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My Storify from the Obama Portraits Event: Eclectic Crowd, Controversial Art

In case you still have an appetite for more about the Obama portraits unveiling and installation, here's my Storify of live tweets from the scene: [View the story "The New Obama Portraits at NPG" on Storify] … [Read more...]

“Respect” Not “Hagiography”: How National Portrait Gallery Sizes Up Obama & His Predecessors

In pithy new blurbs, the National Portrait Gallery's revamped and reinterpreted "America's Presidents" installation strives to tell each former officeholder's "unique stories of both triumph and failure" (in the words of the introductory wall text). The individual labels for the portraits of our 44 previous chief executives explore both the heights and depths of their terms in office. To the best of my knowledge, most members of the national art press who attended last week's unveiling of Barack and Michelle Obamas' portraits in the … [Read more...]

Obama Drama: Unveiled, Hung and Exiled (with video)

More on this here. "It’s kind of amazing to think that [the Obama portraits] will be living next to the other portraits [emphasis added] of all of the other presidents and first ladies," Rujeko Hockley, assistant curator at the Whitney Museum, gushed in an interview with The Nation about the latest presidential commissions by the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery. Sad to say, Ru, Barack Obama is not actually "next to the other portraits" of the U.S. Presidents. As you will see in my video, below, he's tucked away behind … [Read more...]

Berkshire Debacle: The Attorney General Caves

Read it and weep. The Massachusetts Attorney General has acceded to a plan for the Berkshire Museum to sell as many of its 40 deaccessioned works as necessary to come up with the $55 million that it says it needs for endowment and capital projects.  Already spoken for is the most valuable and beloved of those works, Norman Rockwell's "Shuffleton's Barbershop" (below). According to the Complaint for Equitable Relief filed by the Berkshire Museum trustees today in Supreme Judicial Court of Suffolk County, an unidentified nonprofit museum … [Read more...]

The Guggenheim’s Potty Humor: What Art is Flowing to Trump’s White House? UPDATED

Nobody can have been shocked to learn that the White House had no interest in the Guggenheim Museum's provocative offer to lend Maurizio Cattelan's golden throne, instead of the van Gogh that the museum had requested. The Gugg's goofy gaffe, which Nancy Spector, the museum's artistic director and chief curator, surely knew was a non-starter when she dispatched her written offer, raises two questions: ---What exactly does the White House want to borrow from museums? ---More importantly for museum-watchers: What was Nancy Spector … [Read more...]

Berkshire Museum Saga: Proposed Agreement to Resolve Art-Sale Dispute Expected Soon in Court UPDATED

It looks like an agreement may be in the works (subject to court approval) between the Berkshire Museum's trustees and the Massachusetts Attorney General, regarding the museum's controversial deaccessions. Details are to be revealed in Massachusetts Supreme Court on Friday "or shortly thereafter." That's when the parties plan to file a joint "petition for judicial relief," which the AG has pledged to support. In a joint status report filed by the AG and the museum's trustees late today in Massachusetts Appeals Court, the museum committed … [Read more...]

Cole’s Roles at Metropolitan Museum: Hudson River School Progenitor, Environmentalist Precursor

The Metropolitan Museum's just opened Thomas Cole's Journey: Atlantic Crossings (to May 13) is easy on the eyes and a balm to the spirit. But it also sounds a warning that gained new resonance with President Trump's did-he-really-say-that moment in the State of the Union address on Tuesday, when he unexpectedly extolled "beautiful clean coal." Cole's coal is more bane than boon, giving his lovely landscapes an edgy timeliness in an era when climate-change theories are becoming reality. All photos by Lee Rosenbaum Having journeyed from … [Read more...]

AAMD’s Midwinter Agenda: Auction-House Presentation, but No Deaccession Deliberation? UPDATED

In yesterday's post, I predicted there would be "a lot of thinking about the unabated deaccession crisis at the midwinter meeting of the Association of Art Museum Directors, which begins next Monday in San Antonio"... ...or maybe not. A museum director who is attending the meeting leaked to me the three-day schedule (with speakers' bios) that he has received (a version of which is to be released to the press tomorrow). As of the time that document was disseminated, there was no session on the agenda that specifically addressed the … [Read more...]

Glowering at Lowry: MoMA Director’s Renegade Proposals for Collection Management

While supervising the Museum of Modern Art's second major expansion (here's the first) during his 23-year tenure, director Glenn Lowry has been thinking about how his soon-to-be reconfigured institution should change with the times. If his ideas gain traction elsewhere, he could be a daring (or, to my mind, reckless) disruptor of bedrock principles of museum stewardship. In his eyebrow-raising interview earlier this month with Charlotte Burns for "In Other Words"---an online Sotheby's house organ, aspiring to be journalism---Lowry made … [Read more...]

CultureGrrl Confidential: Leaks from La Salle President’s Student Forum on Art Sales

In explaining why the 46 artworks deaccessioned by La Salle University were spirited away from its museum by Christie's during intersession (while the Philadelphia campus was mostly devoid of students and faculty), Colleen Hanycz, the school's embattled president, dug herself and her institution into a deeper reputational hole. Addressing a student forum about the planned art sales last Thursday, Hanycz offered her response to those who criticized the decision and its execution for insufficient consultation with the university community … [Read more...]

Judaica as “Curiosities”: Are Jewish Museum’s Reinstalled Collection Galleries Good for the Jews?

I had misgivings from the start about Claudia Gould's appointment to the directorship of the Jewish Museum, New York. Her personal and professional backgrounds seemed more suited to directing a contemporary art museum than an identity museum. Showing the art of our time has long been an important part the Jewish Museum's mission, but only one part. At the press preview for the misconceived reinstallation of the museum's permanent collection (opening to the public on Sunday), my misgivings were reinforced, beginning with this introductory … [Read more...]

Pay-to-Play? Maezawa Bankrolls Brooklyn Museum Show of His $110.5-Million Basquiat

Should a museum accept money from a private collector to show a work (or works) from his personal collection? Unless the work in question has been promised to the museum, such arrangements reek of pay-to-play, even if the collector's motives are believed to be altruistic. What are we to think, then, of the deal that will bring this record-breaking auction star to the Brooklyn Museum for a fleeting month-and-a-half "spotlight presentation"? Here's the credit line for One Basquiat, Jan. 26-Mar. 11: "One Basquiat" and surrounding … [Read more...]

Assailing the Sales: La Salle’s Art History Chair Says: “We Were Not Consulted”

With opposition continuing to grow over La Salle University's plan to sell 46 prime artworks from its collection through Christie's to fund non-museum activities, Susan Dixon, chair of the Philadelphia institution's art-history faculty, has circulated a letter lambasting the deaccessions (full text below). So far, I've seen nothing about whether this luminary intends to scrutinize La Salle's plans: When I asked the Attorney General's office if it's on the case, I got this cryptic reply from Joe Grace, its chief spokesperson: We can’t … [Read more...]

Derision for Admission Revision: Parsing the Metropolitan Museum’s New Mandatory Fees

Although I share the dismay over the Metropolitan Museum's new admissions policy (which, nevertheless, I grudgingly acknowledge may be necessary), I've been equally unsettled by the misconceptions and misinformation promulgated by many of the pundits who oppose the new fee. Before castigating the Met, the combatants need to take time to understand the complexity and difficulties of the financial situation that led to this controversial move. That said, the museum itself bent the truth to bolster its case, as I discovered when I analyzed its … [Read more...]

My Debt to Eugene Thaw, the Late Dealer, Collector, Connoisseur, Scholar, Donor, Mentor

I've never met an art dealer as brilliant and multifaceted as Eugene V. Thaw, who died Jan. 3 at the age of 90. Selling works of highest quality, from old masters to modern, he advised the wealthiest and most discriminating collectors. But he generously took time, long ago, to share his insights with me as a young journalist trying to understand the mysterious ways of the artworld. With a connoisseur's eye that encompassed a wide panorama of centuries and cultures, Gene collected eclectically, promising or gifting his wide-ranging … [Read more...]

Intersession Deaccession: AAM and AAMD Issue Joint Statement Deploring the La Salle Sales UPDATED

As they did in the ongoing Berkshire Museum saga, the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors have just issued a joint statement strongly opposing La Salle University's planned sales of 46 objects from its museum, announced while students and faculty were away for winter intersession, which ends Jan. 12. (The Association of Art Museum Curators beat them to the punch yesterday with its own statement.) UPDATE: The Association of Academic Museums and Galleries has now joined the chorus of condemnation. The two … [Read more...]

Admission Revision: Metropolitan Museum Raises Eyebrows with Mandatory Fees for Non-New Yorkers

Were it not for my free-admission press pass, I'd be personally affected and affronted by the Metropolitan Museum's new admissions policy. I'd feel as if a longtime lover had jilted me. As a Bronx native who grew up roaming the Met, I took full advantage of what used to be free access for all. As current residents of Fort Lee, NJ, my neighbors and I live closer to the Met's three facilities (Fifth Avenue, Breuer, the Cloisters) than do most NYC residents of the outer boroughs, who can continue to pay whatever they choose when they enter the … [Read more...]

More on La Salle’s Sales: My Revealing Q&A with the University’s Spokesperson

More on this here and here. La Salle University's website provides surprisingly scant information about its astonishing plan under a relatively new president to dispatch to Christie's some 46 objects from its museum's collection to raise funds for non-museum activities. Here's the brief blurb about the planned disposal on the museum's webpage: In January 2018, La Salle University announced a decision by the Board of Trustees to deaccession 46 artworks. To see the full list of artworks, click here. That's it. There's no press release … [Read more...]

The Berkshire Museum Effect? La Salle University to Sell 46 Works from Its Museum

I'm sick of doing deaccession stories. But here we go again: Following in the stumbling footsteps of the Berkshire Museum, La Salle University, Philadelphia, has announced plans to sell some 46 works from its collection of more than 5,000 objects. The proceeds will "help fund teaching and learning initiatives in its new strategic plan," as reported by Susan Snyder and Stephan Salisbury in the Philadelphia Inquirer. In other words, the use of the proceeds will run contrary to professional guidelines for museums, which say that deaccession … [Read more...]

The Year in CultureGrrl: Kicking the “*!%&@” Out of Plan B (for “Blog”)

For me, 2017 was a year of transition: It marked the end of my decades-long run as a freelancer for the Wall Street Journal, precipitated by my having openly expressed unhappiness with the cutbacks in its superlative arts coverage, which I was proud to be part of. Disinclined to scramble for assignments in my grandparent stage of life (with three new family members so far), I decided, after two unsuccessful article queries, to take a page from Sheryl Sandberg. In her recent book about facing adversity far more serious than a mere editorial … [Read more...]

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