From time to time, especially in times of economic uncertainty, the word “merger” gets bandied about as as solution to museum problems. In reality, art museum mergers are rare. I think (though I don’t have statistics on that). And they probably should be rare. But sometimes they make sense, and I was pleased recently to read of a merger that does.
Judith H. Dobrzynski's Real Clear Arts
Last week, I was honored to sit opposite Nobel-prize winner/neuropsychiatrist Eric Kandel at a small dinner. Kandel, seeking to understand how memory works, figured it out by studying its physiological basis in the cells of sea slugs. For that, he won the Nobel in 2000. More recently, he has turned some of his attention to art. In 2012, he published The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present.
In its sixth incarnation, ArtPrize–the open competition in which the public chooses the winners–is trying a new tack. Not only will experts also weigh in separately–as they have in the past–but also their choice will receive a grand award prize of equal size, $200,000, the same as the public. This is good, more about which in a minute.
Of course he wants it to be one: he’s an architect. But the project announced by Jean Nouvel last week, plans for a National Art Museum of China, won’t just be innovative in design; it seems–from the announcement and resulting press coverage–that the Chinese, with Nouvel’s help, will be out to establish new practices in museums, or at least to confirm what other museums have been trying, as standards.
As the city of Detroit goes through U.S. Bankruptcy Court seeking approval of its exit strategy — which includes the “grand bargain” that will save the Detroit Institute of Arts from having sell any works of art — some creditors have been obstructing the way. One, so far, bond insurer Syncora, has cut a deal with the city, agreeing to the plan in exchange for a $50 million payoff (to be raised in a bond issue), plus leases on the tunnel linking Detroit and Windsor, Canada, and a parking garage. Another billion-dollar creditor, insurer FGIC, is still holding out — it remains to be seen if this too can be settled with a side deal or if FGIC will press ahead — and how far.
Back in late June, the Museum of Modern Art bought a quarter-page ad on page 2 of the Weekend section of The New York Times; it ran the full length of the left edge. It caught my eye because it announced that timed tickets were on sale as of that day for Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs, which opens on Oct. 12.
It’s very trendy these days to insist that museums should be visitor-centered, not art-centered. Most recently, I was called on the carpet yet again for suggesting that art comes first, but not just that; in fact, someone I do not know accused me a restarting the culture wars when I wrote here about the Portland Art Museum’s Parklandia. The blog post was called “The Value of Museum Selfies.”
Do people learn more at art museums when chronology governs a display or when a thematic narrative rules? It’s a perennial question, and traditionally many museums with extensive collections answer it with the former because, with a broad, deep array of art in a particular category, they can. Less well-endowed collections have often gone the thematic route simply because they can’t do a civilization or a period justice with their skimpy (or gap-filled) holdings.
Saturday is the day. That’s when the art world, which has been wondering what Don Bacigalupi, president of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and assistant curator Chad Alligood have been seeing for the better part of 2013 and much of 2014 on their search for underappreciated artists, will find out. That’s when the museum unveils State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now – their selections. It is definitely an unconventional ride through art in America.
Hrag Vartanian, whom you may know as the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic, had a very interesting opinion piece published on Al Jazeera America the other day. The headline was Break up the major museums to save them, with a deck saying “August institutions should build more outposts rather than cloister themselves in big cities.”