likely cause the … [Read more...]

Court Hearing/Protest Demonstration: Crucial Week in Berkshire/La Salle Deaccession Deliberations

Coming to a boil this week, the heated controversies over the fate of endangered collections at two small, little-known museums pose a huge potential threat to museums around the country. And there's only one sure way to arrest this downward spiral. Tomorrow (Tuesday) at noon, an hour-long cy près hearing will be held by Justice David Lowy in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that may determine whether it would be "impossible or impracticable" for the Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, MA, to remain financially viable and fulfill its mission … [Read more...]

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

"He's a giant. We are all basking in the glow of his legacy." So said Kent Kleinman, Cornell University's Dean of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, as quoted in a Cornell Chronicle article about architect Richard Meier's visit to his (and my) alma mater. "For him to come back and share his life as an architect with the next generation of architects is really an incredible privilege," Kleinman gushed. That was in October 2012, when Meier sat in on a studio class co-taught by Assistant Professor Caroline O'Donnell, the … [Read more...]

“Plundering the Art Museum”: La Salle University Faculty Senate Blasts Planned Art Sales (full text) UPDATED

In a statement approved unanimously by those attending its Mar. 6 meeting, the Faculty Senate of La Salle University, Philadelphia, blasted the proposed sale through Christie's of 46 highlights of from the collection of the institution's art museum. The proceeds would go towards implementing a five-year strategic plan, "Momentum: 2022," that the university says will "position [it] for growth and sustainability, and further enhance student experience and outcomes, and innovation in teaching and learning." The Faculty Senate statement was … [Read more...]

an ArtsJournal blog