Tyler Green
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Tyler Green Modern Art Notes

Only on MAN: AAMD selects new president

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MAN has learned that the Association of Art Museum Directors has selected a new president in advance of its next meeting, which will take place June 7-8 in Indianapolis.

AAMD’s next president will be Kaywin Feldman, the director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. She will succeed Clark Art Institute director Michael Conforti. Feldman has been the MIA’s director since Jan. 1, 2008. Previously she was director of the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and the now-defunct Fresno (Calif.) Metropolitan Museum of Art, History & Science. [UPDATE: AAMD notes that Feldman has been “nominated” with formal election to come in Indianapolis.]

Feldman takes over AAMD’s presidency at a time when the association has been notable mostly for its failure to address embarrassing and improper practices in the field. So-called ‘fluff shows,’ in which art museums use tax-exempt resources to promote private individuals and their art collections instead of promoting curatorial and scholarly expertise and independence, have proliferated in recent years — at both major museums such as the National Gallery of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and at large local museums, such as New York’s New Museum for Contemporary Art. In a January open letter, Conforti emphatically defended AAMD’s failure to act on the issue.

The ‘fluffing’ practice has become so pronounced that the New York Times devoted a front-page story to the problem last winter. Fluffing-related embarrassments to the field expanded recently at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. where the Corcoran recently agreed to provide a fluff show to Don and Mera Rubell just before selling a a significant Washington property to a group that includes the Rubells.

In recent years AAMD has too-often failed to act as museum directors have made mincemeat of its own guidelines. For example, last year the organization accepted the Denver Art Museum’s 2008 ‘partial deaccessioning’ of a painting to a donor, a donor whose company has a for-profit exhibition opening at the museum this summer. The shrug at Denver came even as AAMD claimed its stance against improper deaccessioning was strong.

In the last two years AAMD has failed to address the impropriety of its members handing over ‘primary mission spaces’ — the galleries that are at the heart of museums’ missions — to commercial entities for products such as AEG’s ‘King Tut’ shows. AAMD also failed to act as the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego violated AAMD guidelines by becoming effectively the third museum to rent art to a Las Vegas casino. (The Phillips Collection and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts preceded MCASD.)

Among AAMD’s recent successes is the establishment of the AAMD Object Registry, a tool intended to provide information on new acquisitions of archaeological material and works of ancient art and on the resolution of claims for Nazi-era cultural objects. The association also took a strong stance against a proposed tax on museum admissions in Pennsylvania.

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  1. david mahaffey says:

    thanks for the reporting, Tyler. the more the light shines on the inside stuff, the better it is as far as i am concerned…. thanks again — i appreciate it. david

  2. MuseumNerd says:

    That link worked. Thanks. It’s interesting that the article wasn’t really about Feldman. I’m curious if there are actions she’s to suggest she’ll take a new tack? Also, what power can AAMD wield when a museum steps outside of its guidelines? Strongly worded letter? Kick the museum’s director out of the club? Seriously, I’m curious. What is the most they’ve done in the past? I’m not aware of any disciplinary action that they’ve taken. I suspect it’s because they play more of an advisory and council role than anything else.

    I notice that in this and previous MAN articles, your interpretation of the AAMD guideline which states “the collections a museum holds in public trust do not represent financial assets that may be converted to cash for operating or capital needs, or pledged as collateral for loans,” is different from the interpretation of others. Loan fees are not perfunctory, but they are commonplace. They are not seen by museums as “rent” money. In my opinion they certainly do not represent a “conversion” of the collections into cash. That would suggest that the works would not come back to the museum. The works have not been converted into anything. They come back to the museum just the same as when they left (or at least no different from if they’d traveled to a museum exhibit).

    That said, I’m not a fan of casinos in Vegas taking care of masterworks, but as far as I can tell, the art is still viewable by the public. It’s not nearly as bad as it could be. I appreciate your ire, but the real problem is that museums are strapped for cash and faced with fewer options than most realize. While I’m sure it is an unsavory choice for a director to make, loaning works with high fees to non-museums may be the best thing for the public in the long run if it keeps the museum staff paid.

  3. Tyler Green - Modern Art Notes says:

    If AAMD is going to have guidelines that mean anything, they must enforce them. If they don’t, they are a faux-association and a mere social club.

    Loans are made to museums and do not involve pay-for-play. MCASD rented art out to a Vegas casino-gallery. If transferring paintings for cash payments is not monetizing a non-profit’s collection, I don’t know what is.

    In the future, please post comments using a real name.

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