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Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The Flip Flop on a Take-It-or-Leave-It Offer for MoMA

Yesterday's Times presented an update on the collection of 2,500 contemporary drawings that Harvey S. Shipley Miller is putting together for MoMA with Judith Rothschild Foundation funds.

Brain Sholis pulls out the lead that's buried in the article's third-to-last paragraph. The gift, widely reported to be a take-it-or-leave-it-offer, isn't going to be proffered on those terms--at least not this week.

"The collection is not being presented to them as an all-or-nothing gift," Mr.
Miller said. "If they want to accept some and not all of it, we'll cross that
bridge when we come to it. But knowing the views of the museum staff, I don't
believe it will come to that."
With this statement, Miller reverses a quote he provided for a profile piece in the July 19 issue of New York Magazine:

But if the Modern wants Garrels's picks, it'll have to play by Miller's rules.
"No cherry-picking!" he declares. "If there's one artist the institution doesn't
want, they have to decline the whole collection." MoMA and Garrels declined to
I would be really interested to learn the details of the agreement that I'm assuming Miller, Garrels, and other MoMA decision makers have reached in the last 60 days to get Miller to do this turn around. I'm assuming that this has become a very complicated deal on both sides, and I would love to know what other forms of currency have been called into play to lubricate the continued progress of this transaction.

Interesting to me, as well, is the take Sholis has on the collection. He's seen a portion of it and has some information from other sources. "It's a very uneven collection," he writes. Based on the glimpse I got in yesterday's print Times and in the on-line slide show, I would agree.

But I'm not troubled only by the opaque nature and the uneveness of the gift. The whole situation makes me uneasy on several levels. Here are some of the major issue that I see with it:

I am hoping that this gift and Miller's management of the foundation will receive increasing media scrutiny over the fall and into the new year--and not just puff pieces like what New York Magazine ran and PR pieces like yesterday's Times article.

And what a great placement that Times piece was--a true publicist's coup! I wonder what the Judith Rothschild Foundation will end up paying for that.

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