Rat Party Messes

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“The day is coming where a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution.” Paul Cezanne (from The Painter’s Keys)

A look at another story on the sad state of the financial situations of art museums brings on more speculation as to how they have gotten into this position. Today’s story is on the Delaware Museum of Art’s potential sell off of a much-loved Winslow Homer work titled Milking Time. This news comes on top of the ongoing saga of the Detroit Institute of the Arts latest dilemma, as well as, the still unresolved downfall of the Corcoran Museum of Art and the Corcoran College of Art and Design.

 DelawareOnline.com has the story on the possible Homer sale. The Detroit Free Press is stating the last offer to turn over the DIA’s art to a group of non-profits has been nixed by the creditors and the unions of the city of Detroit. NPR has an article on the hold up of the Corcoran’s hand off to the National Gallery of Art/Smithsonian organization and George Washington University. None of these articles have said much encouraging about the individual situations, but it is the NPR article that may shed a little light on how this sorry state came to be.

 NPR quotes former Corcoran director David Levy as stating, “museums have to acquire more and more and more,” to stay in business. Further in the Levy quote is a reference to art students as, “scruffy kids wandering around downstairs.” Sounds like a costly fine buffet in the magnificent parlor is in progress, adding more and more scrumptious delicacies to keep the partiers happy, while the rats scurrying around in the basement are threatening to show themselves and spoil the party.   Why are we even having this party and who is responsible for encouraging the rat behavior? Maybe Mr. Levy has an answer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jumping the Art Shark

“I’m afraid that if you look at a thing long enough, it loses all its meaning.”  Andy Warhol (from Brainyquote)

Could the New York art world be coming to grips with its own mortality?  The smell of desperation slamming headlong into the forces it seeks to win over is the main impression left after reading two different takes on the Whitney Biennial Art Exhibition in New York.  The Whitney Biennial is supposed to be the place for emerging art, the next big craze in the art world.  At least that’s the way it’s billed every year.  All those “in-the-know” art world inhabitants have the Whitney Biennial down as the “must-go” exhibition to prove they are still “in-the-know.”  But what happens when the “in-the-know” people start trashing the “in-the-know” exhibition?  The results aren’t pretty.

First up is Jed Perl of the New Republic who calls this year’s Whitney Biennial, “an orgy of navel-gazing that can leave a bad feeling—a sense of unease if not disgust.”  That statement goes beyond mere dislike.  Perl continues on along that vein with a virtual feast of bashing statements.  Read the article if you’d like a taste of the art world cannibalizing its own.  Or if the whole spectacle is more than you can take, move on to the next example.

Jerry Saltz throws more salt on the wound in an article for The New York Magazine by calling the Whitney Biennial an “optically starved, aesthetically buttoned-up, pedantic biennial.” Ouch!!  There were other juicy bits from this article but to continue on is the like watching a trainwreck.  Some people have a fascination for looking at a horrific event hoping to see a bit of blood and guts.  Others must avert attention.  The horror is too much.  If you are in the first group, check out the article.

Rather than the blatant take-downs these articles represent, wouldn’t a healthier response be to just stand back and walk away?  The New York art scene has been the reigning authority on art in the U.S. for a century.  Others have made some inroads like San Francisco and Chicago but the art world has still focused on New York.    New York has steadily pushed for more and more craziness to the point that many people have been turning away to seek art in other places.  Is it possible that New York has, at last, “jumped the shark?”  We’ll see.

For a definition of “jumping the shark” (click here and here.)

Paper Airplanes and The Fall of the Corcoran–One Student’s Perspective

The Corcoran Gallery of Art and The Corcoran College of Art

The Corcoran Gallery of Art and The Corcoran College of Art

Several articles have appeared recently in the Washington Post about the impending doom of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Corcoran College of Art.  The most recent article this week by Phillip Kennicott describes the final deal reached between the Corcoran, the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University.  From the story, it appears that the Corcoran will cease to exist.  GW will assume control of the school and the National Gallery will take over the art collection and the historic building.  A sad, sad state of affairs but one a student saw coming over a decade ago.

This particular student was returning to school after a career with an international company followed by small business ownership.  Though this student was older than the average college student, there were more in the same age group with similar backgrounds.  Within the first week of school, the student recognized that some things were not quite right from a business perspective but assumed the constant influx of donor money must cover for the lack of  good business practice.  The Post article described the management of the Corcoran as having “incompetent leadership,” and “often obscenely inept leadership.”  This student is in complete agreement.

Though the working- artist teachers in the community education classes were excellent, some of the teachers in the full time student program fell into that description of “obscenely inept.”  One particular “inept” action of some teachers of the full time program was to encourage self-expression to the point of anti-social behavior.  The teachers called this “artistic expression” and frequently graded work on that basis.  This student’s favorite example of how “artistic expression” and anti-social behavior go hand in hand was in the Senior Show.  Graduating students were given the opportunity to exhibit work in the museum open to the public of Washington, D.C.  It was a great honor.  Celebrities and other dignitaries regularly dropped in for the Senior Shows.

A group of male students who had been greatly praised for exhibitions of anti-social behavior were given permission to collaborate on their final project.  The result was a platform about a foot high and around 10 to 15 feet long built from plywood and covered with green astro-turf.  At one end was a large pile of paper airplanes of the kind children make in school out of single sheets of paper.  At the other end of the platform was a treasure chest made from cardboard and filled with green pieces of paper decorated with dollar signs.  That was the extent of the piece.  These students were exhibiting what they had learned after spending four years and sixty-thousand  or more dollars on their art education at this supposedly wonderful museum school situated in an historic building in the heart of Washington, D.C., barely a stone’s throw from the White House.

Decades of encouraging the building of paper airplanes over skills to help artists make it in the world is part of what led to the fall of the Corcoran, in this student’s opinion.  Watching the end of the Corcoran brings great sadness but no surprise.  The Corcoran-RIP.  The headstone should read: “brought down by paper airplanes and other such nonsense.”

The Appearance of Rescue

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“Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.” George Bernard Shaw (from Brainyquote)

The Detroit Free Press and other news organizations are reporting that a group of foundations have stepped up to provide funding to save the art and the pensions of the city of Detroit and the Detroit Institute of Arts. As the city spiraled into bankruptcy, the DIA’s art was pitted against the lack of funding for the pensions of the city’s retirees. A battle had ensued suggesting the mean old art people were in favor of starving the pensioners in order to save the art. For the art it was an unwinnable war. A precious collection was in danger of being sold to the highest bidder to fund the pensions of the city’s retirees. No one wanted to see retirees starve and many art lovers had acknowledged that the art was the likely loser.

Screen shot 2014-01-13 at 7.44.48 PMThese foundations have stepped up to save both the art and the pensions so that no one is the loser. The Detroit Free Press states that nine foundations have come together to pledge $330 million to relieve some of the weight from the cities creditors. The foundations are the Kresge Foundation, the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, the Ford Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation, Hudson-Webber Foundation, McGregor Foundation, and Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

As good as this sounds, it still may not be enough to rescue both the art and the pensions but it is great news. There remains much to be worked out in court. Time will tell. Last week what looked hopeless is now hopeful. It seems the mighty steed of rescue may be riding in after all. No word yet as to whether anybody has discussed what got the city into this mess in the first place. That bit of enlightenment has yet to dawn on anybody.

Photographs shown are from the Detroit Institute of Arts downloadable images page on the website. For more images go (here). Insert photo is the North Wall by Diego Rivera (1932-1933), fresco.

Art as Tragic Victim

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“He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot, is victorious.” Sun Tzu (from Brainyquote)

For years the museum carries on its function of sharing great art with the world, opening its doors so young and old can enjoy the treasures it holds.  Its sole purpose is to give the joy and beauty of art to others.  The museum carried on quietly without engaging in politics or giving its opinion.  It asked only to continue with its purpose.  Without warning it was suddenly thrust into the limelight and held hostage by the very politics it chose not to take part in.

Suddenly this museum is fighting to stay out of the raging battle for the fiscal salvage of the bankrupt city.  The PR war being waged basically says that art must be sacrificed to pay the pensions of the city’s retirees.  Nothing is being said about how the pensions got in this mess in the first place.  It wasn’t the art that did it but the art will be made to pay the price.

Lee Rosenbaum, author of the CultureGrrl at Arts Journal blogs, was interviewed by NPR on Christmas day about this subject.  Follow the link for a wonderful interview.  During the interview, there were several attempts by the interviewer to engage Rosenbaum in the game of pitting the art against the pensioners.  Rosenbaum’s response on her blog was, “Its wrong to put this as an either-or between pensions and art.  There are so many other players here.  It makes it sound like this mean museum is holding onto its art while people are starving.  Its not that.”  It may not be that but the museum will still likely lose this war.

As each day goes by it is looking more and more likely that much if not all of the fabulous treasured art of the Detroit Institute of Arts will be sold to pay for the fiscal hole of the city of Detroit.  Art has no hope of winning a PR war with pensioners whether or not the art had anything to do with the state of the pensions. This war is best not fought at all.  Art has become another victim in this sad tragedy.  We can hope for a victory by not getting sucked in to this battle.   Perhaps the art will end up in a place where it can continue its role of bringing joy to others.  That would be a victorious ending to this tragic war.

The Farce of a Superficial Theft

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“Well there are times when one would like to hang the whole human race and finish the farce.”  Mark Twain (from Goodreads)

Falling under the category of “you can’t make this stuff up,” was the report of the recent theft of two Damien Hirst dot paintings from a gallery in the Notting Hill district of London.  The two paintings were rather simply lifted right off the wall in plain view of a video camera and multiple street windows.  What I can’t get over is why?  Someone just needed to have some dots really, really badly, I guess.  These dots weren’t that valuable compared to other recent art heists.  Maybe we have been light of entertainment lately in the art world?

The video of the theft is hilarious at the very least (see below).  Even a six year old could have done this heist.  Unfortunately, illusionist Derren Brown (story from The Drum) was forced to disavow any knowledge of the heist because of an ill timed Tweet.  Judging by the video, it would be a major stretch to accuse this thief of being anything remotely resembling an illusionist.  Had Brown been part of this theft, his vociferous denial would be from a need to save his reputation from accusations of imitating an illusionist than from the commission of a crime.

Screen shot 2013-12-15 at 8.17.39 PMDigging a little deeper into Hirst’s recent past, unearths a spat between the artist and a teenager over the lifting of a few pencils from a Hirst exhibit at the Tate.  (The Independent has the story.)  This spat also conjures up visions of six year olds.  It seems the teen, who goes by the name Cartraine, had used an image of a Hirst artwork to make collages he then sold over the internet.  That had set off a firestorm from Hirst leading to legal action against the teen.  In retaliation, the teen stole a few pencils from a large Hirst installation (seen in the photo from The Independent) on exhibit at the Tate.  So incensed was Hirst over the pencil theft, he had the teen and the teen’s father arrested and charged with theft of the pencils.  Seems a bit like killing a mosquito with a sledgehammer, to me but it’s been a long time since I was six years old.

Topping off the hilarity is the article on the heist for The Guardian by Jonathan Jones.  To add insult to Hirst’s injury, Jones states, “Will history miss these pieces?’” My guess would be, “No!”  Who’s going to miss a few dots?  But its Jones’ final bit that deals the killing blow to this heist.  “Hirst’s spots are icons of superficiality for a superficial age.  In that sense, they are contemporary classics.  But I wouldn’t cross the road to nick one.”  Neither would I.  Or I doubt you would either, for that matter.  Cue the clowns.  It’s time to end this superficial farce.

Youtube has the full theft video:

More from Sky news: here.

Top photo from The Guardian

Museum Babies

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What we want to see is the child in pursuit of knowledge, not knowledge in pursuit of the child.” George Bernard Shaw (from The Painter’s Keys)

Art museums are increasingly working to draw in children. New programs for children are springing up everywhere in museums. The museums are relaxing behavior standards in this effort. Where once a museum was a place of refuge where anyone could spend time in thoughtful contemplation of art has now become a refuge for the tired parent to dump the kids. How many children are able to contemplate art? Children are unquestionably creative and curious but is an art museum a good place to encourage this?

In an article for The Scotsman (through Artsjournal.com), Tiffany Jenkins discusses the drawbacks of having the museum doors thrown wide open to school age children with free rein. The museums are making a point to discourage the “shhhushing” of children in the museum, allowing children to run and play throughout the museum. Jenkins says of this policy, “It accommodates everything to those who don’t really want to be in a museum, rather than showing them something challenging and worthwhile.” Are museums encouraging children to learn about art or are they collecting babysitting fees?

A couple, with three small children were in the museum when some friends and I attended an exhibit of the Dutch Masters. While contemplating these wonderful masterpieces, we were treated to crying, toy throwing, screaming and other sounds of children being children. The parents made very little attempt to suppress any of this behavior. It went on for the entire time we were there. Some of the toy throwing came very close to these beautiful works of art. Like Tiffany Jenkins, I felt a bit curmudgeonly for thinking that perhaps the museum was not the best place for children of this age. I couldn’t see that the children were getting anything out of the experience either.

Are we helping children understand and appreciate art by encouraging them to use an art museum as a playground? The interactive play rooms that some museums have added is a good thing, but is allowing children to run and play through exhibits of art, teaching them anything about art? As my inner curmudgeon has come out on this one, I would love to hear what others have to say about this issue. Is it a good thing or not??

Imagine the following exhibit with children running around being children while you contemplate this art: