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Thursday, September 30, 2004

May I Have Your Attention Please. Congratulations Are in Order.

In a rare moment of humility, everyone's favorite art blogger Tyler Green at Modern Art Notes broke the cardinal rule of journalism this morning.

He buried his story's lead.

Now that's not such a big deal if you're just any old blogger spouting off about this, that, and whatnot. But every professional journalist knows never, ever, to bury the story's lead.

And that's exactly the rub. See, Tyler isn't just any old blogger who can get away with making a major screw up like that anymore. As of this morning, he's a real, professional journalist.

Take a look at his opening to the post in question:
Today, my first review for Bloomberg News runs over their terminal service and over their news service. If I can find a Google News link later today I'll post it. For now, a blurb.
And then he gives a blurb from the piece. Did you miss it? I almost did because Tyler does occasional pieces for different publications. But let's focus in on the "my first review for Bloomberg News" part of that first sentence. What does that mean, exactly?

That means Tyler Green is now the art critic for Bloomberg News.

Bloomberg is expanding it cultural coverage. When it came time to fill its new art critic slot, it did what every sensible publication is doing today. It reached out into the blogosphere to snatch up the best we had to offer.

There's no need to worry. I hear that Modern Art Notes isn't going anywhere. Tyler will continue to blog there and to publish occasional pieces elsewhere. We're all glad about that.

But now that Tyler has the backing of a media empire behind him, there will be some changes. His new position means that you and I won't ever run into him on the crowded floor of a museum because he'll be getting the VIP treatment. He's going to be attending the press previews, chatting up the curators of important shows on press-only walk throughs, noshing on the press-only buffets at hot-ticket openings, and never paying museum admission fees again.

All in all, it's a great gig for a great guy. Join me in wishing him congratulations.

Let's just hope Tyler gets himself a crash course in Journalism 101 quickly. Bury the lead too many more times, Tyler, and you'll be out of a job!

Thoughts on Public Art

Over time I am becoming more interested in the theoretical issues raised by the relatively new concept of "public art."

By this I don't mean art that is shown in public or art that is commissioned to be installed permanently in a public space. I mean, rather, artworks that are specially created to be displayed for a short period of time in a specific public place. These pieces are often commissioned and managed by groups whose mission is solely to bring art to view in this manner.

I glanced across the topic of public art (and showed where my thinking is heading) in a post earlier this month about Jonathan Borofsky's Walking to the Sky which is up now at Rockefeller Center.

Earlier this week Franklin Einspruch at Artblog.net pointed to a piece Felix Salmon wrote recently on the topic of public art. While I don't agree with Salmon's evaluation of several individual works, his thoughts on the difficulties faced in conceiving a good public art project are interesting--and worth a read.

The Discussion with Petra Arends Continues

Today we continue my discussion with Petra Arends, Collection Executive for UBS in Zurich. (The first part of the discussion is available here.)


If I understand correctly, the UBS Art Collection was put together in much the same way as today’s UBS was—through a number of mergers and acquisitions.
The collection has been built like UBS. A big part of the collection is the former PaineWebber Collection, and that is a world-class collection. There we had the issue of the name “PaineWebber” being taken away last summer with our single brand strategy. When that happened, the PaineWebber Collection became The UBS Art Collection. In Europe, we had a collection which was called The UBS Art Collection as well. So last summer, after the single brand strategy rolled out in June, we ended up having two collections, both running under one name.

In addition, the person who was the driving force behind the former PaineWebber collection [former PaineWebber Chairman Donald Marron] retired last November. The group executive board then asked, “What will we do with this collection?”

There were two opportunities. Either we used it or we got rid of it. We assessed all the artwork at the new UBS—“we” meaning not me but the art experts— and put together a collection [from all the holdings of both firms]. And in this collection we combined the best of the best, meaning from the former PaineWebber Collection and from the so-called European part of the UBS Art Collection.


Your major business competitors (firms like Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan Chase, and Goldman Sachs) also have notable corporate art collections. Is there the same level of competition between corporate curators as there is between the bankers at these firms?
I don’t think so. Their collections are totally different from what we have.

As far as I know, post-merger, JPMorgan Chase has more than 50,000 works. I believe Deutsche Bank has a similar number.

Our concept is totally different from the concept they use. I don’t know the Goldman Sachs collection, and I don’t know a lot about the Deutsche Bank and JPMorgan Chase collections, but I know that they are huge.

Of course, we have a lot of other art in the bank’s offices as well. But we really thought it made more sense to concentrate on a kind of boutique collection rather than having every piece of art integrated into “The UBS Art Collection.” We really tried to make a differentiation between the art-at-work and the collection, so we will really have an outstanding collection.

Our curators, at the end of the day, will be in more competition—no, not really a “competition”—but more in competition with museum curators than with other corporate curators.


How is The Collection managed today? Is The Collection managed centrally, or do different business units or locations manage works under their own supervision?
We will change the whole approach for the new collection. In former days The Collection was more or less hidden in the offices. And we are now thinking about how we can make The Collection visible and give back to the community.

We will start with the exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art this spring. We will have a show in Switzerland as well. And we are working with leading museums to organize a world tour, but this is still in negotiations.

Our management of this collection is something different from what has been done with The Collection in former times. We will do our best to share the collection with the community. Beside the exhibition in New York and in Switzerland, we will have an additional exhibition in Puerto Rico. For this show, we will get our curator and the museum’s curator to meet, to define a structure and a concept for the exhibition. We really try to show the collection in various ways and of course with changing concepts.

Management of a collection can be done out of any city in the world because at the end of the day it comes down to how we will work together with the market, the branch, management, etc. The Advisory Board will reflect the very nature of The Collection, comprising people from four continents. We will have two meetings a year, probably in New York but possibly in Basel during the Art Basel fair.

At the end of the day it will be managed out of Zurich, but we are still in the process of defining how we will manage and where we will use The Collection.


What is the process that will be used for making acquisitions? Will it follow a museum model with committee decisions, or will individuals have greater control over decisions?
There is no process in place yet. This will be discussed at the first Advisory Board meeting in November. We will need to agree on certain principles.

We will hire two part-time curators. Actually we’ve already hired one. One will oversee the European and American art market. The other one will take a look at the upcoming Asian market. Those two curators will work together to make their proposals to the Advisory Board. They, at the end of the day, will make the decisions about what to acquire and when.

But again, we haven’t done that yet. This process will start after the Advisory Board meeting in November.


Going forward, will acquisitions be solely contemporary art?
Yes. This is a collection that is dedicated to contemporary art. We will be investing in established artists on one hand. And, on the other, we will be starting to invest in up-and-coming stars.

I always try to compare it with a kind of conservative portfolio. You invest 70% in blue chips and 30% you just try to invest in the up-and-coming. Of course you run the risk that these artists might not be so successful, but on the other hand you haven’t paid a lot. And it may be that exactly where you invested—in these up-and-coming stars—made it. And that is what we hope we will achieve.


Is that new process a departure from how acquisitions were made in the former PaineWebber Collection and the UBS Collection?
The guiding principles will more or less be the same, but the structure will be different. As you probably know, Don Marron was the driving force behind the PaineWebber collection. He had a good eye and incredible taste. When he retired, we were faced with the issue of how to manage this collection and maintain world-class standards.

We decided to rely on a panel of experts. We will have curators who will look all over the world for artwork. And we will have an Advisory Board made up of people from Europe, Asia, America, and Latin America who will make the final decisions.


Are there certain media or subject matter that are out of scope for the collection?
We will, of course, set these guiding principles as well. We have no video. We will have no installations. And all the art has to be moveable so that we really can show it.


Tomorrow Arends concludes the discussion by talking about what UBS is doing to make its collection accessible to the public.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

A Discussion with Petra Arends of the UBS Art Collection

Recently I spent some time on the phone to Zurich speaking with Petra Arends, Collection Executive for the global financial firm, UBS.

Arends, who earned a PhD in copyright law and whose employment history includes time in government and private banking, joined UBS two and a half years ago as deputy head of its art banking team. She describes this position as being “too beautiful to be true” because its cross-disciplinary nature matched so well her personal and professional background.

After UBS acquired the American firm PaineWebber, Arends was assigned to a project team charged with defining a strategy for integrating the two companies’ art collections. Last April, she gave up her banking responsibilities to focus full time on managing the newly integrated global collection.

My conversation with Arends ranged over topics from the size and scope of the newly integrated UBS Art Collection, to the company’s developing art acquisition strategy, to an exhibition of works from the collection that will be shown next February at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I will be posting portions of our conversation over the next few days.

We began the discussion on the topic of Arends’s new role in the company.


You hold the title of “Collection Executive.” What responsibilities does that position entail?
This is a pretty new role and a pretty new job. When we started, we really focused on combining the collections, and I managed that. I created the criteria and delivered the criteria to the experts who assessed all of our art.

Right now we are building a new web museum for The Collection. I am responsible for getting input from all the people you have to involve if you create a web museum—looking for the copyrights, delivering text, creating storyboard navigation, integrating people from IT, from web guidelines, from usability tests, etc. Actually, I am dealing with more than 100 people.

I am also the one who put together The Collection’s new Advisory Board, and I give direction to our curators. We started from scratch, so at the end of the day I am responsible for keeping the quality of The Collection, for building the new UBS Art Collection, and for making it visible across the whole world.


You oversee an international organization. How many individuals does UBS employ to manage its collection?
In Switzerland we have three, and we have one in New York.

We have four people working on the collection now but honestly at this moment, for creating the web museum and other projects, there are definitely more people from other departments working with us. There are a lot of people involved in the process at the moment.

Nobody thought that this small project would become so important. We are starting with very few people. We will wait and see what will happen, whether we need more.


How many works are in the collection?
We have, roughly, around 900 works. These are all of museum quality, but the collection will also be constantly reappraised and revalued.


What percentage of the collection is installed at any time?
More or less everything is installed. Our policy is that we do not want to have art in storage.


How frequently do you rotate or reinstall works?
As we will have a totally new approach with this collection, we will have to define new rules. Normally we don’t reinstall. Normally the works hang, but we have to rethink that whole model. No decision has been made about that yet.


I’m assuming you can have the pick of the collection. What’s hanging in your office right now?
Believe it or not, I have nothing hanging in my office. As a general rule nobody in the company gets to choose from The Collection.

If I had a chance to pick, though, I would have Gerhard Richter’s wonderful Helen, or Ed Ruscha’s Museum on Fire, or Cindy Sherman’s photographs. But I just moved into a new office and people are always totally shocked that I have bare, white walls.


We have a saying in America, “The cobbler’s children always have the worst shoes.”
Exactly! I would never dare ask to have a work from The Collection hanging in my office!


Tomorrow Arends describes how the new UBS Art Collection was assembled and what the organization will be collecting in upcoming years.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Let Them Eat Cake

My city's esteemed mayor has just given me one more reason (as if I needed another after his management of the city's police force during the Republican convention) to vote the anybody-but-Bloomberg ticket in the next mayoral election.

All Art Blogs, All the Time

Perry Woodin at GalleryDriver has recently released a very handy art blog aggregator that consolidates art news and art blog content from around the web into a single view.

If you're still crawling through 120 items in your browser's favorites menu to catch up on the arts scene, you'll be amazed at what an aggregator can do. After reading a short piece about Internet syndication in the Harvard Business Review earlier this year, I started using SharpReader (a desktop application that works in a similar way to GalleryDriver's web-based model) to subscribe to web content. It has really changed how I interact with the web.

If this post reads like nothing but techno-babble to you, trust me on this one. Spend a few minutes with GalleryDriver's aggregator, and you'll see what I mean. Having a single view into fresh content on twenty-five different sites provides a great way of staying on top of what's new.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Will Someone Please Wake Up the Arts Desk

It's been a tough six months on the arts desk at The New York Times, but this piece shows just how bad things have gotten for cultural reporting at the paper. They've turned the keys over to their regional news beat reporters who are finding art wherever they can in Binghamton.

This piece, by the way, showed up on the front page of the on-line edition tonight. I'm not remembering the last time a serious art feature got front page billing.

Wow! Chelsea!

In what has to be the strangest lead-in to a multi-gallery review piece I have ever seen, Blake Gopnik announced to readers of The Washington Post last weekend that there is this neighborhood in New York called Chelsea. And that there are a lot of galleries that show art there. And some of the art is good. But some of it is bad, too.

Very interesting, Blake.

After reading the lead-in, I kept waiting for a sidebar toward the end of the article mentioning that to get to Chelsea from DC you can take this train called the Acela, run by this railroad called Amtrak. And the train is fast and nice and stuff, but it's kind of expensive. But the sidebar never happened. I hope Post readers are able to figure that one out for themselves.

As much as Gopnik tried to give away all Chelsea's secrets in his piece, there is one topic he didn't touch. For this one, you need a real New York artworld insider's knowledge. So, Washingtonians, if you're coming up to New York to see this new Chelsea place, make sure you read John Perreault's most recent post on Artopia before you catch the train. He'll clue you in to where all the good restrooms are.

Give a Little, Get a Lot More

I get a chance to say my piece every day. I know, I know. Lately I've been on a MoMA kick. I'll find something else to sound off about soon, but recently the barrel has been full of fish and there's been a loaded shotgun sitting nearby. I haven't been able to help myself.

But today is different. Today I'm going to be quiet for a while and let you have a say.

A small group of art bloggers have been chatting via email, and we've come to a conclusion. Site stats are great, but we don't know enough about our readers to be sure that we're writing what you want to be reading.

We're curious about several things. Why, for example, would you choose to be reading art blogs instead of watching Simpsons re-runs? Or are you reading art blogs while you're watching Simpsons re-runs? What sorts of content (reviews, opinion, art world gossip, pointers to articles in the mainstream press, etc.) do you find most valuable? Does a $20 admission to MoMA seem like a bargain to you? If so, could I convince you to pay me a dollar a day to read this blog? (Sorry. That slipped out. Couldn't help myself.)

So several bloggers have pooled resources (one dial-up connection, one DSL line, two cable modems, three old laptops, one decrepit desktop, three dozen back issues of Artforum, two copies of What Happened to Art Criticism?, and a half a jug of Chablis left over from an opening that someone went to last spring) to put together an art blog readers survey.

Here's the deal. You give us five to seven minutes of your time and honest answers to a few questions about your preferences, and we'll give you sites that you'll enjoy reading even more than you already do.

Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

To participate (and you are participating, right?) follow this link and get to work. The survey will be online through October 10, 2004. I'll post a few of the more interesting findings when the survey is complete.

If you're an art blogger, and you would like to be involved with the survey, please drop me an email. I'll send you instructions about linking to it from your blog and will be sure to provide you with a report on the results when they are tabulated.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

MoMA Stays on Message, Takes on City

Today's Arts & Leisure section in the Times contains an above-the-fold, feature-length article on the Museum of Modern Art's new $20 admission.

MoMA representatives interviewed for the article continue to stress the "bargain" that MoMA provides its visitors. Here's board member Eli Broad as quoted in the article, "Museums are still the best value in culture today. And they would be even if admissions were one-and-a-half times what they are." (Is this Broad floating a trial balloon for a $30 admission charge to his new LACMA?)

The article reports that MoMA considered different pricing structures, including surcharges for using the museum during peak hours and charging additional fees for special exhibitions and programs. After deliberations, the decision makers decided to go with an all-inclusive, but higher priced, model.

How did the museum settle on $20? Museum Director Glenn Lowry says, "There's no science to this. It's all feel. At $20, we thought it would still feel like a good deal." Lowry's justification? MoMA asked $20 for "Matisse Picasso," and people paid it.

The article mentions, but does not go into depth on, an implication of this pricing decision that I would be interested in exploring further after the museum re-opens. I would bet that with this new admission charge, MoMA will see its attendance demographics shift substantially.

Tourists coming into the city tend not to be overly sensitive to price. They will pay the $20 (with raised eyebrows or comments about how much more expensive New York is than home--wherever home might be). They will also spend a good portion of the day at the museum making sure they get their money's worth from their modern art experience. They will be the ones who take advantage of what the Times's writer calls the "many more inducements to spend a leisurely day" that the new facility will provide.

New Yorkers, though, will cut back on their trips to the museum. Only someone with an income the size of Eli Broad's will continue using the museum the way that locals often use art museums--as a way of spending a lunch break or killing an hour between meetings, running in to see two or three favorite works, or stopping by to see a single special exhibition.

MoMA's strategy here, the article hints, is to induce locals into purchasing memberships ($75 for an individual, $150 for a family). That may work with a limited number of local art lovers, but a larger majority will stop visiting, will get their art experiences elsewhere, or will make more of a point of visiting during the few hours late on Friday afternoons when the museum will not charge admission.

By setting its price where it has, MoMA is setting up a pricing structure that will attract tourists while alienating local residents. The museum is taking an "in-the-city, not of-the-city" stance and may be carrying a certain negative ethos back into Manhattan from its temporary home in Queens that didn't exist in Midtown before the expansion.

For the last two years, MoMA QNS has been a hit-and-run destination--a location people visit and then depart as quickly as possible. It has not become a citizen of its local community. It has not helped improve or transform its neighborhood. It hasn't given back.

Every time I have been out there this summer, I have been struck by how little the neighborhood has changed since MoMA QNS opened its doors. I assumed, back then, that with the number of art-loving, affluent visitors the museum would draw to that neighborhood, positive transformation would occur--new business would spring up, other organizations would open in the neighborhood, people would be given more reason to spend time there. None of that occurred.

I'm afraid that with its slick new facade (and what a gorgeous, slick new facade it is!), its inducements to spend time inside the building, and its visitor base of tourists instead of city residents, MoMA is going to carry this bastion-against-the-neighborhood mentality back into the new building on 53rd St.--to the detriment of neighborhood businesses and other cultural institutions in the city.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Weekend Reading

I know I said I wasn't going to post anything else today, but I changed my mind.

If you haven't read James Meek's Guardian piece on the Momart fire yet, consider working it into your weekend plans. I picked up the link earlier this week from ArtsJournal, saw that the article was too long to read on screen, and printed out a copy to read later. I had the chance to work through it today while I was waiting for an appointment.

Modern Kicks has a short gloss on the article here to prick your interest, if I haven't already.

Ask and You Shall Receive

Safari and Firefox users will notice an improved look to the site today.

Yesterday morning I asked for some help fixing the page display problem that users of these browsers were experiencing. Within a couple hours of making that post, I received two lines of code from a reader via email. Ta-da! Issue resolved. Thanks Chris.

Now Safari and Firefox users should see the search and links items displayed in the right hand column of the screen. If you're using one of these browsers and the page is not displaying that way, please let me know. For these non-IE users, there is still a bar of white space appearing at the top of the page. I can't fix that problem without making a change to the search functionality the site offers. While I rethink that strategic decision, the white space will remain in Safari and Firefox.

(Update: I found a hack that seems to have fixed the white space problem. Now the site should display properly for all browsers without requiring a change in its search functionality.)

I don't plan to make any more posts today because of other commitments I have. But, as a teaser, let me say that there are some good things on deck for next week. So enjoy the weekend, see some art, and stop back soon.

By the way, I know that yesterday's Anti-Almanac was esoteric. If you got it, good. If you didn't, don't worry. The next one will be more accessible (note, I didn't say "better"), I promise.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

And Now Things Get Really Interesting

In my post yesterday about the collection of drawings that Harvey Shipley Miller is trying to give to MoMA, I wondered what had happened in the last two months to cause Miller to seemingly change his stance about requiring MoMA to take either all of the works or none of them.

Well, as usual, Tyler Green at Modern Art Notes comes through with the dish. Miller has offered the collection to the Tate Modern, Green reports, and they've agreed to take it whole.

If this is true, it forces a whole new reading of the quote Miller gave to the Times about the terms of the gift. Let me reprint it here:
"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."
Is he saying that MoMA can choose to take only part of the collection, but that if MoMA does make this choice there will be a bridge to be crossed (i.e., that the whole collection could be sent over the proverbial bridge across the pond to London)? And is he also implying that he's so sure that MoMA's staff won't have the guts to call his bluff that they will offer to take the whole collection whether or not they want it all?

If that's the case (and this might just be me over-reading a short quote), it seriously underscores one of the concerns I voiced about this gift in my previous post.

Miller used MoMA's name, his position on the board, and MoMA's drawings curator's reputation to assemble this collection. If he's now threatening to send it to another institution to pressure MoMA into taking the collection whole in order to maintain its reputation with artists and dealers around the world, that's nothing short of blackmail. A strange, reverse sort of blackmail, granted, but blackmail nonetheless.

More on New York Museum Admission Charges

Today's Newsday contains a short article on MoMA's new $20 admission. The piece presents a couple items of interest.

Not to be outdone by its midtown rival, the Guggenheim will be raising its admission charge to $18 with the opening of its next show--an exhibition of Aztec art. The Guggenheim was already the worst museum deal in the city at $15. With this 20% price increase, it retains local leadership in that dubious category.

MoMA's Chief Operating Officer James Gara provides the closing quote for the article.
Soon, a $20 MoMA ticket will buy a long stretch of cultural immersion. Visitors will be able to view all the exhibits, plus spend time in the enlarged sculpture garden, listen to lectures and watch movies, all without extra stipends. "I think it's a bargain," Gara said.
A bargain. Sure, it's a bargain if you make over $250,000 a year like Gara does. But for art lovers on a budget a visit to MoMA is going to look much more like a splurge.

Anti-Almanac

Those of you who read Terry Teachout's blog About Last Night (and who doesn't?) are familiar with his Almanac feature--a choice quote of the day presented without contextual packaging.

Today I'm launching my riff on Teachout's feature: The Anti-Almanac. These will be quotes I've come across that have made me stop reading and throw the book, journal, magazine, or newspaper across the room. I came up with the idea last night as I was browsing what looked like an interesting title in a used bookstore in Greenwich Village. When I read the following sentence, I closed the book, put it back on the shelf, and walked out of the shop.

So, without further delay, today's anti-almanac.

"Benjamin was wrong on several counts."

--Colin Painter, ed. Contemporary Art and the Home

Why Can't We All Just Use Microsoft Software?

It's come to my attention this week that the site is not displaying correctly for visitors using Safari and Firefox browsers.

A couple months ago I did some customization to the site template (and put in a nasty Internet Explorer-specific hack on top of it all) to make the site display the way I wanted it to. I've been happy with it since--so happy, in fact, that I never bothered to look at it with a browser other than IE. My bad.

Since 20% of users accessing the site are viewing it with Safari or Firefox (darn you creative types who use Macs and designer browsers!), I need to do something about that. I've been trying to get the issue resolved, but I haven't had any success yet. If anyone reading this is a CSS guru and wouldn't mind giving me a wee bit of help, I would appreciate it. I'm in over my head on this one.

In the meantime, if you're a Safari or Firefox user and you want that ugly white bar at the top of the screen to go away and you want to see the search and links sections appear along the right side of the screen (like they are supposed to) instead of at the bottom, you can always switch over to IE until I get the problem fixed.

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
comment....
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.


Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The End of the World as We Know It

What's next? Are they going to make people actually look at the art at openings, too? No, they can't do that. Can they?

The Three E’s of a Successful Patron Program

One of the more popular development strategies that non-profits use is up-selling donors into special giving circles or patron programs.

I belong to two programs like this—one with an art museum, one with a cultural institution. During the last few years both programs have struggled.

Development offices across New York have wrestled with high turnover and low morale since the economy softened in 2001. Anecdotally, I hear that the average tenure for directors of development at New York-based cultural organizations has shortened to only two years.

Special patron programs are difficult groups to run successfully, even in the best of times. They need to produce high touch programming for their members, but most organizations can’t devote adequate resources to do it correctly. Each of the groups to which I belong (admittedly, the lowest rungs on the development ladder at both organizations) is managed by a single development officer, with some administrative and volunteer support.

Both these programs have suffered in recent years from the departure of managers. (Yesterday one group actually announced the appointment of its fourth manager in the last three years.) When a critical staff member like this leaves an organization—taking knowledge of the group and its members with him or her—the organization takes a hit. After the search for a replacement is complete, the new hire has to reestablish relationships and rebuild a program schedule that will engage existing members and entice new prospects.

There’s no easy or quick way for a new hire to connect with the existing membership of a patrons group. That takes time, research, and effort. But building a program of events doesn’t have to be that hard. The more successful programs give their members what I call the three E’s:

A season’s schedule should be sure to contain a healthy mix of events that are designed to provide all the E’s. Individual events should be focused on one area, but the event should be coordinated so that the others are present as well. Successful development department programmers make sure their members get all three E’s in each event.


Monday, September 20, 2004

Artopia Returns from the Beach

John Perreault is back from his summer vacation and is blogging again at Arts Journal's Artopia.

But what the heck happened while he was away? I don't know if it was too much sun or too many mojitos (way too many mojitos), but something went down this summer.

It'll be worth watching the site over the next few months, though. Either he'll sober up and get his focus back, or he'll implode completely--which could be interesting to watch (in a macabre sort of way) as well.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

A Couple Williamsburg Picks

I had big plans yesterday to complete a run through Williamsburg and then shoot back to Manhattan's west side on the L train to pick up the fall Chelsea shows that opened this week. The remnants of Hurricane Ivan (and my unwillingness to carry an umbrella) cut my trip short, though. I didn't make it to Chelsea, but I did see two shows of note in Williamburg.

No Return at Momenta Art is a smartly curated small group show that is, according to the gallery brochure, "evocative of an unseen world--a world of capital exchange, of currency, information, and waste." I was especially fascinated with Pawel Wojtasik's video Dark Sun Squeeze which presents closely cropped vignettes from a day in the life of a sewage treatment plant. Jed Ela's baskets weaved from dollar bills (see detail at right) also intrigued me. Ela is selling these works for the cost of the materials--the number of bills it took to create the basket--with the agreement that the purchaser never resell them for more.

Dewitt Godfrey's Picker Sculpture at Black & White Gallery is a knockout. I had seen a photo of the installation earlier last week, but the photo did not prepare me at all for the experience of standing in the presence of these two works--one installed in the gallery, the other in the gallery's outdoor space. The director told me that the opening was the quietest one she has ever held. In the presence of the pieces, no one was talking. I'll save the blather and won't heap on adjectives and adverbs in an attempt to describe the pieces and the experience of standing near them and walking through them. But if you get the chance, make a point of seeing this show before it closes on October 18. (The work in the gallery's outdoor space will remain up until November 29.) If you do, you may be stunned into silence too.

Friday, September 17, 2004

If I Could Write...

... like this, I wouldn't spend so much time looking at art. And I wouldn't need to self-publish.

But as much as I feel sorry for myself, I'm not as bad off as these guys. They can write, but they still self-publish. And they need to go begging their readers for donations. So go ahead. Be generous. Drop a buck or two in their hat if you liked the link above. It was their find this morning.

Hidden in Plain Sight

Over the last few days I’ve come across two articles (on separate topics and run in separate papers) that contain some interesting similarities.

Both focus on paintings that can currently be seen in Philadelphia, and both give estimated values of $30 million for the works they discuss.

But that’s where the similarities end.

If you’re interested in seeing this $60 million in art, you’ll have to go to very different places. A trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art will get you a glimpse of the first $30 million—Vermeer’s A Young Woman Seated at the Virginals. For a view of the other $30 million, you’ll need to visit a host of the city’s public schools—sometimes looking in public spaces, sometimes peeking behind the boiler.

The Philadelphia public schools recently engaged an art consultant to inventory and value their “collection.” After finding 1200 pieces across the school system, the expert delivered the verdict. The school district owns 100 museum-quality works, including a 1902 Thomas Eakins portrait of Central High School principal John Seely Hart which has been valued at $600,000. The unacknowledged heroes of this story are the school system’s janitors. More than one painting was picked from the trash over the years and hung in the boiler room to liven up the surroundings.

Across town, the anonymous buyer of the Vermeer has placed it on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The article speculates on who the owner is, but more interesting to me is the strategy the owner is using for securing his massive investment in a miniscule painting. Rather than secreting the work away in a vault, he’s found a museum that’s willing to park the work for him. Big collectors occasionally use this strategy when they are trying to close a deal and don’t want the responsibility of holding onto a large art investment until the deal is done. Leonard Lauder also used the galleries of the Philadelphia Museum of Art to store several pieces as he built up the collection of works he eventually gave to the Whitney.

Both articles point out how easily artwork can be hidden when it’s placed in plain sight. In the case of the Philadelphia Schools, the context of display obscured the quality (and value) of the work for those who saw it. In the case of the Vermeer (the value of which is very well known), the work is probably more secure by virtue of the fact that it’s in full public view at an institution than it would be if it were held privately. I’ll leave it up to Modern Art Notes to weigh in on the ethics of this particular museological practice.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

A New Approach to Making a Permanent Collection Relevant

It always feels good to be able to cheer on the home team when they're on a roll and are out in front of the rest of the league.

No, I'm not talking about the Yankees and the AL East here.

The Whitney is responding to current events in a way that could serve as a model for other art museums looking to make themselves more relevant to the daily lives of their audiences.

In a new approach to using its focus galleries (two separate spaces on the fifth floor and the video gallery on the second floor) the Whitney has begun mounting small, timely exhibitions of work from the permanent collection centered on topics of current interest.

On view now on the fifth floor is Memorials of War, a single gallery show of permanent collection works that explore war, its aftermath, and strategies for memorializing the lives lost. Mostly works on paper (with the exception of a Chris Burden sculpture and a powerful Edward Kienholz maquette for a large memorial), mostly focused on Vietnam, this small show is timely, engaging, and emotionally moving. Also on view, in the second floor video gallery, is a film and video program called War! Protest in America which combines works from the Vietnam era with pieces made as recently as last year.

On the schedule for later this month in the other fifth floor focus gallery is a presentation of Jacob Lawrence's War Series which focuses on the Second World War. This series has not been shown in New York since Lawrence's Whitney retrospective in 2001-2002. For my money, this series is as good as (or maybe even better than) his more well known Migration Series.

This approach to programming small spaces with timely exhibitions of permanent collection work is a new one, as far as I am aware. I would be happy to see other museums start making use of it as well.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Made for TV at Rockefeller Center

From the Floor got a reminder yesterday of its place in the media food chain.

On my way past Rockefeller Center, I stopped to see Jonathan Borofsky’s new installation Walking to the Sky. After a few minutes, I noticed that Borofsky was standing nearby. I asked if I could get a picture of him with the work. His response was friendly enough but clear. “I’d rather not. I have a TV interview in ten minutes. You can snap away, but I don’t want to pose right now.”

It’s fitting that Borofsky was more interested in talking about his work with the Today show than with me. The piece is custom made for a daytime TV audience.

Walking to the Sky is a 100-foot-tall, stainless steel pole mounted on the plaza at Rockefeller Center. Seven human figures walk up the pole while three more stand at its base looking on. The slick, color brochure available near the work describes it this way:
Walking to the Sky is inspired by a story Borofsky’s father used to tell him as
a child, about a friendly giant who lived in the sky. In each tale, father and
son would travel up to the sky to talk with the giant about what should be done
for everyone back on earth. The sculpture is, the artist says, a “celebration of
the human potential for discovering who we are and where we need to go.”
The piece brings to mind Frank Stella’s famous saying, “What you see is what you see,” but in a much different way. With Stella’s pinstripe paintings the point was that there wasn’t anything else there. They were what they were, and that was something new. But with Walking to the Sky there just isn’t anything else there. Period.

That’s what makes it the perfect made-for-TV art project. It’s easy to look at, entertaining, serious but not deep, affirmative and uplifting (“It’s for all humanity, not just New York,” I overheard Borofsky say), and nostalgic. It’s also single-dimensional, can be fully explained in a sound bite, contains no ambiguity, and wants to please. It’s lowest-common-denominator art. Muzak for the eye.

But for being such a mediocre piece, it’s being fabulously managed. While getting my hair cut last weekend, I was talking with my stylist about another client of hers who is an emerging pop star. “She’s doing really well,” Uliana said. “In that business, you know, you just need to be good enough. But you have to have a great publicist, and she’s got the best.”

Borofsky has the best too. Every autumn since 2000 Tishman Speyer Properties (the owners of Rockefeller Center) and the Public Art Fund have commissioned a site-specific installation for this location. Then they market the hell out of it—special lighting, brochures, signage, media, the whole thing. They estimate that 250,000 people will see the work every day. And the sponsors want all of them to understand what’s going on.

By October 18, when the piece comes down, a few million people will have been educated to associate the site with the owner with the artist with the work. It’s real art (see the signs and brochures that say it is?), art means class, Rockefeller Center means class, Tishman Speyer buildings are classy.

When public art projects are at their best, they engage viewers who ordinarily don’t look at art. The work encourages viewers to interact with it. It sparks viewers to ask themselves new questions or to look at the world in a different way. Creative Time’s Freedom of Expression National Monument on display downtown right now does this.

Walking to the Sky doesn’t. Viewers who see it will smile and say “isn’t that nice” or “isn’t that neat.” They’ll then change the channel and move on, looking for another novelty to hold their attention for a span of two, three, or four minutes before they click on to the next thing and the next and the next.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Coloring a Brice Marden with Brice Marden

Today's Liberty Fair, while a bit of a disappointment, included some fun activities.

Kiki Smith was giving temporary tattoos, Zak Smith was manning a garage sale, the downtown fashionistas Imitation of Christ were selling a puppy (a puppy?) from their mobile store, and Will Cotton was decorating cookies. But the cheekiest (and most narcissistic) was this booth, entitled "Make Your Own Brice Marden with Brice Marden."

For a $30 donation, Marden was lending out his Prismacolors and supervising the addition of color to a photocopy of one of his works.

I'm not sure what the penalty was for scribbling outside the lines, but Satan was crooning karaoke in a booth down the block. The threat of having to sing "Oops, I Did It Again" with old Beelzubub himself would probably be enough to scare even the worst colorer into staying within the lines.

(Update: More photos of the event have been posted on Artnet.)

Saturday, September 11, 2004

An Idiosyncratic Fall Show Round Up

For being such a beautiful, clear fall day, things were still sort of musty in Chelsea today.

The sidewalks on 24th St. were piled with wet garbage waiting to be carted away—carpeting, cardboard, and lots of trash bags. Gallery doors were propped open, and fans were in high demand.

Flooding on 24th St. received the most coverage this week, but the situation wasn’t limited to that block. Water came up through floor drains in galleries on 25th St. and even seeped through the walls of these buildings and flooded the back rooms of 26th St. galleries. But since real dealers always keep it up and off the floor—the inventory, that is—the flooding was more nuisance than disaster.

Not all the fall shows are open until next week, but there’s still plenty to see between 22nd and 26th Streets. Here are some highlights.



Friday, September 10, 2004

The Real Price to Visit MoMA

There have been hoots and cries of outrage around the blogosphere since MoMA announced a $20 admission charge effective with the opening of the new building.

Word today is that it won't cost you $20 to get into MoMA. Admission during the first weeks after the November 20 opening will actually set you back $25.50. Why? Ticketmaster has managed to get involved.

Afraid that it won't be able to handle the volume of ticket requests, MoMA has partnered with Ticketmaster to pre-sell admission for defined time slots in the weeks after the building opens. Ticketmaster, of course, isn't doing this as a good corporate citizen or as a patron of the arts. They are adding a $3.75 convenience charge and a $1.75 handling fee to each ticket order.

Can't wait to reserve your time slot, no matter what it will cost? Go ahead and order your ticket here. They go on sale this Sunday morning. Me, I'll be taking advantage of the press of the crowds during the opening weekend to slip in unnoticed without a ticket.

While I'm on the topic of MoMA's new admission price, I had lunch with a museum staffer over the summer who told me that the museum needs to draw 2.4 million visitors a year after the new building opens to make its budget. That's 700,000 more visitors than it drew in its best year ever--a year that saw several blockbuster shows cycle through its galleries.

I'm not sure what MoMA will do it if finds that it can't generate the $40+ million annually from admissions that is required to pay for its new home. Let's hope the museum doesn't find that it has to do what so many overreaching dot-commers and i-bankers did when the economy went south in 2001--give up the fancy new digs in Manhattan and move back to Queens.

The Biggest Art Weekend Ever (or at Least since May)

This week Caryn Coleman has been filling up the main page at ART.BLOGGING.LA with her picks of the best new shows in Los Angeles. LA isn't the only city awash with exciting openings this weekend. New York's gallery district is going to be hopping as well.

Last night I paged through the September issues of Artforum and Art in America, sticking Post-it Notes on the ads for shows opening this week that I want to see tomorrow. I finished my pad of notes before I finished with the magazines. And don't forget the galleries that haven't advertised.

But the fun doesn't stop there!

I have tickets for the late performance of Decasia (with live orchestra) in DUMBO on Saturday night. And then I'll be back in Chelsea Sunday afternoon hoping to get my face painted by Elizabeth Peyton at The Liberty Fair. (That's painting on my face, not painting of my face.) Do you think she'll re-do me with the John Kerry she did for this month's Artforum? I've been practicing saying, "W. stands for wrong," in case I happen to get that lucky.

Watch this space into early next week for notes on some (or all) of these events.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Write Your Own Wall Text

Now here’s an interesting idea. The short text writer at the Tate Britain (the person who writes those annoying little wall texts that get more eye time from visitors than the works they describe) goes out on maternity leave. The museum has a hard time finding a replacement. (Interested in her position? Here’s the job description.) So instead of having short text writing grind to a halt (“The public needs wall texts, damn it!”), they invite all comers to take a shot at filling the position.

Go ahead. Give it a try. The former staffer didn’t complete the last 43 works in her assignment, so the museum would like you to start with those. But they will take submissions for any piece in their collection, if you’re inspired by something else. They’re actually going to use the best ones submitted by September 20.

In The Wisdom of Crowds James Surowiecki shows that better answers often arise from the collective effort of a group than from the work of an intelligent individual. (Brief review: It’s another one of those neat New Yorker articles that gets buffed up into a book but that can’t sustain its momentum for 100—let alone 320—pages.) Someone at the Tate Britain must have looked at the book but skipped the part about averaging or consolidating the responses provided.

Since the Tate Britain has decided to hand over curatorial responsibilities to the masses in hopes of getting better performance than they get from their staff, I wonder if other museums will follow suit. I can think of four museum departments that might want to consider this approach ASAP.
The performance of the public (any member of the public) couldn't be any worse, right?

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Your Chance to See the First Work in the Porkmaster Series

This Sunday afternoon Downtown for Democracy, a political action committee focused on mobilizing the creative community, will be hosting an avant-garde street fair in New York on 22nd St. between 10th and 11th Avenues. More than sixty contemporary artists will be participating with a variety of booths, games, and activities.

This week's New Yorker reports that Matthew Barney will be roasting a pig for the event. The magazine doesn't say what kind of barbecue sauce he favors, though. I would bet that he's moved beyond the typical Carolina vs. Kansas City sauce debate and that he uses something truly sui generis. Have you ever tried a Vaseline-based sauce? Me neither. This might be your chance.

For more information, and to reserve tickets, visit Downtown for Democracy's website.

If you end up going to the event, be thankful that they got Matthew Barney to cook lunch. The chef for the day could have been Paul McCarthy.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Think You're Just Taking Interesting Photographs?

Think again. You might be a terrorist.

Where are the Bechers when You Need Them?

Over time I have become increasingly infatuated with the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher. I've even gotten my wife interested enough in their work to talk about purchasing a piece for our collection if we ever find anything affordable. (That's how we work. I do all the hard work, and she gets veto authority on any proposed purchase.)

Here's a piece of industrial machinery/infrastructure that calls out for documentation by them. But, then again, if it's not part of a typology (and could there be more than one of these things--what the hell is it, anyway?) would they be interested in photographing it?

Friday, September 03, 2004

The Times Tries to Go all Art in America on Us

I know the culture desk at The New York Times is all topsy-turvy these days, but what's up with today's Fine Arts section?

In today's issue Roberta Smith reviews Andy Goldsworthy's installation (which opened on May 4) on the roof of the Met, and Ken Johnson describes Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler's video (which opened on July 22) at the Whitney's Altria branch.

Even evergreen copy has an expiration date, and these two pieces had passed theirs--one by a little, one by a lot. For a daily to be reviewing a local show by a brand-name artist four months after it opens is embarrassing.

But try as it might, The Times still can't take the title of "Least Timely Publication" away from the reigning champion, Art in America. September's issue, with its feature article on the Whitney's Lucas Samaras show (which closed on February 8), shows that Art in America is serious--really serious--about retaining its crown.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

A Day in LA

Despite the fact that yesterday ended up being a wasted work day (or maybe because of it), the day turned out OK. I squeezed in visits to both the Getty Center and LACMA before my afternoon flight out of LAX.

Every time I go to the Getty Center I become overwhelmed by the place and can’t work up enough focus to look at the art. Yesterday was no exception.

After seeing James Wagner’s photos from a recent visit (scroll down to posts from and before August 18), I wanted to have a chance to get to know Robert Irwin’s Central Garden a bit more, and I jumped when I saw that the day’s schedule of events listed a docent tour of the garden while I was there. I’m ignorant about gardening and was hoping for some basic training in looking at how a garden is put together.

I lasted ten minutes.

Docents annoy the hell out of me (present company and a few select others excluded). Leading a group tour doesn’t take much. Prior to today, I thought that all you needed to do was follow five simple rules. I’ve now added a sixth rule to that list. I guess I had taken this one for granted. After today I realize that I need to make it explicit, as well.

6. Do lead your audience to look at something within the first two minutes of getting their attention. Don’t take more time than that to introduce the tour and present background information.
After ten minutes of standing on the Arrival Plaza (not even in Irwin’s garden) listening to a disquisition on the nature of the human-plant relationship, I walked away to wander the garden myself.

(For a taste of what the experience was like, read the following sentences aloud very slowly in a sonorous, affected, Anglo accent. “Humans and plants need each other. People breathe oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Plants consume carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. At the dawn of time in arid Africa, man looked for trees to show him where water sources were. The changing color of leaves signaled a coming change in the season. In putting my thoughts together for this talk I came across several quotes on how important gardening is to humans. I want to share these with you now.”)

I noticed one detail in the Garden on this visit that I don’t remember seeing before. The final flagstone at the bottom of Irwin’s path that zigzags down the hill contains an inscription that reads:

Ever present never twice the same
Ever changing never less than whole
Robert Irwin
December 1997
The mutability of Irwin’s garden contrasts with the stasis of Richard Meier’s travertine acropolis. The circular motifs and non-linear walkways of the garden compliment the sharp, regular angularity of Meier’s architectural forms. Their combination stuns.

Before I bailed out, I heard the docent refer to the Getty Center as “the architectural commission of the century.” She may have gotten that right. Perhaps I haven’t yet spent enough time at the site to become desensitized to Meier’s work, but after my visit today I’m not sure that I would ever be able to focus on looking at any of the art contained in these spaces he has created. The architecture so outperforms the artwork it houses that it makes the work of centuries of artists look weak.

After leaving the Getty, I was looking forward to seeing Beyond Geometry on display now at LACMA. I ended up being disappointed with the exhibition. The show does contains a few notable pieces. A small work composed of two grey canvases by Blinky Palermo, a fine Agnes Martin from the 1960s, a nice John McCracken, and the smaller-than-a-die sized piece by Cildo Meireles that the museum is using in publicity for the show all stand out. None of these works is available, though, on the exhibition’s extensive website. (Strike one.) Although some individual works impressed me, on the whole the exhibition is flat.

The show lacks curatorial focus and seems to be put together based on work that was available rather than work that allows a curatorial point of view to develop. It’s a show that feels like it ought to be about a movement, but it never quite defines the movement in a new way—or even in an old way. The show doesn’t really focus on time, place, process, material, concept, theory, or anything in a way that would allow the group of works contained in it to grow into something more than the sum of their parts. (Strike two.)

And what’s going on with the installation? Overall, the installation is so blasé that it even makes a blue Judd stack look like a set of shelves. (Strike three.)And when I followed the signs up the stairs to the continuation of the show on the second floor, expecting to see another several galleries of work, I was surprised to walk past three or four pieces before being dumped into the permanent collection. Why bother? Why not cut down the list of works to fit the show onto a single floor? (Strike four. Shall I stop now?)

But the visit to LACMA wasn’t a complete loss. In the downscale LACMA West building, I stumbled across a piece I hadn't seen before from the Atrabiliarios series by the Columbian artist Doris Salcedo. For this work she creates three small vitrines in the wall (each less than 6" by 12"). Within each cubby Salcedo has placed either one or two shoes. She has then covered the faces of the openings with pieces of cow bladder that are sutured to the wall with ugly, thick, black surgical thread.

At mass grave sites, the artist says, investigators and family members always find loose shoes. This piece references those who have disappeared and tells their stories through the objects of clothing they have left behind. Emotionally moving, conceptually rigorous, politically engaged, visually interesting, making use of materials in a novel way—this piece has everything I look for when I look at contemporary sculpture.

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