Tyler Green Modern Art Notes
Archive for July, 2007
How about this strange blog post from NYTer Sharon Waxman?
Background: Waxman is writing a book about “the world of museums and antiquities and where those antiquities belong.” It will be published in about 18 months by Times Books, a partnership between Henry Holt and the NYT. From time to time Waxman has been blogging about the book-writing process.
Last week Waxman blogged about Marion True, the former Getty antiquities curator on trial in Italy on charges that she conspired with dealers who were trafficking in looted antiquities. Waxman’s post is a surprising, strange woe-is-True lament, full of treacly passages such as:
It is a tragic tale, however you slice it: either the insidious corruption of a Harvard-educated, lover of history by the prevailing norms of a see-no-evil antiquities trade. Or the public crucifixion of a competent curator who played by the rules — and the rules lived in a grey zone — and then found herself in the cross-hairs when the rules changed to black and white.
Except that’s not true. True played outside the rules, as the LA Times Pulitzer-finalist tag-team of Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino reported on Oct. 3, 2005:
The curator of antiquities for the J. Paul Getty Museum bought a vacation home in the Greek islands after one of the museum’s main suppliers of ancient art introduced her to a lawyer who arranged a nearly $400,000 loan.
The Getty said in a statement Saturday evening that the curator, Marion True, had resigned after museum officials confronted her about the loan, which she obtained in 1995.
The statement, released in response to questions from The Times, said the loan breached museum policy, which requires employees to report even the appearance of a conflict of interest.
And that wasn’t all: On Nov. 17, 2005 the F&F boys reported that True had received a second ethically problematic loan: $400K from Lawrence and Barbara Fleischman just after the Getty had paid $20 million for part of the Fleischmans’ collection in 1996. (The Fleischmans donated the rest of their collection to the Getty. Barbara Fleischman joined the Getty’s board four years later.):
By repaying the first loan with money borrowed from the Fleischmans around the time of the Getty’s transaction with the collectors, True created an even greater conflict, members of the Getty Trust Board of Trustees and outside ethics experts said Wednesday.
The Getty’s conflict-of-interest rules bar employees from borrowing money from any “individual or firm with whom the trust does business of any kind.”
“Of course we think it’s a conflict,” said John Biggs, chairman of the Getty board. “I think everybody’s uncomfortable with it, but we’re not sure where to go from here.” …
Neither Fleischman nor True disclosed the loan in annual conflict-of-interest statements, according to Getty trustee Ray Cortines, who as chairman of the board’s audit committee checked the disclosure forms after learning of the loan.
Waxman may feel True’s pain all she likes, but she’s factually incorrect. True broke the rules. Repeatedly. No “grey zone” there.
Related: Felch and Frammolino are also writing a book about antiquities and museums. (Guess which one I’ll read first?)
Waxman is one of a handful of NYTers who blogs away from nytimes.com. Others include Jennifer 8. Lee, David F. Gallagher, and Joyce Cohen.
The headline of this post refers to this NYT headline mistake.
NYTer Carol Vogel has the scoop: Guggenheim Museum director Lisa Dennison is quitting the Gugg for Sotheby’s. And, in the story’s last paragraph, Vogel cleverly hints at more tumult at the Gugg.
Your cocktail party topic: Is Dennison’s resignation a symptom of the art market? Or is Dennison’s departure a symptom of Krens-on-down problems at the Guggenheim? I can’t speak to whether Krens was stepping on toes at the museum, but from my conversations with Guggers other than Dennison in the last year or so it’s been abundantly clear that everything Guggenheim goes through Krens. (Or, to be fair, maybe just everything that comes from me.)
One personal note on Dennison’s departure: I don’t know Dennison well, but we’ve talked on the phone a good bit over the last couple of years. Each time she had anticipated what I wanted to talk about, had thought about the topic, and made superb observations about modern and contemporary museums. Dennison wasn’t at the top of the ramp long enough to build a Cuno-ian rep as a thinker about the role of museums in our society — but she was on her way to Cuno-of-the-contemporaries status.
In the LAT, from the Pulitzer-finalist tag-team of Felch & Frammolino: Italy and the Getty resume negotiations. In the last paragraph: A hint of what a settlement deal would include?
In the Boston Globe, from Geoff Edgers: If Barry Munitz and Lawrence Small want to form a boy band, they should dial up Citi Performing Arts Center CEO Josiah Spaulding, Jr., whose questionable pay package seems likely to attract the attention of the Massachusetts attorney general.
Last year, after returning from a visit to Maryland’s Eastern Shore, I posted about how my first trip to the region started me seeing Anne Truitt’s work in new ways. Having just returned again (and having thought more new thoughts on Truitt) I thought I’d re-publish last year’s post. The Hirshhorn is planning a Truitt retrospective for 2008. Look for catalogue essays from heavyweights James Meyer and Leah Dickerman.
As I walked through the Corcoran’s new permanent collection installation, I bumped into an old friend. Up on the second floor I found Anne Truitt, twice. One was magnificent: 1962’s Insurrection, a vertical plank, painted red on one vertical half and pink on the other.
Like all the best Truitts its beauty was a product of its subtlety. When Truitt entered her mature period in the 1960s, such subtlety was out and had been for a while. Abstract expressionism? (Glug glug.) Pop art? (Bam!)
That’s part of the genius of Truitt. She is the slow food of art; you have to stand in front of her painted sculptures, for a minute, maybe two, to feel what there is to see. At the Corcoran I noticed that the Truitt was just taller than a person. And just wider too. I was thicker than each painted half, but barely. And to see the whole sculpture I had to walk around it, making me all the more aware of my own body and presence in front of Truitt’s work.
Before pursuing art Truitt was a psychologist, working as a kind of diagnostician at Massachusetts General Hospital. I thought of that as I stood at the Corc. Truitt’s sculpture was as much about my experience in front of it as it was about the object itself. Truitt’s psychology background influenced her art.
The day after I took in Truitt at the Corcoran, I left Washington for a weekend on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Truitt grew up in Easton, Maryland, and she visited it regularly later in life. I took with me Truitt’s great artist’s chronicle Daybook and re-read it from a bayside hammock. I learned two things about Anne Truitt while I was there, from Daybook and from the land.
Throughout, Truitt frequently describes her surroundings in terms of color and not much else. (Japan, as viewed from a plane, is “wrinkled-prune land, purple in an apricot-violet mist of evening light.”) Truitt was a great colorist because she saw color so intensely. “Color occasionally just takes charge,” she wrote. “The more I work with it, the less I seem to know about it and the more I trust it.”
(Famously, Donald Judd hated Truitt’s colors: “[They] are dark reds, browns and grays, very much like Ad Reinhardt’s color,” Judd famously wrote in 1963. “The work looks serious without being so. The partitioning of the colors on the boxes is merely that, and the arrangement of the boxes is as thoughtless as the tombstones which they resemble.” Just as with Picasso when he discussed Bonnard, Judd was jealous. When Judd wrote those words he was struggling mightily to figure out color himself — especially how to make two colors work well together. Truitt had that nailed by 1963, while Judd wouldn’t master it for years more, until late in that decade.)
I also learned something about Truitt by going to where she was from. I’ve lived in Washington since 1997, but this was my first trip to the Eastern Shore. Much of eastern Maryland is flat, low-lying farmland, riven with rivers like the Nanticoke and the Choptank. All of the land seems to be within sight of the Chesapeake Bay. One of the middle counties, Talbot, is a fingery mass of a dozen or more peninsulas. Just south of Talbot, Dorchester County features abundant marshes and islands.
I stayed on Hoopers’ Island, a long, narrow island that never makes it more than about five feet above sea level. The island’s color, in the summer at least, was 15 shades of green: pine, bay grasses, corn stalks, marsh reeds. The bay’s color was just as variable. One afternoon the Chesapeake started blue, then turned pewter, ashen as a thunderstorm arrived, smoky, and finally a cloudy night turned it black. I realized that it was on the Eastern Shore that Truitt learned the richness and the variation in color.
Truitt learned something else about subtlety here too. As I sat in a hammock with Daybook, I looked out about 15 miles across the Chesapeake, toward where Washington and its suburbs are. I could see St. Mary’s County on the other side of the bay — but just barely. St. Mary’s seemed to rise no more from the bay than it had to to stay dry. Anyone living on Maryland’s Eastern Shore cut off from the region’s two dominant cities, say Anne Truitt, would notice how Washington and Baltimore were on a land mass that was barely perceptible.
Back on Hoopers’ Island, I noticed how tiny detail was important here, too. Earlier in the day I had driven by the highest point on the island, a faint rise only a foot or two above the surrounding land. At some point during the several hundred years that people have lived on the island, locals had identified its highest point and, logically enough, had put their cemetery there. In St. Mary’s County and on Hoopers’ Island the difference between being in the water and being above it was subtle, but worth noticing. Just like Truitts.
Related: Walter Hopps, who curated Truitt’s Corcoran/Whitney mid-career survey, wrote about the relationship between Truitt, her work, and the Eastern Shore but it’s not online. Curator Jane Livingston has noted the Judd-Truitt ‘relationship’ too, and it’s not online either. (Livingston’s musing was in a catalogue for a 1991 Andre Emmerich show.) Quality Truitt images on the web are few and far between — I nominate Truitt as an excellent candidate for the first online catalogue raisonne. Poppin’-fresh photograph from Hoopers’ Island (above) by my girlfriend and Hoopers’ Island tour guide, Kathleen Shafer.
Back on Monday. Don’t miss this Alexandra Zavis story in the LAT about how art and artists are fleeing Iraq.