I meant to link to this yesterday and fell behind: The NYT’s Randy Kennedy has a nice story on the work painter Ross Bleckner is doing in Africa with the United Nations. Don’t miss it.
Tyler Green Modern Art Notes
Archive for April, 2009
Yesterday I spoke with Hirshhorn senior curator Valerie Fletcher about the museum’s planned deaccessioning of Thomas Eakins’ 1904 portrait of Robert C. Ogden at Christie’s next month. [At left.] Fletcher confirmed that the painting hadn’t been on view since 1977 and said that it looks better via JPEG than it does in person. (The painting was re-lined some years ago, and that old re-lining processes tend to compress the paint surface a bit.) Fletcher also gave me a thorough, instructive explanation of how the museum came to decide that Ogden just wasn’t that good a painting.
“A few years ago we invited a 19thC expert from the Smithsonian American Art Museum and from the National Portrait Gallery to come look and discuss our Eakinses,” Fletcher said. “Without telling them what I thought, they went through painting by painting and their opinions were remarkably consistent, that these works [we're deaccessioning and a few others that came to the museum through two Eakins associates who inherited much of Eakins' wife's estate] were the dregs of Eakins’ studio. It became apparent when we picked the 10 best or the 10 weakest and everybody pretty much agreed on the same things. So what we retained was most of the works, including obviously the best ones but also including some intriguing minor works.
“So yes, I considered the idea of Ogden as being the only full-length seated portrait we have, but as soon as you put it next to the other Eakins portraits we have and the portraits in other collections — particularly at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts — it’s very clear there’s a good reason why the sitter [kept it for only a couple years].”
One other note: Unlike some museums that deaccession from Department X and earmark deaccessioning funds for Department X-era works, the Hirshhorn puts all deaccessioning-related funds into a single kitty, for work from any period. When Joseph Hirshhorn gave his collection to the nation, he explicitly approved this, adding that funds should go to “new art.”
- Putting the Getty’s new $15-per-car charge in context;
- LACMA’s got a new really, really big Matta;
- The future?: SFMOMA uses its blog to allow its curators to share specific information about specific works in its collection with the public;
- The day after MAN’s two-part Q&A with new Hirshhorn director Richard Koshalek, the Washington Post’s Blake Gopnik profiles Koshalek; and
- A Center for Land Use Interpretation-adjacent building is on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s most-endangered list.
Love this: A Chicago alderman is getting creative [via AJ] in trying to do something about the Art Institute of Chicago’s 50 percent admissions increase. The alderman, Ed Burke, has found an 1891 agreement that might require the museum to be free to the public two-and-a-half-days per week. (That would get the AIC almost halfway to keeping up with its peer institutions.) Stay tuned…
Continued from this morning…
MAN: And what are some of the Hirshhorn’s “unique strengths?”
think there’s something important about being located in Washington, DC.
This city has symbolic importance and the Hirshhorn can be a truly
national museum of modern and contemporary art and beyond. We have here
representation from [nearly] every country in the world and we have the
highest representation of ambassadors and cultural attache. It’s a city
of think tanks that are doing research. I think what we’re going to
focus on is big themes and doing the appropriate research. [Image: Gerhard Richter, Sanctuary, 1988.]
of the reasons I took this job is the uniqueness of the location on the
Mall. I think we’re going to get in the business of curating public
space. I’m interested in what happens before people come here — I
think using new media we can do that, and in what happens after they
leave too. I think we also can be involved in curating the public space
that is not only on the main ground plane of this institution, but that
is also the Mall.
I also think you’re going to see us deal
with the city directly, with the city and the public space that
surrounds us. We’ll be international in that we can draw on the
international assets of this city, finding the right balance in all of
We really want to engage the arts in big themes not just
in the galleries, but outside the museum, say in a tent-type structure
on the National Mall. One of these events would be in the fall and one
would be in the spring, in a kind of inflatable building. The structure
would house 500-1000 people and we’d have programming that includes
everyone, from trustees to directors to curators to artists. [Koshalek
showed me drawings of what the tent might look like.] It’s about where
the cultural institution needs to go in the future to be relevant. [Image: Ken Price, Orange, 1961.]
Among major American museums, only a couple — you and the National
Gallery of Art — have failed to engage in an expansion project in the
last 30 years. The Hirshhorn’s collection has outgrown this building…
but the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building next door is empty. Do you want it?
[Grins.] I’m on the committee to decide what happens to the Arts and
Industries Building — and that’s all I should say right now. That’s
all I should say because the committe hasn’t even met yet.
know it’s there. I know what it is. I know its scale. It’s probably
going to have to be at the service of all the Smithsonian Institution
museums, but I would very much like to do something there before
[renovation] work begins. It’d be very similar to what the first show
was at MOCA. We did the building
next to the then-Temporary Contemporary and Maria Nordman did the
installation. We took her on a tour, she liked the building, and she
did a project inside on the main floor. But because of earthquake codes
we couldn’t let anyone in… so you only see her piece from looking in the
main doors. We’re thinking of doing something there, at Arts and
Industries that might be a little like that.
MAN: The other
Hirshhorn space possibility that’s been discussed over the years is
opening up the fourth floor of the Bunshaft building to the public, to
art. There have been structural and cost issues, if I remember
RK: I haven’t been here long enough to know too
much about how possible that is or isn’t. There’s potential for that.
There’s physical expansion and there’s content-based expansion, and we
will examine that in a serious way. [Image: Robert Lazzarini, Payphone, 2002.]
MAN: I don’t know that
I would say that this is a problem, but it’s been an issue over the
years: The Hirshhorn has long had significant trustee representation
from non-Washingtonians, from people who are from other places and who
often have primary loyalties to other museums. Is that a problem? A
challenge? A nothing?
RK: The board will expand. It has been mentioned to me that there
should be stronger representation from Washington, DC, but we haven’t
made any decisions. Those decisions will be made between myself and the
board, but yes, that’s something that the board has had engagement
with. Leadership within institutions is a serious subject of interest
Earlier this month Richard Koshalek assumed the directorship of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. (Background on Koshalek is here.) Yesterday he and I talked about what ‘his’ Hirshhorn will look like. This is the first of two parts. Images are all of works in the Hirshhorn’s collection.
MAN: In the last half-decade or so a lot of modern-and-contemporary art museums have stressed the ‘contemporary’ part and de-stressed the ‘modern’ part. The Hirshhorn has been no exception. How do you want to straddle that divide here, especially considering the strength of the Hirshhorn’s modern collection?
Richard Koshalek: These are all initial thoughts because I’ve only been here several hours. We’ve not had enough time to sit down with our curators and do the kind of in-depth conversations you need with regards to what’s been done here in the past and what’s planned for the future. But it’s my feeling that modern-and-contemporary museums must expand the range of what they do. My view is we have to move beyond modern-contemporary and look at the larger historical context into which modern-contemporary is fixed. For example, an exhibition of an artist of the past who did extraordinary works on paper, like Beuys, for example, and a show that looks at the work of a contemporary artist, and go back to the past where there’s some connection. Then have a scholar of the past look at Beuys and so the general public is then able to make a connection between the works.
Recently I gave a speech at the Royal Society of Arts in London. I spoke on museums in the US and [Tate director] Nic Serota spoke on museums in Europe. I talked about what was lacking in museums of modern and contemporary art is the ability to do appropriate research, ‘deep research’ is the phrase I would use. There has been a constant rush to make the deadlines to open another show, another exhibition and museums are going to have to make a greater commitment to research, to give the curators the ability to do that research. I mean the money to travel, the time it takes to do it, the other resources it takes to do it.
We did this at MOCA and you see it to a large extent in the shows Ann Goldstein did. That started when I was there, a show like ‘A Forest of Signs.’ We gave Ann the time she needed to do the appropriate research, so when it was done there was new knowledge. I think the public now wants an institution that sees the larger context. I think it actually does take what we do seriously and wants more information and more substantial information on the work of artists. [Image: Marsden Hartley, Canuck Yankee Lumberjack at Old Orchard Beach, Maine, 1940-1941. Currently on view in Cezanne and Beyond at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.]
MAN: Does the Hirshhorn have the staff to enable the kind of meaty shows that somewhere like MOCA does?
RK: The other thing about research is that I see us having two curatorial staffs: The people who are here — there are some extraordinary people here, they’re the primary curatorial staff for the institution. The other I think is the curators that exist in the larger world that do extraordinary things, curators who are scaring me because they’re breaking new ground. I have a list of people who are re-thinking the world we live in. We see them as our second curatorial staff. We’re going to use them to bring in more of a comprehensive look at what this institution can be.
MAN: So you anticipate the Hirshhorn having more adjunct relationships?
RK: Exactly. And from different institutions — not just museums of modern and contemporary art, but also from broader, historical institutions. [Image: Wolfgang Laib, Pollen from Hazlenut, 1998-2000.]
MAN: When we think of MOCA we think of a museum that does smart, historical exhibitions. When we think of MCASD we think of a museum that mines its collection effectively. When we think of the Hammer we think of a museum that starts from the present and that works out from there. I’m not sure the Hirshhorn has a clear identity. What do you want it to be?
RK: It’s going to be an uncompromising museum. This is one of the legacies I think, from MOCA. We were truly uncompromising. In a museum situation like MOCA you were always being put in a position of making decisions that could compromise the institution’s integrity, so I think you’re going to see the museum be uncompromising in terms of what it does and it will set a high standard of quality for what it does in exhibitions, collections and education. I think we’re going to look at what the existing and outstanding strengths are of the institution are.
[Koshalek picks up a document and taps it.] The ideas that are here are what I believe in in regard to the Hirshhorn. We’re working on this now and we’ll be working with our board on it. At this stage in the history of our institution, we’re coming up on our 40th anniversary in five years, and then our 50th beyond that. The thing we need to ask is what are its unique strengths and what are the contribution it makes to the public and to the field of art history.
Kees van Dongen’s The Corn Poppy (c. 1919, at right) has both seduced and puzzled me. It hovers between fetching and fauve, between caricature and considered. It’s a ‘pop tune’ painting: That red swath of hat is guaranteed to stick in the back of your head for days.
There isn’t much Kees van Dongen in the U.S., so I’ve long wondered exactly where van Dongen fits in the firmament. This spring the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts put together a van Dongen retrospective, the first North American van Dongen survey since 1971. The show was accompanied by a relentlessly thorough catalogue, as authoritative an English-language tome as the artist is likely to receive. (The catalogue wasn’t distributed in the U.S., but it’s available here through the Montreal MFA.) For the last couple months I’ve been working my way through it, trying to determine whether van Dongen is a significant figure or whether he was a flitty gadabout.
Both stylistically and biographically van Dongen was all over the place. He hung out with Picasso & Co. at the Bateau Lavoir, but painted like Matisse and the fauves. His painterly interest in the female nude rivaled Modigliani’s, only van Dongen’s figures seem more brazen, more sexually confrontational. After sleeping his way through the avant garde, van Dongen followed a Vuillardian path and evolved into a society portraitist. Finally, the work of his last 25 years is so undistinguished that virtually none of it is in the Montreal catalogue — the few examples that are here don’t require much more supporting evidence. Van Dongen’s oeuvre is inconsistent, at least, but when he was good he was memorable.
In a couple of posts later this week I’ll walk through the scholarship-loaded catalogue and I’ll try to see if I can figure out exactly where van Dongen fits…
Last week I posted lists of deaccessionings-at-auction that US art museums are attempting this season (and I blasted museums for their typical lack of transparency). The usually unanswered question that comes after all those sales is: What are art museums doing with the money?
A new web-tool on the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s website shows you what the IMA is buying with funds from deaccessioning. Check out this painting: Charlie Dye’s A Well-Earned Drink. The IMA deaccessioned it last December. At that page you can see that the IMA used the funds to help buy this Horace Pippin. You can even click right from the Dye to the Pippin. See art museums: Transparency isn’t difficult.
- Walker curator Peter Eleey talks with the Strib’s Mary Abbe about his new show ‘The Quick and the Dead.’ (Good thing they chatted: With a goofy title like that, who would have any idea what the show is about?)
The NYT’s best art critic, Roberta Smith,Holland Cotter reviews ‘The Pictures Generation’ at the Met.
- Last Wednesday in the SF Chron, John Cote explained the machinations around the FAMSF and its Oceanic art collection/display/etc.
- Yup, that’s it. All those newspaper/etc. job cuts you’ve read about? You’re seeing the impact…
- Michael Buitron puts Sam Durant’s most recent (political) work in context;
- Hrag Vartanian on images and the Armenian genocide;
- Two awesome works for Earth Day from the Amon Carter collection;
- Earlier this week I posted about Nelson-Atkins curator Keith Davis’ Homer Page show, the catalogue of which is a must-own for photo fans. Earlier this month Davis spoke at the Smithsonian American Art Museum about collecting; and
- Images and our national reckoning with having been ruled by a criminal regime whose highest-ranking figures approved torture: The LAT reports that more prison abuse photos, from both Iraq and Afghanistan, will soon be released.
- It remains troubling that the Corcoran still hasn’t answered these questions. (At least there are no Corcoran objects in the spring auctions.)