There have been a lot of museum headlines in the news over the past month. Here’s a sampling.
Censorship at the Smithsonian
Between a Cross and a Hard Place, by Robin Cembalest, ARTNews
Critic’s Notebook: Smithsonian chief digging a deeper hole , Christopher Knight, LA Times
In the former, Cembalest puts the current controversy into historical context:
“Clough’s move has been widely compared to the Corcoran Gallery’s cancellation, in 1989, of a traveling Robert Mapplethorpe show, in order to sidestep a debate over federal funding. In that case, the attempt to avoid controversy only generated more; the then director, Christina Orr-Cahall, later apologized, and the institution’s reputation, as many point out, continues to suffer.”
Change in the face of decline
Coincidentally the Washington Post reported on how the Corcoran, “beset by years of financial troubles” and a decline in visitors, has turned “to a team of consultants in attempt to chart its destiny”:
Long-term karmic implications of censorship notwithstanding, props to the Corcoran for opening itself up for constructive transformation and revitalization. Perhaps the Corcoran can be a role model for others to proactively re-envision what a museum can be, in the face of adversity.
Censorship or incompetence?
In case you missed the brouhaha in December at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the original story is here:
In a nutshell, the MOCA Geffen commissioned Italian artist Blu to paint a mural the full width of one side of the museum, and the recently-hired MOCA director and former NY mega-art dealer Jeffrey Deitch was too busy at Art Basel in Miami to pre-approve or keep tabs on it, so the mural was nearly completed before Deitch returned and promptly ordered it destroyed.
In MOCA’s mural mess, LA Times critic Christopher Knight contrasts the present fiasco with a much more successful process that resulted in a mural by Barbara Kruger that stayed up for two years on the other side of the same museum, one that Knight describes as “among the finest commissions the museum has undertaken.”
Leave it to artists to hearten us with creative response:
Meanwhile at the Asian Art Museum
You may have read in the SF Chronicle that the city bailed out the museum, now taking on liability for the nearly $100 million debt. Sadly, the article is all about money.
For a more in depth look, putting the crisis in much needed context, we recommend this:
Asian Art Museum of San Francisco: Risks Work for Artists, But Not for Galleries, by Judith H. Dobrzynski, Wall Street Journal, January 20, 2011.
Courting visitors takes imagination and money, to be sure, and even if those visitors pay the surcharge for special exhibitions that AAM recently added, their total contributions will cover only a small share of the museum’s budget. But crowds also tend to draw donors, who want to be part of the excitement. If museums do that part of their job well, they shouldn’t have to gamble on high finance.