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Archive for the ‘museums’ Category

De-gifting LACMA

Posted by gninja on January 12, 2008


Hey, if re-gifting can make it, so can its ‘de’ counterpart.

An article detailing trustee Eli Broad’s decision to rescind his gift of 2000 works of art to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was sent over my way by husband. An excerpt:

LACMA was poised to become the nation’s only encyclopedic museum — with collections ranging through all historical periods in every part of the globe — that would also have a major commitment to contemporary art. Since Broad, a LACMA trustee who occupies the stratosphere of the world’s contemporary collectors, won’t himself make the institutional pledge, that scheme has disintegrated…. When LACMA officials announced several years ago that Broad had pledged $50 million to build BCAM on its Wilshire Boulevard campus, his large collection was in the front of the art world’s collective mind. LACMA may be encyclopedic, but its strengths have never been in the modern sweep of 19th and 20th century art. For art after 1950, a Broad gift could make a huge difference.

It’s a jerk move, on the one hand, but on the other, he still gave the institution $50million. Any complaints about the donation-that-wasn’t bring to mind Tracy Jordan’s compensation for spending two days making a movie for Shaq: “A million dollars, a yellow Bentley and nothing!”

As I’ve indicated in at least one previous post, I do think it’s imperative that art be made visible to as many people as possible. But for more than just the sake of argument here, the dismay that this collector will not be donating his 2000 pieces to LACMA sounds far more related to the prestige of the institution than to the accessiblity of the art it would display. In fact, the public visibility of art is not mentioned once in the article.

Right. So the writer’s sympathies clearly lie in a place I don’t think has much pathos. That’s fine. A more intersting question, though, is what other models there mght be for displaying art (not in reproductions) to the public. I’m way out of my league here–this topic is not so much art history as it is business admin or something. But knowing that Broad probably won’t give his goods to LACMA, what alternatives are there (aside from the likely scenario that he’ll open up his own gallery)?

I’m posing this as a question with no intention of answering it. The point is to expose the critical outrage for what it is–bitterness about the future of a museum’s reputation.

Now that I think about it, the alternative Broad himself expressed doesn’t sound “nonsensical” to me at all.

Which brings us to Broad’s second nonsensical idea. He thinks museums should collectively share works of art — an administrative and curatorial nightmare, which makes museum professionals cringe — and that functioning as a “lending library” of art to institutions is “a new paradigm and a model for other private collectors.”

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The Robber Baron’s Age of Rembrandts

Posted by gninja on November 8, 2007

Good commentary from the Guardian. According to Richard B Woodward:

What is unseemly about The Age of Rembrandt is the jingling sound of money audible throughout and the subliminal appeals for more of it to replenish the museum’s coffers. The title of the show is a misnomer and a ruse. The curators aren’t examining the Dutch society that allowed Rembrandt and his contemporaries to flourish but rather celebrating the New York society that could afford to buy their work.


(A portrait of JP Morgan. Not done by Rembrandt. That would be impossible. Or prescient.)

By and large I had the same response when I saw the exhibition. But, unlike Woodward, I took not so much issue with the title of the show (though I do agree with him), but instead with the lack of curatorial presence in the show. Rather than just group the paintings on the walls according to their donors, why not make some kind of effort at addressing what their art-purchases (and donations) say about these prominent families? It would do a great service to the public to strive less towards curatorial transparency–at least in this case. Include photographs of these families next to their works, and show what else they collected. Even if only through photographs. Juxtapose a formal portrait of Morgan with one done by Rembrandt. How were these families modeling themselves. There really a whole slew of ways this show could have been handled that could have satisfied both the museum’s desire to honor (and solicit more) donors, as well as the museum-goer’s desire for a an exhibition that is intellectually engaging.

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Review of “Newsroom 1986 – 2000”: What Is Roberta Smith Going on About?

Posted by gninja on October 20, 2007

At the Mary Boone Gallery now is an exhibition that sounds, well, very good.  In Newsroom: 1986 – 2000, artist Aleksandra Mir turns the gallery into her own newsdesk, churning out on a daily basis repurposed headlines and spreads that showed up in local papers from the above-mentioned years.


In the words of Mir herself:

News becomes history as soon as it is reported. What fascinates me in talking about history is the paradoxical movement backwards while obviously propelling ahead with a story into the future. The 15-year time period covered in this show is of a recent past, a past that still unites many New Yorkers in recognition of a city at once familiar and long gone.

The NYC tabloids New York Daily News and New York Post serve as practical tools that unite the population around shared joys and fears; they help spread the city’s gossip and form its identity. Whether one buys them or not, a glance at the headlines while passing by a deli or waiting for a bus is enough to be connected to the diverse masses that make up their readership. Never mind if what is reported is mostly disaster or scandal. In retrospect, news before 9/11/2001 makes this megalopolis look like a quaint town full of petty crooks, with this accident or that occasional murder resulting in the loss of a single life. A rape in Central Park and a love triangle on Long Island were the two longest running news stories of New York in the 15 years leading up to the end of the millennium.  

By remediating these printed works as hand-crafted images, Mir imbues the original with the heavily (and heavily-apparent) subjective that is often so ignored by readers of the original.  Everything about the process and product of Mir’s work serves to accentuate what is the true method of newsmaking, allowing its hypermediation here to serve as the primary commentary on it and indictment against it.

And, yet, this all seems to be beyond critic Roberta Smith’s point of tolerance:

I’m all for artistic license, but this may be may be taking a few too many liberties with our memories, or, failing that, the front-page form. After “Money,” Ms. Mir hopes to show series on food poisoning and on AIDS and then end the exhibition next Saturday on a high note: sports triumphs.

Oh, good, I’m glad to see that the leading art critic for the NY Times is “all for artistic license.”  So pleased she fulfilled that prerequisite.  And it doesn’t seem to be a mite unusual at all that a woman writing for a newspaper might feel threatened by a critique on the medium through which she speaks.

Horror!  Gasp!  Scandal!


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An Exhibition So Big It Can’t Happen Again

Posted by gninja on October 18, 2007


(Michelangelo’s Manchester Madonna)

This sounds like the coolest thing… ever.  At the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857, an astonishing 16,272 works were assembled for a mass audience.  16,272.  All works were gathered from the private collections of very wealthy individuals and placed in display.

According to the journalist who wrote the piece:

This, then, is Manchester’s legacy. A century and a half ago, a few far-sighted wealthy individuals coaxed a lot of other wealthy individuals into letting the masses get a look at their priceless art. Having given it the once-over, the people decided that great art was simply too precious to be hidden away for the rich, and in a fairer world would just have to be shared with the rest of the nation.

Sounds like a little too touchy-feely a conclusion to me.  Especially after mentioning:

The organisers had, it was true, decided to base their event in the leafy surrounds of Old Trafford, well away from the belching chimneys of the city centre, but that was hardly the point. It was one thing for better-off folk in the shires to enjoy artistic treasures, far from the grime and sweat of the factory floor, but quite another to start introducing it to the impoverished masses. (And they were definitely impoverished: life expectancy in Manchester at the time was just 26, the lowest of anywhere in the UK. It was not uncommon for mill workers to live 12 to a room.)

So, when it was all over, with the glass palace dismantled and the artworks taken down, art historians – as snobbish a bunch, some of them, as the southern toffs – tried their best to forget it had ever happened.

Mostly I mention the article because 1) I would give quite a lot to have seen that exhibition and 2) with prices for museums (at least here in NY) like the MOMA, Guggenheim, and The Frick being so high, I wonder how public art really is.  Sure, moreso than when it was almost exclusively in the hands of private collectors, but certainly not as much as we like to tell ourselves it is.

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Shibboleth at the Tate Modern

Posted by gninja on October 11, 2007


A giant crack in the floor as the Tate Modern’s newest installation, by Columbian sculptor Doris Salcedo.

Quoted in the Guardian:

A spokeswoman for the Tate says firmly that it will never divulge how the piece – the eighth in its annual Unilever series of works commissioned specially for the Turbine Hall – was made. “The artist and Tate are not going into great detail other than to say we opened up the Turbine Hall floor in order to create a cavity,” a spokeswoman says. “The work was made with utmost precision according to drawings by the artist, and nothing was accidental.

I think this secrecy is great.  It challenges the viewer to question the artifice of the piece and focus instead on the natural world dominating the very domain of artifice.  This is what the Tate would look like in The World Without Us.

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Apparently Images of Sex Are New in London

Posted by gninja on October 10, 2007

 From The Guardian:

That means, come Friday, the first ever mainstream exhibition devoted to sex will be unleashed upon an unsuspecting British public. 

And what an unsuspecting public they are!



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Speaking of Iran…

Posted by gninja on September 25, 2007

(Picasso, Painter and Model, 1927, Oil on Canvas, 214 cm x 200 cm, Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art)

Some newspapers just have a better sense of nuance than others.

If you can get past the first page, the LA Times has published a rather thoughtful article on the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, and their cache of masterpieces in the basement (though still on internet display).

The article provides a contrast to the pages printed throughout the country yesterday during Ahmahdinejad’s visit to NY.  Most importantly, the reporter draws attention to presence of the paintings in the basement vault, and not in the hands of foreign collectors and museums.  Why not sell them?  Have a vanities bonfire?

While the US media (and the current administration) paint broad slap-dash strokes over an entire country, equating it and its leader, there’s obviously a diversity of opinion that’s not being rendered.  But it’s hard to hard to have an enemy that exhibits more than one dimension.

I’d hate to think of what people in other countries might say about me, were they to cull the AP so selectively:

White Supremacist Backlash Builds over Jena Case

Don’t Tase Me Bro

Iraq’s Soldiers of Fortune

Why Did Fox Censor Sally Field’s Emmy Speech?

Censor Kathy Griffin 

Those are just from the last week and a half.

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Guardian Art Critic Only Wants Confirmed Masterpieces on Show When He’s in Town

Posted by gninja on August 9, 2007


(The museum ideal for some.)

I just can’t get away from Rudolf Stingel lately.

Writing for the Guardian UK’s arts and architecture blog, Guy Dammann expresses his scorn for the Whitney’s use of too much gallery space devoted to new exhibitions. He complains that,

When at home, it tends to be temporary exhibitions that draw me through museum gates. In foreign cities, though, where the sense of novelty is more pervasive – and the words “new” or “just-opened” consequently lose their purchase – I prefer to stick with a museum’s permanent collection

Speaking of New York’s Whitney Museum, devoted to American art:

The shame, then, is all the greater when the museum gives over so much of its space to temporary exhibitions. Covering two of the five floors, the current exhibition on 60s psychedelia – The Summer of Love – is in itself at least well worth the ticket price. But further squeezing the permanent collection onto a single floor, the enormous space wasted on Rudolf Stingel is difficult to stomach.

So, in short, Dammann wants museums 1) to cater to tourists and 2) to afford only a sliver of space to new artists while reinforcing the already prominent reputations of the old (and new) masters.

Even his final concession is a bit strange:

Of course, the changes aren’t permanent, but the imbalance betrays some seriously skewed priorities. And there are ways round the issue, as the Guggenheim, just a few blocks a way, shows. As you explore its headline exhibition, The Shapes of Space which unfolds up Frank Lloyd Wright’s glorious, but amusingly canvas-unfriendly spiral ramp, you soon realise most of the works are drawn from its permanent collection.

He knows full well that the temporary exhibitions will soon pack up and leave town and that other pieces from the permanent collection will be back on the Whitney’s walls. Which leads me to believe Dammann just wants the Hoppers, de Koonings, and Pollocks out for his spin ’round New York, then once he’s gone we NYers are welcome to have all the temporary exhibitions we like. Lovely. What an adventurous art critic.

Moreover, the comparison made between the Guggenheim’s use of a temporary exhibition that works symbiotically with the permanent collection is a fatuous one, considering that the Shapes of Space is comprised of works from the permanent collection. This kind of exhibition– a thematic one that uses material already in the possession of the museum– is entirely different from the kind of exhibition which assembles works from exterior sources. Dammann’s analogy is made even worse by the fact that not only is the Guggenheim’s show about the artists’ conception of space but about their notion of the gallery space as well. The works presented are, by and large, dependent upon their presence among other works.

Ultimately, I’m not entirely unsympathetic to his complaint. If I were in Florence, I’d like to see the holdings from the Uffizi’s permanent collection. But I’m also aware that the summer season is the season for new exhibitions. Especially here in New York. As a professional arts writer, I’d be taking my summer vacation to see these new exhibitions and to write up reviews of them. I appreciate that Dammann did not respond well to Stingel’s show. But he would have done a lot better to review the show (poorly or otherwise) than to complain that it, for the period of a few months, impedes him from getting to see some Pollocks.

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New York’s Subways as (Forum for) Artvertising

Posted by gninja on August 4, 2007

I’m so sorry for the title of this post.  I can’t help myself.


(The Shuttle train from Grand Central to Times Square, recently done up by the Westin Hotel.)

At the New York Transit Museum right now  is an exhibition on “Squire Vickers and the Subway’s Modern Age“.  I’ve not yet been to the exhibition, but it’s nevertheless a good opportunity to talk about art and the subways again— especially since husband recommended we take the S to Times Square yesterday to see its new duds.  Very, very cool.


Not exactly the sort of work Vickers might have commissioned, or done himself:


Throughout the 103-year history of NYC’s subway system, though, there’s been a constant effort to beautify what gets millions of us from point A to B.  Whether its come from subway designers and architects themselves, like Vickers, or from street artists, as in the ’70s and ’80s, or from advertisers, as in this case, people don’t seem to want to have to stare at blankness for their commutes.  The embellishment certainly helps us avert our eyes from others, an unlimited source of tension on these streets.

Nevertheless, though, I still felt bad about taking so well to the Westin’s ad campaign.  I thoroughly enjoyed riding in a subway carriage all dressed up as an Alpine Scene, but knowing that it was just another tactic to sell me something made me feel bad about it.  And yet, it’s not that far from Rudolf Stingel’s ‘Plan B‘, an installation of carpeting in Grand Central’s main terminal, in 2004:


Both the ad campaign and Stingel’s art have the same effect of alienating the daily commute from its natural character, either through domesticating it (imagine yourself walking through Grand Central with carpeted floors– just the absence of clicking heels alone would be eerie) or through likening it to a form of tourism or vacationing.

And yet, and yet the whole thing is changed when I know one of those installations’ primary purpose is to sell me something.

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Not Van Gogh at the National Gallery of Victoria: Autograph, Allograph, Again

Posted by gninja on August 3, 2007


(No longer part of the Van Gogh oeuvre. Head of a Man at the National Gallery of Victoria, in Australia.)

The NGV announced today that they would accept the findings of the Van Gogh Museum in the Netherlands and no longer ascribe Head of a Man to Vincent Van Gogh.

I do find it amusing that the newspaper went with the headline, “NGV’s ‘Van Gogh’ a Fake”, as if the artist, a contemporary of Van Gogh, had been a forger intent on deceiving audiences and buyers. Of course, we have no idea whether such was the case. We certainly have no confession from a 19th century Robert Thwaites, so it isn’t exactly fair play to call Head of a Man a ‘fake.’

Regardless, the article brought me back to thinking about Nelson Goodman (as I had been doing in my previous post) and, in general, art history’s relationship to attribution and forgeries. Possibly needless to say, art historians have always been fixated on attribution, whether such-and-such an artist created such-and-such a work. If nothing else, it lent (lends?) the discipline the scientific appearance it strove to attain from its institutionalized beginning in 1870s Germany. As, most notably, with Morelli and others, art historians collected data and ‘evidence’, compiling lists of traits and styles so as to categorize the history of the world’s art into neat and tidy schools and periods.

So, of course, in this Linnaean system getting it ‘right’ and being able to pin works to individuals and specific dates was vital to the establishment of an accepted and credible discipline.

By the 1970s and 1980s, when art history was going through a lot of changes (very energizing to the field), this kind of connoisseurship and even antiquarianism came into question. Or, at the very least, art historians no longer took for granted the importance of a work’s originality and endeavored to locate the reasons for, in a word, caring.

Nelson Goodman’s book Languages of Art tackled the question of the allograph and the autograph, which led to a series of debates on the differing values (monetary and otherwise) of an original and a forgery which cannot be told apart by the naked eye. Goodman argues that, even if we cannot tell the difference between the two, the knowledge that one is a forgery and one is an original produces an aesthetic difference which then alters our perception of the works.

I love the response of Thomas Kulka to this argument, in his article, “The Artistic and Aesthetic Status of Forgeries” (Leonardo, 1982). He calls Goodman a snob. Heh. However, beyond that, Kulka makes the insightful point that works may be judged on the basis of art-historical value and aesthetic value. While the former judges a piece of art based on its production during a precise moment in time and its effect on later history (and relationship to prior history) the latter bases its judgment purely on the aesthetic quality of the work. So, while the original and forgery may have equal aesthetic values, their art-historical values are vastly different. This argument is clear enough and by no means hard to arrive at. For my part, I think it’s a pretty good case: some works are good because of their artistic value, and other works are good because they extended beyond their frames and contemporary contexts to affect people and history.

Yet Kulka met with criticism. Goodman didn’t respond too well (Leonardo, 1982), nor did Jacques Mandelbrojt (Leonardo, 1983). Their responses insisted on the importance of authenticity, which must be discerned in the aesthetic quality of the piece.

It’s an old guard view because at risk in this argument is the reputation of the field and its foundation in the sciences. Art historians, by and large, cannot stand being told that there is no way to ‘prove’ their arguments. So they have to revert to science and scientific method. It’s all silly and has a rather immature attachment to historical positivism.


Returning to the NGV and their not-Van-Gogh. I’m happy that they’re still going to display the painting– it’s a confident move that declares the directors are not exclusively concerned with headlining names but also with the works themselves. But, as with my final statement in my post about Robert Thwaites, the work itself now gains currency and importance just from the debates its sparked regarding forgeries, originals, and attribution. All of which should be included somehow in the presentation of the piece. Let the audience know what they’re viewing, the recent debates about it, and push them to form their own opinions about the significance of authenticity. That’d make for a great exhibition.

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