Tuesday, July 25, 2006
CultureGrrl Moves to ArtsJournal!
Come visit CultureGrrl at her new address!
Bloggers in Concert
Museum Transparency and the Tangled Web
I'm going to turn this around a bit, not bothering with the basics. Most museums do provide the essential information about directions, admission fees (don't get me started), exhibitions, collections, etc.
But most could do more to make navigating their labyrinthine halls less confusing. More importantly, at a time when museums are being asked to display greater transparency in governance and operations, the web represents a missed opportunity for more openness. What follows are things that I'd like to see on more museum websites, with credit to the few who are already doing it:
---Help in navigating galleries: For fans of pre-planning, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, provides clickable gallery maps, like this one of the West Main Floor, Gallery 6, the locus of one of the museum's great treasures, Leonardo da Vinci's "Ginevra de' Benci." Doing a search for that work can get you a gallery map with its location marked in red. Clicking that dot gets you a list of all the works in that room, each of which can be clicked for a wealth of details, including exhibition history, provenance and even bibliography. You can also browse the galleries by clicking on the various rooms.
---What you WON'T see:---Ever go to a museum specifically to view certain iconic works, only to discover that one or more of them is missing? The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Mass., keeps you posted on art that is off view, with an explanation of where it's gone and for how long.
---New on view: On the Metropolitan Museum of Art's website, you can download their annual reports of Recent Acquisitions, including this one from 2004-2005, containing (on page 14) curator Keith Christiansen's discussion of the Duccio "Madonna and Child". The J. Paul Getty Museum also publishes an acquisitions list.
---Annual reports, board minutes: The Getty recently stated that it would publish more detailed financial and governance information on its website. The British Museum already does this: Here are its most recent trustee minutes and its annual report (although the most recent posted report is from fiscal 2004).
---Press release archives: Some museum websites include this; few are as comprehensive as the Guggenheim's, which goes back to 1998.
---Curatorial contacts: Wish you could easily communicate with a curator? The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art posts contact e-mails for its various curatorial departments.
SOON: What museums never post, but should.
BlogBack: My Row with Tinterow
Beyond claiming the public's stake in the holdings of art museums as a private concern of curators, Gary Tinterow also seems to credit curators with the very creation of great public collections, as if there is an unbroken golden chain of specialist curators that stretches into the prehistory of every art museum.
That's just not how great museum collections are formed, evolve, or even come to be called great. I suppose civic entrepreneurs, private collectors (what would the Met be without Havemeyers?), journalists, academic art historians, the public, the brilliant non-specialists who created our earliest civic collections, and everyone else who contributes to the institutional and aesthetic meaning of museums were just along for the ride.
Monday, July 24, 2006
Museum Collections: Curatorial Privilege and the Public Interest
One of the prime movers in founding the Association of Art Museum Curators in 2001, Tinterow appears more focused on curator-power than on public accountability, as evidenced by his recent remarks to me on the subject of collection management.
Decisions to sell objects from museum collections must not be subject to the subjective judgments or personal preferences of individual curators, however knowledgeable and well-intentioned they may be. The governing presumption should be: What enters the public domain stays in the public domain, except for works that are clearly inferior in quality or condition. The public has paid for them, after all, through the tax deductions given to the donors of money or of art.
Curatorial prerogatives are not absolute; they must be subordinated to the professional guidelines set by the Association of Art Museum Directors:
Both the deaccessioning and the disposal of a work of art from a museum's collection require exceptional care and should reflect policy rather than reaction to the exigencies of a particular moment. Standards applied to deaccessioning and disposal must be at least as stringent as those applied to the acquisition process and should not be subject to changes in fashion and taste.
Tinterow may have been correct in observing to me that some museum officials have sold objects, only to have their successors (or curators at other museums) subsequently retrieve them for the public domain. But far from justifying incautious deaccessioning, this merely demonstrates the folly of it. There is no justification for disposing of works that tomorrow's curators may deem worthy of study or exhibition, no matter how much today's curators want to fund their own purchases of art through sales of objects that they deem expendable.
How much do today's curators at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, for example, wish that they still had the fine Hudson River School paintings that were sold in the 1950s (as discussed in my recent Wall Street Journal article) by then director Richard Davies, who deemed them not important enough for the collection? Different types of art go in and out of fashion. A museum's collection should be for the ages and not be subject to such vagaries.
The Met's most recent deaccession controversy involved its plan to sell a sculpture by Eduardo Chillida. That plan was abandoned after it was revealed that the donor of the work opposed the sale. Tinterow told me last week that the sculpture would never be exhibited at the Met, because it is too large. But, as Michael Kimmelman reported in the NY Times, it had already been exhibited there three times, making the curator's resolve never to show it again seem questionable.
There are probably a number of art museums that would be very pleased to make room in their galleries or sculpture gardens for an important Chillida. If the Met has no use for a museum-quality work, it should lend or give that object to a sister institution that CAN use it, thereby keeping it in the public domain where it belongs.
The spectre of finite exhibition and storage space, raised by Tinterow in the comments I quoted last Friday, is a real concern. The late Stephen Weil, a noted authority on legal issues involving art museums, once suggested that institutions were going to have to consider "triage" for their collections, because they had accumulated more stuff than they knew what to do with.
But not all museums are overstuffed. Collection-sharing IS an option---one that should be more seriously explored by all museums with a superabundance of riches.
Saturday, July 22, 2006
CultureGrrl in the New York Times!
She was a bit unfair, though, to Glenn Lowry of the Museum of Modern Art, who (as my post indicates) expressed sympathy for BOTH sides of the argument---for and against admission fees. Roberta only quotes his argument against fees, making MoMA's $20 mandatory tariff appear to be against his own principles.
My thanks go to art blogger Chris "Zeke" Hand for alerting me, all the way from Montreal, that the mention of CultureGrrl was "the first time the New York Times ever published the term 'art blog.'" Is this true?
Things would have been easier for you Times surfers if the online version had linked to my blog. But when I tried to get the newspaper's surfing serfs to put up the link, I got this reply:
We hyperlink to our own topic pages (please notice that all hyperlinks in the story take the reader to internal New York Times pages), and so we can't include the link to your blog.
For those of you who took the trouble to Google me in order to ogle me, you can link to my posts related to the Met's admission-fee hike here, here, here, here, and here. (Do you think I'm overdoing it?)
Y'all come back now!
Friday, July 21, 2006
Gary Tinterow on the Divine Right of Curators
Here's what Tinterow told my digital voice recorder:
What journalists have to understand is that curators and administrators make decisions about the formation of the collection every day. We’re the gatekeepers, going in, and we’re the gatekeepers coming out. When something gets here, it’s because a curator has made a decision to admit this work. When something leaves, it’s because the curator has made a decision for it to leave.
So the notion that there is some purity to a collection, that some greater force has brought works of art into a museum and the curators therefore are not the appropriate voice to determine the shape of the collection is to ignore how collections are formed to begin with.
Museums have actually acquired back works that they sold. What you assume is that we have unlimited storage and unlimited money, and neither is the case. Not only do opportunities change, but tastes change. And what didn’t make sense in 1900 might make sense in the year 2000. No one has a crystal ball and you are always making the collection from the perspective of today.
Something can be sold [from the museum], can be bought by a collector and can be regiven [to the same museum] in 50 years. So we don’t have the sense of finite opportunity. The collections are organic.
The most precious thing really is not money. The most precious thing is space. And that is our most severely restricted resource: it’s space, both for exhibitions and for storage. And that’s how we have to manage the collections.
The "most precious thing" is SPACE? I had always thought it was the art.
Met Fee: Reasonable Timesmen Can Disgree
An interloper in today's "Weekend Arts" section, Leonhardt offers a detailed economic and political argument in the Met's defense.
If you view his article on the Times' website, don't neglect to click on the sidebar, "The Price of Admission," to see what some other U.S. museums are charging. Several other museums rightfully belong to the "$0 Club," including the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
Next week, we will undoubtedly hear from someone in the Times' Style Section: what to wear on the Met admissions line, so that the cashiers won't think that you're a rich cheapskate and will hand you your button without giving you a dirty look.
Is there no end to this discussion?
Thursday, July 20, 2006
Museum Exhibitions: Root for the Home Team
Better for the MIA that I didn't mention it.
Organized by the Menil Collection, Houston, this show took a one-stop shopping approach to curating: Almost all its Calders are from a single source, the Calder Foundation (which is run by the artist's family and contains works from his estate). The Surrealist works, all gathered in one introductory gallery, rather than interspersed with the Calders for comparison, are generally not the ideal examples to make a case for that movement's influence on Calder's work.
By importing a show curated by an outsider and regarded as a likely crowdpleaser, Minneapolis perpetuates the self-effacing mistake made by many museums when they open new facilities: They don't show confidence in their own curators' ability to conceive something important and engaging enough to enhance the inaugural hoopla. (I'm also thinking of the Andrew Wyeth show, organized by the High Museum, Atlanta, for its reopening, but guest-curated by an outsider.)
I'm constantly impressed by the intelligence and talents of lesser-known curators whom I meet on the road, and what better time to showcase their unique voices than when their museum is the center of public and media attention? True, the home team is mostly engaged in reinstalling the permanent collection, but surely someone can step up to the plate to bat one out of the park---a homegrown exhibition worthy to be viewed during prime time and later toured to other institutions.
In Minneapolis' case, it appears, from the advance exhibition schedule, that the first upcoming major temporary exhibition to be organized in-house is "San Francisco Psychedelic," Feb. 10-June 10, 2007.
What are they smoking?
James Berry Hill, a director of the gallery, told me on June 26 that the gallery was settling claims against it, "so that nobody is harmed." He also said at that time that the gallery's East 70th Street premises were no longer for sale.
But here they are, still available on Stribling's website for $20 million. The offering is described as "a once in a lifetime opportunity," but no longer characterized as "a court supervised sale."
With this Gehry I Thee Wed
Now you can: Tiffany & Co. has just put his new line online.
Doesn't this polymath already have enough building projects to occupy him from now until 2050?
Do you think my 25-year-old son Paul and his gorgeous, intelligent girlfriend Lisa will read this and get ideas? (Oy! Am I in trouble!)
Tyler's been a very kind mentor (and linker) to this blogging newbie, and Lee likes him. But, as my evil alter ego, CultureGrrl, always snarls: Reasonable people can (and frequently should) disagree.
Isn't that what blogs are for?
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
BlogBacks: Met's Admissions Frissons
CRAIG RANAPIA: I'm not really sure the "suggested admission fee" isn't really a semantic slight of hand. After all, as anyone whose met my mother can tell you, 'suggestions' properly expressed can sound a hell of a lot like an order.
I'm quite aware that cultural institutions don't keep their doors open on moonbeams and good intentions, public and private charity are unreliable sources of income, and I always have the choice to turn on my heels and walk out if I think a clearly posted admission charge is unreasonable or I just don't have enough cash. (While I don't like it any more than you, I can see a rationale for charging admission to special exhibitions while leaving core collections open to the public. Whether these so-called "blockbuster" shows are worth the tab for visitors and institutions is another debate.)
As far as I'm concerned, if you're going to install a turnstile in your entrance be honest about what you're doing and why. Don't try and shame twenty dollar bills out of people.
MARK BARRY: The new Met admission isn't that important, as long as they retain the "suggested" portion. I'm immune to the cashier, no matter the response. Many of them are also artists and could care less. My wife gets embarrassed at times, so to compromise I'll give a quarter, for two.
A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE HOMELESS MUSEUM, which describes itself as "a subversive, multi-disciplinary art project": The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the richest museum in the country, is in dire need of funds. The Homeless Museum (HoMu) invites you to support this great institution on Tuesday, Aug. 1, when the Met's new "suggested" admission fee goes into effect, by paying the entire $20 fee with pennies only. Please present 200 ounces (or 12.5 pounds) of pennies at the cash registrar for admission.
This is HoMu's second Penny Campaign. The first one was conducted in November 2004 at the Museum of Modern Art.
Do you think Randy Kennedy will pony up his pennies?
Schjeldahl on Klimt
Is she worth the money? Not yet. Paintings this special may not come along for sale often, and the hundred and four million dollars spent for a so-so Picasso, “Boy with a Pipe,” two years ago indicated that irrational exuberance could be the booming art market’s new motto. But Lauder’s outlay predicts a level of cost that must either soon become common or be relegated in history as a bid too far.
And the identity of the artist gives pause. The price paid is four and a half times the previous high (already a stunner, in 2003) for a Klimt; until a few years ago, the artist ranked as a second-tier modern master both at auction and in the estimation of most art critics and historians....The purchase of “Adele” tests the possibility—ever less to be sneezed at, these days—of rewriting art history with a checkbook.
Here's CultureGrrl on the art market's irrational exuberance.
Coming Soon: A further examination of the Neue Galerie and its collection.
Criticizing the Critics
Why do you rarely see strongly negative reviews about new or newly expanded cultural facilities? Cesar Pelli's (pre-Taniguchi) expansion of the Museum of Modern Art, Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Bilbao, Santiago Calatrava's new wing (with wings) for the Milwaukee Art Museum---all received generally favorable notices when they opened, only to become more controversial with the passage of time. Similar revisionism also seems to occur in reviews of the acoustics of new concert halls---Rafael Viñoly's Kimmel Center in Philadelphia comes to mind.
And now that the initial euphoria over the November 2004 reopening of the Museum of Modern Art has passed, a second wave of assessments has been considerably more critical than the first round of polite plaudits.
As one who has enjoyed her share of hardhat tours and press previews of expensive, ambitious museum construction projects, I can attest to a natural reluctance to rain on these elaborate and expensive parades. So many well-meaning, talented people have spent so much time, intellect, money and effort on these new cultural facilities that it's hard to be unkind, let alone censorious.
And there's another dynamic at work: The most successful architects are also great salesmen. They convince clients to hire them by making their concepts and designs seem like the most appropriate and creative solutions to the problems at hand. They are such powerful advocates for their own work that they (or their enthusiastic museum-clients) also succeed in winning over the critics with the same rhetoric. Too often, these writers see with their ears instead of their eyes.
So we have Taniguchi "making the architecture disappear," with walls that seem to "float." We have "a flotilla of sails" atop Renzo Piano's addition for the High Museum in Atlanta, and "piazzas" (that might otherwise be called merely "lobbies" or, if outdoors, "plazas") at Piano's addition to the Morgan, his planned Whitney expansion and the High. All of these were originally the words of the architects and their clients, which were later appropriated by the critics as their own. Too often, however, the reality is more prosaic than the hyperbole.
The architects and museum officials think about these buildings far longer and more deeply than the critics, who spend a few days at most to arrive at their pithy assessments. It is tempting, while up against a deadline, to adopt the intelligently expressed, well-honed party line. But it's a temptation to be resisted, or at least carefully examined.
As for Michael Kimmelman's initial MoMA appraisal, it seemed like a grudgingly positive review, with a more skeptical assessment struggling to get out. Maybe (if last Friday's swipe is any indication) it soon will.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
CultureGrrl Leaps to Her Own Defense!
"Critics," my blog-colleague wrote, "shouldn't be locked into one viewpoint for life."
Hey, CultureGrrl's been known to change her mind every now and then. That's a woman's (and a critic's) prerogative. What I objected to yesterday was, as I wrote, "the manner in which Kimmelman chose to announce" his apparent about-face: in a discordantly gratuitous aside, buried in an article about something else.
If he's formed a substantially new opinion on something this important, the chief art critic of the cultural paper-of-record should, as I wrote yesterday, craft "a more considered article about what he REALLY thinks," instead of slipping a fast one by us, without explanation or elucidation.
Is "that too bad," Tyler?
More tomorrow on the problems and challenges that writers like me (and Michael?) face in appraising new cultural facilities.
My Minneapolis Article in the WSJ---Part II
The MIA [Minneapolis Institute of Arts] had not originally planned to engage a "starchitect." But it was essentially shamed into doing so by the ambitions of its institutional peers: For its 2005 expansion the Walker Art Center had used Herzog & de Meuron, the Minneapolis Central Library had hired Cesar Pelli, and Jean Nouvel has designed the new Guthrie Theater, which began regular performances on Saturday.
A relatively conservative establishment in a quiet residential area, the MIA "didn't really see a need to promote cutting-edge architecture, because that isn't who we are in art. That's the Walker," noted curator Jacobsen, who had served as architectural liaison for the contractors, architects and curatorial staff. But after talking to three local architectural firms, Mr. Jacobsen recalled, the MIA ultimately felt "we had to go with a bigger name." Enter Mr. Graves, who had designed the Michael C. Carlos Museum in Atlanta, as well as the renovation and expansion of the Newark Museum in New Jersey. Also important were what Mr. Jacobsen termed the "well established connections" between the architect and Target, the MIA's biggest corporate donor, for whom Mr. Graves had designed a well-received line of housewares.
Speaking of the architect, Evan Maurer, who was the MIA's director until 2005, recounted during a recent interview that "what he and I talked about was how to be Michael Graves and be contemporary, but to exist between a 1974 minimalist building and a great Beaux Arts building-with materials, with proportions, with references. I think he did that brilliantly."
If not architecturally dazzling, the new wing is respectful of the museum's pre-existing facilities and hospitable to its art. Appealingly clad in richly textured Jura limestone, its box-like structure is relieved by niches and slim columns-deliberate references to the flagship neoclassical building. Its one glaringly false note is the kitschy faux sky, strewn with abundant white clouds, that is painted on the Venetian plaster dome crowning Graves's three-story atrium.
More daring in design, and strikingly dissimilar from each other as they are from the MIA, are Cesar Pelli's library and Jean Nouvel's theater. The former is invitingly open and light-filled, with soaring spaces and frosted images of digitized Minnesota nature photos, silk screened and baked onto its expansive glass walls-an evocation of Minneapolis' famously frozen winters.
The Guthrie Theater, Mr. Nouvel's first completed project in North America, is dark both inside and out. Meant to be mysterious and theatrical, it instead comes across as disorienting and gloomy. It transforms the distinguished regional theater from a 87,000-square-foot, one-stage facility adjoining the Walker Art Center into a 285,000-square-foot complex of three diverse performance spaces, a restaurant and education center-all relocated to the city's old industrial area on the banks of the Mississippi. Once best known for its flour mills, the riverfront is fast becoming the new trendy area for restaurants and residences.
Critics and audiences alike will continue to debate the merits of these recent high-profile additions to this city's thriving cultural scene. But as Mr. Griswold recently observed, one thing is beyond debate: "There could be no more exciting time to be in the Twin Cities."
[But wait! There's more to the story that could fit in the WSJ. Coming in CultureGrrl, later this week, more Minneapolis maunderings!]
My Article on Minneapolis in Today's WSJ---Part I
With unflashy simplicity, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts has bucked the attention-seeking trend in museum expansions: Its new 113,000-square-foot wing for 20th- and 21st-century art, designed by Post-Modernist Michael Graves, boasts neither eye-popping "destination architecture" nor interior "Wow" space, and wasn't motivated by a desire to supply sumptuous accommodations for megashows circulated by world-famous institutions. What's more, the Midwestern museum's new director and president, William Griswold, seems far more intent on organizing what he calls dossier" exhibitions focused on individual works from the permanent collection.
The new structure joins the museum's original McKim, Mead & White building and its last expansion, designed in the mid-1970s by Kenzo Tange. "It's very much a building about the art," explained Mr. Griswold, who came here in October after having informed the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, where he was acting director, that he did not want to be named permanent director.
The MIA's expansion and renovation increase the gallery space for its permanent collection and temporary exhibitions by some 40%. Nearly 1,000 works have emerged from storage-among them, a 1969 wall-sized painting from Frank Stella's "Protractor Series" that was too large for the old galleries. Prominently displayed in the new wing is the museum's sexiest new acquisition---its first car, a sleek, silver-painted 1948 Czechoslovakian Tatra T87, designed in 1936.
For the first time, the museum will have galleries for the permanent display of textiles, 20th- and 21st-century prints and drawings, contemporary crafts, silver, American regionalism, folk art, Chinese export porcelain, Ukiyo-e paintings and postwar color photography. On a recent press tour of the expanded premises, Mr. Griswold paused in the color-photography gallery, candidly describing the museum's collection in that area as weak. "I wanted this gallery to propel us to collect,"
The collection's most glaring weakness is in the area of American paintings from the 19th to early 20th century-a gap largely blamed on one of the most infamous art-selling sprees in American museum history: From 1955 to 1958, a former director, Richard Davis, unloaded some 4,500 objects, including at least 350 paintings (among them, important works of the Hudson River School). He believed the museum should stop trying to be encyclopedic and, instead, focus on certain areas that he deemed important. Works he bought with the sale proceeds included a Seurat and a van Dyck.
The MIA's current holdings are strong, however, in decorative arts (including 16 period rooms), Old Master paintings (including highly important works by El Greco, Rembrandt, Poussin and Goya), and Chinese and Japanese art. The number of Japanese galleries has just grown from nine to 15, all newly named for collector Mary Griggs Burke, in appreciation of the recent announcement by the 90-year-old St. Paul native that she will bequeath "a significant portion" of her personal and her foundation's collections to the museum. (Another portion is destined for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.) The MIA recently received a six-month loan of 55 Burke works-from the 12th century to contemporary-to celebrate its expansion.
The museum's Chinese art collection, one of the finest in the country, owes much to a two-person, gallery-filling juggernaut-Bruce Dayton, longtime MIA trustee and former president and chairman of Dayton Hudson Corp. (the original parent of Target Corp.), and his wife, Ruth, a devotee of Chinese culture and philosophy. Some 2,600 objects in every curatorial area came to the MIA thanks to Dayton benefactions. At a recent VIP cocktail reception, Robert Jacobsen, senior curator of Asian art, introduced the Daytons to their latest sight-unseen purchase for the Chinese galleries-a rare, unusually large ding (cauldron) from sixth century B.C., labeled as "a masterpiece of late Chou bronze casting." Other recent high-profile purchases have included a $5 million landscape by Claude Lorrain.
But gaps remain, and to fill them the museum is raising $50 million for its acquisitions endowment, in addition to the $50 million for its renovation and expansion. Some $91.2 million in gifts and pledges has been raised to date, all of it from individuals, foundations and corporate donors, not government allocations. Target, headquartered in Minneapolis, contributed more than $10 million for the expansion, for which it received naming rights to the museum's Target Wing.
[If you just can't stand the suspense of waiting for Part II, invest in a copy of the WSJ!]