Christopher Knight updates us on the MOCA board situation via the LAT’s Culture Monster blog. As I wrote (again) on Thursday, it’s time for the trustees who don’t want to save MOCA to get out of the way (read: resign) so that those who value MOCA can try to save it. And those trustees who want to save the place ought be more public in their support. The current stasis is doing no good.
Tyler Green Modern Art Notes
Archive for November, 2008
Nearly a week ago, Eli Broad dropped a $30 million bombshell on MOCA. So far, MOCA has not publicly responded, no trustee has made a public pledge of dollars, and, remarkably, MOCA’s director failed to show up for what was effectively a ’save MOCA’ (and his own job) rally at his own museum.
(Heck, MAN’s DonorsChoose.org arts education-in-public-schools challenge has raised more money from more donors this week than MOCA’s board has… And you can help show ‘em up by clicking on that link and supporting America’s arts educators!)
Instead it has been a week of fundraising stasis. In a situation such as this stasis leads to terminus. It’s time for some game-changers. Here are two suggestions.
First, MOCA director Jeremy Strick (above) should announce to his board that he has decided to pursue the vacant Hirshhorn directorship. The MOCA angle: It is unlikely that if MOCA survives, that Strick will survive as its director. Nearly every involved figure with whom I’ve spoken in the last two weeks speaks of MOCA’s eventual “new leadership.” (Obviously: The museum’s fundraising has been non-existent, it has spent far beyond its means, strategic planning has been nil, the museum’s permanent collection is not on permanent display, and, well, look at the mess they’re in.) If MOCA survives — and that’s still very much up in the air — I can’t imagine a scenario under which Strick sees the end of his contract. If Strick makes it clear to his board that saving MOCA is different than saving Strick (or that Strick has a landing spot), then I think the ’save MOCA’ cause is furthered. His potential departure removes an obstacle to giving. (Also true: It’s not as if MOCA’s trustees or large Los Angeles institutions are rallying around Strick’s leadership.)
From the DC side of the equation: Would Strick make sense for the Hirshhorn? Yes. The Hirshhorn has been effectively without a director for 442 days. (And how’s that search coming? As recently as last week staff was still being asked for candidate recommendations.) The Hirshhorn search has turned into a very public institutional embarrassment. [Photo]
Strick would be a strong candidate. Over the last year or so, numerous Hirsh donors and potential Hirsh donors have told me that they’re disappointed with the condition of the institution: It isn’t scholarly enough. The museum’s public programs have oft been uninteresting and even inappropriate. The Hirshhorn needs professional upgrades in almost every department. Meanwhile, at MOCA, Strick ran the most important, impressive, scholarly contemporary art museum in America. He’d be the right guy to upgrade the Hirshhorn’s programming. He has a long-standing relationship with ex-MOCA curator and current Hirshhorn chief curator (and acting director) Kerry Brougher. The transition to new leadership would likely be smooth.
But what about Strick’s apparent ineffectiveness as a fundraiser? Wouldn’t they be a problem for the Hirsh? Well, yes and no. The Hirsh’s federal appropriation covers most museum costs. With the Smithsonian Institution in the quiet phase of a ~$1 billion fundraising campaign, it’s not clear that individual Smithsonian museum directors are going to be able to raise much money in the next few years anyway. The Hirshhorn is also in a chicken-and-the-egg situation: It won’t be able to successfully raise money until it upgrades its programming. I say start with the programming.
Finally, why would the Hirshhorn trustees hire a candidate whose current museum is approaching failure? A key endorsement would help. Eli Broad is a Smithsonian regent. Broad could quietly vouch for Strick to the Hirshhorn trustees, perhaps even with some cash attached. (The Hirshhorn director’s salary and related package has not been competitive with other ‘top’ jobs. Broad could help with that, and by so doing express confidence in Strick.)
Second, it’s time for the MOCA trustees who want to save the institution to stop being so deferential to the trustees who want to kill it. MOCA trustees who are willing to put money on the table should make their pledges public. They should do it in a way that excites the institution’s supporters in a way that could translate enthusiasm into an increase in memberships. (And in a way that might put peer pressure on the lagging trustees…) So instead of leaking word of, say, $1 million or $2 million pledges to the usual place, the LA Times, a few trustees should jointly ‘announce’ their pledges on the 2,200-strong ’save MOCA’ Facebook group. (At least one trustee is a member of the group: Beth Swofford.) What could be more ‘contemporary?’ And of course the LAT (and MAN) will pick up the story anyway. Here’s the link, trustees…
DonorsChoose.org update: MAN readers fulfilled Project No. 1 in mere hours! Projects 2-5 are here, more later.
One of the joys of visiting the Getty is finding what software publishers call ‘easter eggs’ throughout the permanent collection galleries. At the Getty ‘easter eggs’ take the form of non-Getty paintings that happen to pop up in the galleries because of a one-off loan agreement. Who knows why they’re there — a conservation arrangement, perhaps or hands-across-the-sea — but the surprises are always fun to find.
For example, this is Goya’s Suerte de varas (1824), one of the last paintings he made on canvas. In 1792-93 Goya suffered a serious, unknown illness that seems to have left him deaf. In the wake of that illness he made several dramatic, gory bullfight pictures, and returned to the subject time and time again over the next three deacdes. Goya painted this one four years before he died. Click here to see a larger version, to see how truly gored and bleeding that white horse is.
To the left of the Goya the Getty has installed Delacroix’s Evening After a Battle, on loan from the Museum Mendag in The Hague. The Delacroix is also a painting about violence and the bloody remnants there of. It’s, er, fun to compare Goya’s handling of the end to Delacroix’s portrayal of the same.
This is all a long way of saying that in a time of reduced museum budgets that ‘trading’ single paintings is a good way to provide accents to a museum’s collection. I wish more museums would consider it. The National Gallery of Art, which recently enacted a staff travel
ban (a minor cost-cutting move that screams Congressional appropriations-season symbolism more than it says substance), would be a great place to start. (The NGA already sends effectively a picture a year back and forth with the Norton Simon.) [Update: I should have been more careful in my wording: An NGA spokesperson says there's no "ban," but did not further clarify. The item comes from multiple NGA staff who have told MAN there's a freeze, etc.]
In the spirit of helpfulness, I’ll propose the first exchange: The NGA owns this fantastic 1783 Goya portrait of Maria Teresa de Borbon y Vallabriga as a child. About 20 years later Goya painted Maria Teresa again, when she was the Condesa de Chinchon. (He painted her four times in all.) The Prado owns that one. Visitors would have the opportunity to compare Goya’s changing style, his treatment of his sitter, and so on. And it would be relatively cheap.
Related: Bloggers are invited to come up with similar ‘trades’ for their local museums over the long weekend. If there are enough, I’ll do a roundup post early next week. Email ‘em to me at LinksforMAN-blog (at) yahoo (d o t) com.
This can’t be real: Ed Winkleman says that Linda Yablonsky has penned an Artinfo essay about cults of personality. Well, I guess Yablonsky, who wrote one infamous GawkerForum article that was so leaden with bold-type references that one out of seven words was someone’s name, should know. And know. And know. And know. (I could keep going. I won’t.)
(At the risk of sounding like an old fogey: I think art writing ought to be about art instead of being typewritten voyeurism awestruck at the intersection of charisma, ego and self-inclusion.)
Oodles of research reveals just how important arts education is when it comes to developing young minds. According to Americans for the Arts, young people who participate in the arts are many times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, to be elected to class office within their schools, and are more likely to participate in a math and science fair. My mother was an art educator, so I’m particularly disappointed in how a lack of prioritization, the so-called No Child Left Behind law and other factors have driven the arts out of public schools.
Last December I spotlighted seven school arts projects here on MAN, and MAN readers donated over $1,500 via DonorsChoose.org to help over 1,000 students have art-related instruction as part of their education. The DonorsChoose.org concept is simple: When school teachers have programs they want to implement that go beyond what their (typically disadvantaged) schools will support, they post ‘proposals’ to the DonorsChoose.org website and ask microphilanthropists for a few hundred dollars in direct project support.
Between now and the end of the year I’ll be posting on arts-related projects from DonorsChoose. Most of them will require less than $500 to fully fund. DonorsChoose accepts microphilanthropic gifts of $10 and up. I urge MAN readers support worthy projects either as individuals or as a group. I’ll list donors early in January. If you put a little at-your-office group together — say the ‘Springfield Art Museum curatorial department’ — email me so that I know to list you as such. I’ve started a web page where you can see a list of proposals, where you can donate and where you can track our progress. This year’s first project (and first picture, above) comes from southern California:
I am the team leader for 3 classes of second graders at a Title 1 school where over 50% of the students receive free or reduced lunch. We are a small school that has students from multiple low socio-economic groups…
Our supply budget was significantly reduced this year. Our Parent/Teacher organization proposed these art projects to supplement our curriculum. It will provide a more well rounded education for our students. The art projects will expose them to a creative side of people that includes; art history, shape, design, form, linear proportions, colors, and more.
These art supplies: paper, glue, paint will enable 60 second graders to complete a series of art projects based on the work of famous artists. This project will enable students to work on some of the state standards in Visual Arts.
These art projects will provide our students with hands-on experience and knowledge that they would not have without this support.
My students need 14 art supplies such as construction paper, tissue paper, glue, and watercolor paints (for all 60 second graders) to complete art projects based on famous artists’ works throughout the school year.
In the wake of the $30 million Eli Broad bombshell, what next in the MOCA saga?
Waiting and seeing. The future of the institution is in the hands of its trustees, which given their performance in recent years is not entirely encouraging. Little has changed since Friday night: They each need to decide who is in and who’s out, who is for saving the institution for which they’ve taken responsibility and who doesn’t care, who is going to fulfill the obligation of trusteeship and support their institution, their collection and their staff, and who won’t.
Leaks from key players (at least to me) have slowed dramatically in the last couple days. Maybe that’s a sign that the board is sorting itself out.
Meanwhile, the ’save MOCA’ Facebook group is approaching 2,000 members.
Has any artist had a better year than Robert Irwin? Late in 2007 the MCASD launched a thrilling collection-driven Irwin survey, an exhibition that moved from Irwin’s David Park-meets-abex paintings to his latest incarnation as a post-Flavin light sculptor. The Chinati Foundation, the West Texas museum where minimalism has found its utopia, announced plans for a permanent Irwin installation. Most recently, the Indianapolis Museum of Art became the first American museum to install a permanent indoor Irwin.
Irwin’s success here is all the more striking because the IMA gave Irwin a space reminiscent of a food court. The IMA has doubled down on museo-architectural orthodoxy by installing two atriums: First visitors encounter a soaring glass entrance hall that welcomes them in from the museum’s parking lot. (The space can double as a contemporary sculpture hall; right now it holds an Orly Genger installation.) After passing through Atrium I, visitors glide up an escalator, walk past an information desk, wait for automatic glass doors to open, only to enter the mere outer-chamber to Atrium II, home to a pleasant Sol LeWitt wall-drawing that seems to promise that this trek will end at art.
But first, after passing the LeWitt, a visitor has six (!) choices: To enter the IMA’s superb Pont-Aven and neo-impressionist collection, to enter the museum’s less superb modern art collection, to enter a temporary exhibition, to enter the museum’s American art collection, to ascend a bank of escalators leading to the museum’s Asian, African, European and contemporary collections, or to walk into Atrium II, where the visitor might simply catch her breath and damn I.M. Pei for making all these silly atria fashionable.
The IMA Irwin is in Atrium II. After the trek I found myself too busy processing my options to consider it: I turned heel and walked to Pont-Aven. (I noticed that most other visitors did about the same thing — having finally arrived somewhere, they wanted to be in galleries, not in yet another big open space.)
Over the next four hours, I slipped from the Brittany coast to Victor Higgins’ Taos to Bosch’s nightmares. I shared a 400-year-old Cupid joke with Caravaggio and discovered that at 20 Titian couldn’t paint hair or a beard without making his subject look like he was in the Venetian Witness Protection Program. I felt Fred Sandback in a spare gallery, and the installation left a ball of yarn in my gut. In between floors and collections I stole glances at the Irwin, and it grew on me.
Light and Space III shares one of the atrium’s four sides with a bank of escalators and five-story-tall white scrims. The Irwin doesn’t front the escalators — that is, it doesn’t act as a barrier between the escalators and the atrium. Instead it both fronts and backs them. As museum visitors go up and down between floors, they move through the piece. Think of it as relational aesthetics without Rirkrit’s lousy cooking.
The relationship between IMA’s Light and Space III and MCASD’s Light and Space is plain: While in residence at MCASD last year, Irwin developed a new way of marrying light, space and sculpture: short, perpendicularly-opposed white fluorescent tubes installed in a kind of grid. (Irwin also created a second new piece for MCASD, Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue.) The juxtaposition of those two pieces in MCASD’s new Jacobs Building, emphasized that Irwin was still happily engaged in two of modernism’s principle arenas: the deconstruction of color into the primaries and the elimination of perspectival depth in the pursuit of flatness.
Light and Space III is all-white, but it shows that Irwin is using his perpendicular fluorescents — his T-lights — to explore the push-me-pull-you of depth vs. spatial recession. While Irwin’s lights are installed on both the wall behind the escalators and on the drywall in front of them, from across the atrium the affect of the cold fluorescent lights is to flatten the work, to make it appear as if all of Irwin’s lights are on the same vertical plane. (This flattening effect is magnified by Irwin’s use of scrims on the two sides of the installation.) Only when a museum visitor traverses the escalator is it obvious that Light and Space III is ten or so feet deep. Irwin has found a way to have spatial depth and flatness too, all in one work of art.
Related: Rikrit Tiravanija joke conceputally borrowed from Peter Schjeldahl.
- That’s an actual ad, recently spotted on LAT.com.
- Paul Schmelzer and artist Paul Shambroom discuss photographing government proceedings… such as the Minnesota Senate recount.
- Regina Hackett on the vulgarity of Grant Barnhart’s football paintings.
- LATer Diane Haithman reports that 450 people turned out yesterday in support of MOCA after an artist-led, Facebook-based group put together a last-minute rally at the Geffen Contemporary.
- The Baltimore Sun’s Tim Smith takes an admirably sane look at how the financial crisis is impacting Baltimore arts groups, including the Baltimore Museum of Art. Good graphs, smart quotes, no panic.
- I ran a Saturday post explaining what the Broad offer means.
- Speaking of arts coverage, you won’t believe the “arts” story the Washington Post ran over the weekend. It’s in the jump.
- I enjoyed Christopher Knight’s Morandi review, but I did not take out an LAT ad about it.