Tyler Green Modern Art Notes
Archive for January, 2009
LACMA apparently still owns a Cranach. UPDATE: A LACMA spokesperson says that the painting will not be going back on view.
Expect more later today: AAMD’s winter meeting is over and I hear that the Denver Art Museum single-donor-benefitting deaccessioning has been resolved. Expect MOCA to make and possibly announce job cuts and trustee changes as soon as today. And who knows what Brandeis’ Jehuda Reinharz will come up with today — he’s been on a one-bizarro-a-day rate all week, so… In the meantime:
- How Brandeis’ attempt to close the Rose Art Museum is affecting artist Josh Azzarella;
- A modest proposal for Reinharz and Brandeis;
- Several Brandeis students have come up with a clever way of putting the Rose’s art ‘in front of’ the Brandeis community;
- The Globe’s Lisa Kocian on the student protest;
- I hope that LACMA’s Art of Two Germanys sparks all kinds of clever-cool-weird blog posts such as this one;
- Hunter Drohojowska-Philp talks with Mark Bradford;
- Ex-MOCA director Jeremy Strick lands in Dallas, at the Nasher;
- Van Dongen curator Anne Grace talks with Leah Sandals about the show, complete with women wrestling and prostitutes; and
- Christopher Knight somehow wrote this two remarkably different reviews in one week: (Underrated) California landscapist William Wendt at the Laguna Art Museum and Art of Two Germanys at LACMA. Writers will understand.
After the jump is an email the office of Brandeis president Jehuda Reinharz is sending to people who have emailed the university in opposition to Reinharz’s misguided, unethical and possibly illegal cash-grab. The email alternates between the insulting and the shocking. In summary: The University offers up the media hates us and isn’t telling the whole story, waaah! and then it apparently thinks people are stupid enough to believe this: “Brandeis is not lessening its commitment to the creative and visual arts.” Seriously.
Is the pressure that comes from widespread condemnation getting to Brandeis president Jehuda Reinharz? Or is he backtracking from his original position of selling the Rose Art Museum’s art collection? Or has he just realized that he’s made a major mistake and that he’s in over his head? [Image: Philip Guston's Heir, from the collection of the Rose Art Museum.]
Since announcing that Brandeis was going to monetize its art museum’s art collection because it wanted to spare itself the burden of raising money, Reinharz has lurched form interview to new position in a manner that mostly recalls a teenager who is in trouble with his parents and who is making up a story on the fly. To recap:
On Monday, via a university statement: “Today’s decision will set in motion a long-term plan to sell the art collection and convert the professional art facility to a teaching, studio, and gallery space for undergraduate and graduate students and faculty.”
On Wednesday, via Boston NPR affiliate WBUR: “Reinharz says Brandeis does not intend to sell the entire art collection, just some of the works.”
On Wednesday, to the Boston Globe:
“We have no particular mandate from the board of trustees as to when to
sell, how to sell. If in fact there is a miracle tomorrow morning and
the economy turns around and the stock market is up by 45 percent,
nothing impels me, nothing impels us, to do anything.”
On Wednesday, on NPR’s All Things Considered, Reinharz was asked if he planned to sell the entire collection: “Absolutely not. “The decision of the board of trustees did not mandate… how much to sell, when to sell. If we decide to sell, if the economy god help us changes quickly we will need to sell much less or perhaps none of the art.”
(Of course, Brandeis “needs” to do nothing. If every non-profit institution in America that had suffered a 25 percent drop in its endowment started selling buildings, and who-knows-what-else, the United States would be one big garage sale. There are ways to be fiscally responsible in a time of market-generated pressure. The cowardly, stupid decision to sell a museum’s art collection is not being forced by anything except the idiocy of Brandeis’ leadership.)
So Reinharz is feeling the heat — and, strangely enough, he’s let his board off the hook and has assumed total responsibility for the fate of the Rose Art Museum: Reinharz told the Globe that the decision going forward is his, not the board’s. (Reinharz also told NPR: “That’s the other problem. Many students have parents who lost their jobs or who are unable to pay their tuition.” Great, so Reinharz has shifted the burden of responsibility for the university’s financial situation and its choice to sell its art collection to the newly jobless. That’s somewhere between callous and despicable.) The Massachusetts attorney general and the university’s donors should turn up the heat on Reinharz even more.
UPDATE: Time magazine’s Richard Lacayo is picking up the same vibes.
In a separate story, Rose Art Museum director Michael Rush knows that there will be problems even if the Rose “wins.” The Rose won’t be safe until Reinharz is removed from the scene and until the next leadership of the university repudiates Reinharz’s scheme. After all, if the university can sell off the art museum’s art collection, it can also sell off anything else. Reinharz has put university department, building and monetizable asset in play. (Watch out biology professors. You could be next…)
If you’re looking for MAN’s Brandeis/Rose Art Museum coverage: A Q&A with Rose director Michael Rush, the myth of the must-sell, five Rose-related questions, artist David Maisel on the Rose. I’ll have more on the Rose later today.
Four or five years ago, when seeing Giorgio Morandis in an American museum was rare and a special treat, the Hirshhorn installed all of its Morandis together in one room. There was one painting on each of three walls. The fourth wall was empty. That’s all there was.
It was a special room, a place to spend a few minutes with Morandi, his objects, his remarkable sense of composition, and nothing else. (Or at least it was until the Hirshhorn mucked it up with splashy wall graphics a few months later.) Even the typically loud children of tourists were hushed by the presentation. [This is an Hirshhorn Morandi from 1953.]
Three Morandis is a fair number with which to consider the painter’s acuity at building a painting, to absorb the way he abstracted objects into solids of color and then had the objects, the colors and the space in his paintings play with each other. The best Morandis make my eyes move — involuntarily — around the canvas the same way the best Barnett Newmans do. Morandi and Newman couldn’t be less alike, but I am powerless to tell my eyes where to go when I am in front of their paintings.
So it was a surprise to me that as I walked through the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s recent Morandi retrospective that I found myself paying less attention to Morandi’s assemblages than I did to how he put those assemblages onto canvas. The exhibition was gripping and exciting, but perhaps not quite the thorough blow-out Morandi for which Morandi groupies had hoped. Rarely have Morandi landscapes been on view in the United States, and the 81-14 dominance of still-life paintings over landscapes in the Met show left me hoping for an American ‘Morandi landscapes’ exhibition. (Conversely, it’s quite common to see Morandi landscapes in Italian museums. If there’s a Morandi landscape in an American museum collection, I’ve been unable to find it.)
In short, the revelation about Giorgio Morandi that emerged from the Met show was that Morandi was a strikingly assured, certain, assertive painter. Never again will I think of him as the awkward bachelor who lived with his sisters and who made small paintings. Instead I’ll think of him as an artist ardently committed to not just his subject matter, but details, such as how he made color and how he put color on canvas. [This is a Yale University Art Gallery painting from 1956.]
Steven Shore once said that the lesson he learned from hanging around the Warhol Factory as a teenager was that making art was about making decisions. Morandi was comfortable with making decisions and with the consequences of those decisions. Go back to 1913, when Morandi graduated from college. Cubism dominated progressive European art. In time, Futurism, dada, expressionism, surrealism and abstraction all became fashionable before Morandi died. Nothing in his art indicates he was much tempted by any of them. Rejecting the French-dominated, European avant-garde was Morandi’s first big decision and there is no sign that he ever reconsidered it. (Instead, he leapfrogged backward, to Cezanne.)
In fact, if there is a surprise in the Met’s show, it’s how little Morandi felt
the need to re-examine the decisions he made in the early 1930s before his death
in 1964. Morandi was as certain a decision-maker as picked up a brush
in the 20th-century, and its that confident certainty that helped make him
an artist’s artist. (News-willing) tomorrow I’ll discuss how Morandi’s confidence and sureness manifests in those paintings.
By almost any standard, the Rose Art Museum is a model university art museum. It has a fine collection. It exhibits it regularly and creatively. It provides a place for the vanguard to emerge. Administratively, the museum draws about half of its operating budget from endowment funds — a stunningly high percentage. So when I talked with Michael Rush, the Rose’s director this morning, he was eager to point out that what’s happening at the Rose has nothing to do with the Rose and everything to do with Brandeis. To read more about the history of the Rose, click here. [Image: Marsden Hartley's Musical Theme (Oriental Symphony), 1913, from the collection of the Rose Art Museum, dammit.]
MAN: Are you encouraging your trustees to explore legal options?
Michael Rush: I’m encouraging everybody to take every step they want to take. There are any number of things going on right now. There are Facebook groups, a ‘Save the Rose’ website. And we have several lawyers on the board who are absolutely looking into legal issues.
One thing that is not coming out — clearly — is this: Some of these really well-meaning young alums are doing the Obama routine of having people send small amounts of money. As darling as that is, it’s misguided. The Rose is not in financial trouble. We’re secure. I can’t say that strongly enough. We’re meeting our fundraising goals. We’re doing fine. We have a tight managerial structure. We’re utterly responsible. There’s no trouble for the Rose.
This is all about selling the artwork. If the university gives any indication that they’re selling the Rose to save money, that’s untrue. They’re just selling the artwork. The university doesn’t give us a penny. We are financially autonomous within the university. They don’t pay our salaries or anything, just below-the-line costs like the heat and the lights. That’s not going to change if they get rid of us – they’re going to use the building for something else, and they’ll have those same costs.
So this does not change their equation economically at all. In fact it hurts them: Not only do they not give us any cash, all of our income is ‘taxed’ at 15 percent. We actually pay them. So they’re losing the 15 percent that we raise that they take off the top of our hard-earned money. And believe me, it’s hard-earned.
MAN: Just judging from the outrage I read in Geoff Edgers’ Globe story this morning, you have some absolutely irate board members.
MR: Yes. Lois Foster [who is prominently quoted in the Globe story] has been more involved with [the Rose] than anyone has ever been. She’s been on the board and she has been writing ‘thank-you’ notes in her own hand for 40 years. She’s been the glue of this place. Many of our members are members because of both her and her recently deceased husband. He was president of the university board. If Henry had been there, this would not have happened. [Image: Jasper Johns' Drawer, 1957. Collection of the Rose Art Museum, dammit.]
MAN: Given that she’s a significant donor, is she exploring legal options?
MR: She’s not going there. She’s an 80-year-old woman. She’s coming up to Boston for an operation. She’s not walking very well. She’s clearly expressed her opinion to the president, but she’s not a rabble-rouser that way. But she is angry. Her comments are very unusual. It shows the degree of anger and feelings of betrayal. We all feel so betrayed. Terribly betrayed. I’ve been here three years. Ironically for me, my tenure here has been totally identified with this collection: Bringing it out, raising money for storage, tripling the insurance for it. It’s been all about our collection.
MAN: So there are trustees that are engaged with the attorney general, that are examining their standing to take legal action and so on?
MR: Yes. I haven’t [talked with the attorney general's office]. I was with my board chair [Jonathan Lee] last night and a few other people. He’s going to be talking with the attorney general and the governor too.
MAN: You mentioned earlier in our conversation that the Rose had an endowment that, at its peak was at $20 million and that it’s down about 25 percent because of the recent market drop. The Rose’s donors gave that money to the Rose, not to Brandeis. So if Brandeis closes the Rose, does Brandeis essentially ’steal’ that money?
MR: I don’t know what to say about that. If the Rose is closed, yeah, the university would take it over.
Their due diligence will involve examination of all the endowments and the intentions of the endowment, the ones that are restricted. Many of our endowments are restricted. One is restricted to the director’s salary, that one is from from the Fosters. There’s another that is restricted to the maintenance of the Foster Wing. Our biggest endowments are restricted to acquisitions, that can only be used for the purchase of art.
MAN: Ah, so when you deaccessioned the Hassam a few years back because your collection and mission is modern and contemporary art, you put that money into a restricted endowment?
MAN: It seems to me that one of the ironic absurdities in all of this is that the major collection catalogue that the Rose is about to publish could essentially be turned into a sales prospectus.
MR: That’s another huge story. I heard yesterday that at some other meeting about the future of all things Rose — to which we were not invited — there was support for continuing the publication of the catalogue! [Image: Roy Lichtenstein, Forget It, Forget Me, 1962. Collection of the Rose Art Museum, dammit.]
As for its being a sales prospectus, I hope not. I’m not privy to any discussions in this regard. We’ve just been cut out of all discussions here. When I heard they were having a big pow-wow with university officials and none of us were invited, not staff, not the director, not the board, not even the people we know so well who are our friends… well, I’ll tell you, I know the catalogue intimately. They will have to change several sentences because they’re all geared toward the greatness of the Rose and the histo
of the Rose. The president has a ‘thank-you’ in it and an acknowledgment of how great the Rose was. September is the publication date. It is in production. It’s being edited. It’s being designed and printed.
MAN: You’ve also done a superb job of making the collection accessible, and not just through the catalogue.
MR: Our Johns is going to Philly for their Cezanne show. Our Hartley is opening tonight at the Guggenheim. Another is about to go to the Reina Sofia.
You know, you can talk about our relatively low foot-traffic for a museum. The point of the greatness of this place is not the hundreds of thousands of people who come here in one day. But there are hundreds of thousands of people around the world who see Rose artworks, clearly marked form as being from here, at the Louvre, the Tate, the Art Institute of Chicago, and so on. At any given time, hundreds of thousands of people are seeing work from Brandeis, from the Rose Art Museum.
And this is really important too: We gave the first museum exhibitions to — off the top of my head — Kiki Smith, Louise Nevelson, Dana Schutz, Roxy Paine, Alexis Rockman… the list goes on and on. It’s not about audience. So much great and significant and influential work was performed in front of three people. Merce Cunningham, John Cage, The Wooster Group… people who eventually drew large crowds. That’s never, ever the point. That’s the great freedom of an institution like ours: That never has to be a primary impulse. We never have to say, ‘What’s going to bring them in the door?’
MAN: It seems likely to me that legal machinations will likely extend beyond June. So what happens to all of you then?
MR: Our jobs are guaranteed until June 30. We’re very much on the job market. My staff is the greatest group of people in the world. I can’t communicate how stunning this is to all of us.
Yesterday, while perusing the website of a particularly well-respected newspaper, I saw that it said Brandeis was “forced” to sell its art museum’s art collection because of a financial crisis. (The newspaper quickly came to its senses and changed its reference.)
It reminded me that loose phraseology and blurry explanations of what’s going on at Brandeis are effectively part of the problem. So to be clear: Brandeis is not forced to do anything. So far as we know, the university is not on the cusp of failure, insolvency or closing. It is not in danger of lacking the resources to care for the art in the Rose Art Museum. (As, say, Fisk University plainly was.)
Part of the problem with the word and the conceit behind it is that it accepts this as natural and sensible: If the university is facing a declining endowment and a surfeit of donations, well then of course it would close its art museum and sell the art. Hogwash. It is no more logical that a university sell off the art in its art museum than it is logical that a university would sell the trees off this quad, the books out of its library, or the science labs in its engineering buildings.
Next step: The Massachusetts attorney general (617.727.2200) can move to block Brandeis’ rash and possibly illegal action. And she should. [Image: Juan Gris, The Siphon, 1913. Collection of the Rose Art Museum, dammit.]
This morning on MAN: Don’t miss part two of MAN’s Q&A with Detroit Institute of Arts director Graham Beal, artist David Maisel on the Rose.
1.) Why isn’t Brandeis University selling off books out of its library or one of its science buildings? I mean, if the university is looking to liquify assets, selling off university buildings makes just as much sense.
2.) Will donors of art (or their heirs) sue the university?
3.) Will Rose director Michael Rush’s peers speak out, loudly and publicly, or will the code-of-silence prevail? (I’m looking at you, Harvard’s Tom Lentz and MFA Boston’s Malcolm Rogers.) I hope museum directors remember that this isn’t meddling in another museum’s/director’s business, this is about reminding a university what the role of the humanities should be at an institution of higher learning. They should also remind the university that art is more than a monetize-able asset.
4.) According to the Boston Globe, the Massachusetts attorney general is on board with the Brandeis ‘plan.’ Uh, why? Can pressure be put on the AG to re-evaluate the case? I mean, this is precisely the sort of thing that office is suppose to prevent. If the AG won’t sue, who else might have standing? UPDATE, 130pm EST: Greg Cook reports that the AG’s office is saying that it has not signed off on the proposed sale. UPDATE, 10:15pm EST: The Globe corrects the item as well.
5.) By my reading of what Brandeis officials are saying, the cost of operating the Rose wasn’t too much for the university… they just want to ‘raise’ money without having to do any work. That’s completely pathetic. (Again: This rationale is the sort of rationale that the AG should be fighting, not endorsing.)