Yays and Grrs: Museum News, Briefly

via the NYT

Yay! The Met is having a great year–  awesome Alexander McQueen Exhibition, successful launch of their new website and now the grand re-opening of their Islamic Art wing. Watch a 3-minute movie about it.
Read the NYT review!

Rather than presenting Islamic art as the product of a religiously driven monoculture encompassing centuries and continents, the Met is now — far more realistically — approaching it as a varied, changing, largely secular phenomenon, regionally rooted but absorptively cosmopolitan, affected by the intricacies and confusions of history, including the history that the art itself helped to create.

Grr. The Brooklyn Museum is following the MoMA/Met precedent and raising its suggested donation price from $10 to $12. At least admission is only suggested. But still. NYT quotes Arnold L. Lehman, the Brooklyn Museum’s director, as saying “We wanted to do this as modestly and cautiously as we could.” Read more here.

Yay!Carsten Höller: Experience” opened this week at the New Museum. A SLIDE!!! A GIANT POOL!! Read the NYT review here.

Grr. Gothamist reports that the City’s Health Department has forbidden visitors to “Carsten Höller: Experience” from getting naked and swimming in the pool as intended. AND they’re now saying that the slide doesn’t meet safety requirements. Grownups suck.

But Yay! for the Health Department is doing it’s job.


Bevy of 9/11-related Exhibitions

View from Exchange Place, New Jersey. Photo by Camilo Jose Vergara via MCNY

The search for meaning and explanation of traumatic events is a uniquely human endeavor amply illustrated in the host of cultural and artistic exhibitions that have appeared as the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks draws nearer. If you are in the New York area and looking for a place to mourn and remember, consider visiting:

— “Where Does the Dust Itself Collect,” an installation by Chinese artist Xu Bing of a 25- by 20-foot field of dust across the gallery floor punctuated by the outline of a Chan Buddhist poem. It’s part of Insite Art + Commemoration presented by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s and Museum of Chinese in America. Sept. 8-Oct. 9 at the Spinning Wheel Building in Chelsea.

— “Remembering 9/11,” an exhibition of several hundred images taken by professional and amateur photographers in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. It also includes letters written to police officers and firefighters, objects that were placed at makeshift shrines around the city and drawings of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. Sept. 8-April 1 at the New-York Historical Society.

— “The 9/11 Peace Story Quilt.” A work designed by artist Faith Ringgold and created by New York City students based on a book of their writings and drawings. Metropolitan Museum of Art through Jan. 22, 2012.

— “Ten Years Later: Ground Zero Remembered.” The focal point of this exhibition is the 1997 “Tuskegee Airmen Series” by Michael Richards, who died in the attacks while working in his studio at the World Trade Center. Also featured is Christoph Draeger’s photographic jigsaw puzzle “WTC, September 17 (2003)” and two 2002 comment books filled with text and images by museum visitors. The Brooklyn Museum, Sept. 7-Oct. 30.

— “September 11,” featuring 70 works by 41 artists from the past 50 years that evoke images of 9/11. Artists include Diane Arbus, Alex Katz, John Chamberlain, Christo, Yoko Ono and George Segal. MoMA PS1, Long Island City, Queens, Sept. 11-Jan. 9, 2012.

— “Embodied Light: 9/11 in 2011.” Artist Tobi Kahn transforms a gallery into a meditative room with sculptural shrines, memorial lights and a 3D installation signifying an aerial view of Lower Manhattan. It also features “220 blocks,” representing the 220 floors of the twin towers with drawings and inscriptions by notable New Yorkers. The Ernest Rubenstein Gallery at Education Alliance, Lower East Side, Sept. 9-Nov. 23.

— “Remembering 9/11,” a five-part exhibition of photography and video that explores how people responded to the tragedy. It includes a major digital installation by artist Frances Torres titled “Memory Remains: 9/11 Artifacts at Hangar 17.” International Center of Photography, Sept. 9-Jan. 8, 2012.

— “The Twin Towers and the City,” a four-decades-long study of the World Trade Center by MacArthur award-winning photographer Camilo Jose Vergara. The pictures, shot from vantage points throughout the city and New Jersey, underscore how ubiquitous the towers were in the landscape of city life and beyond. The Museum of the City of New York, Sept. 3-Dec. 4.

—”Witness to Tragedy and Recovery,” a photo and multimedia presentation of the trade center attacks and recovery by more than 30 visual journalists, many members of the National Press Photographers Association and the New York Press Photographers Association. Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts, Pace University, downtown Manhattan, Sept. 8-24.

Folk Art Museum to Fold?

Even after selling its beautiful Williams-Tsien building to MoMA for $31.2 million, the American Folk Art Museum is still in financial peril. Trustees are considering whether the organization can reasonably pay its staff and cover the cost of housing, conserving, and insuring one of the world’s finest collections of American Folk Art. According to the NYT, one option is to give the collection over the The Smithsonian and Brooklyn Museum, an act that would require approval of the State attorney General and Board of Education. AFAM representatives have been in communications with The Smithsonian for several months.

From the NYT:

The folk art museum’s situation is a stark warning of what can happen when a museum overreaches in constructing a new home. Founded in 1961, the museum survived some early near-death experiences. When it decided to build a permanent home, it engaged high-profile architects and borrowed the $32 million by issuing bonds through New York City’s Trust for Cultural Resources, a public benefit corporation that helps major cultural institutions borrow money for capital projects.

Some critics have attributed the museum’s troubles to its architecture, saying that it was unwelcoming and did not display the art and artifacts attractively. To be sure, the museum never drew the crowds it had projected in estimates made during the planning process, or received enough contributions to support its interest payments. It was the first institution that borrowed through the trust to default on its debt.

Seriously. It wasn’t the architecture. It was the cost.

Addendum: ARTINFO just published a piece on this very issue! Check out Can the Folk Art Museum Be Saved? A Look at Three Endgame Scenarios.

Museum in the Wilderness Part 2

Eugene Wemlinger. Brooklyn Museum, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, ca. 1903-1910. Brooklyn Museum:Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection, 1996.164.10-32.

I was stunned to see this picture of the Brooklyn Museum before there was an Eastern parkway. I used to live in this neighborhood and enjoyed walking through the busy streets and up Washington Avenue until the Museum appeared– like walking into clearing in the forest only to find a bear!

My brain barely computes the vast expanse of ground + Brooklyn Museum in the above photograph. Thanks Brooklyn Museum Blog! You’re the best.

Initial Wing of the Museum and nearby farmland, 1898

See the first installment of Museums in the Wilderness.

The Writing on the Wall: Brooklyn Museum Graffiti Art Kerfuffle

Barry McGee, Houston Street and Bowery, 2010 (Farzad Owrang/MoCA)

In April, the metaphorical museum boat was rocked by the opening of “Art in the Streets,” the first major historical survey of graffiti and street art, at the L.A. Museum of Contemporary Art. Then an oft-cited editorial in the Daily News questioned the appropriateness of glorifying vandalism. And last week, The Brooklyn Museum, which was slated to display the exhibition in March 2012, jumped ship.

Citing economic troubles, Brooklyn Museum director Arnold Lehman said in a statement, “This is an exhibition about which we were tremendously enthusiastic. It is with regret, therefore, that the cancellation became necessary due to the current financial climate.” Blah blah blah.

Nobody’s buying the “financial climate” excuse anymore. The public is tired of hearing about it. And that explanation certainly isn’t as interesting as the cultural censorship angle. Graffiti art, with its socioeconomic associations and transgressive edge, has become the Cinderella of the cultural media and they have swarmed in defense of this art world underdog.

What!? says the cultural correspondent upon hearing Lehman’s announcement. The Big Bad Cultural Temple is trying to keep the good people of this country from experiencing an under-appreciated populist art form!? Warm up the presses!

Here’s just a sampling of how journalists have couched the story as one of elitism–

Kathy Grayson with the Daily News:

How could anyone be upset by an exhibition so life-affirming? Some people can’t get past the fact that many of the artists in the show started making art that was sprayed on other people’s walls.
But imagine graffiti’s beginnings. This movement was about empowering people who had no voice and no visibility to take back public spaces. Imagine being on a subway platform as a festooned carnival of a painted train came charging into the station. Imagine, instead of posters advertising romantic comedies, Haring’s lyrical drawings. Graffiti was born in New York; this exhibition could help paint this exhilarating chapter in the city’s history.

Colleen Stufflebeem with death + taxes:

Graffiti, the good and the bad, ornaments a city’s visage. The process of creating street art is still an underground operation, and while some cities like LA have tapped into its unique beauty and have brought it above ground, other places like Brooklyn would prefer to keep it where it already is.

Kudos to Andrew M. Goldstein for working in the financial considerations in a piece for ARTINFO:

It’s possible — even probable — that prospective donors were turned off by the inflammatory nature of the show, which has led to extensive criticism of Deitch and MOCA after early missteps (starting with the fateful whitewashing of Blu’s antiwar mural) and a media field day over the hypocrisy of embracing street art inside the museum while helping police eradicate it in the surrounding neighborhood. But considering how much the museum has benefited from staging provocative shows in the past — think “@Murakami” in 2008 (which also came from MOCA) — one would imagine that the museum’s supporters fervently would want the show, despite the demagogic indignation of the Daily News and people like city councilmember Peter Vallone over street art’s illegality. This makes the situation doubly sad.

But Walter Robinson at Artnet disagrees:

…the show was killed not by budget worries but by the goon squad. Thuggish city council member Peter Vallone all but threatened to pull the Brooklyn Museum’s $9 million city appropriation if it went ahead with the show, and the dim-witted Daily News was beating the drum of populist resentment against the art before it even came to town.

Was the show’s cancellation financial or political? We may never know. Probably a little bit of both. But one thing is certain, all of this controversy is really good for “Art in the Streets.” I would be surprised if it doesn’t make its way to New York one way or another.

Happy Birthday, Brooklyn Museum building!

It was on this day in 1897 that the Brooklyn Museum‘s Beaux Arts building opened on Eastern Parkway.

From the Brooklyn Eagle:

In 1891, the city of Brooklyn made plans to build a large museum near Prospect Park that would house nearly all departments of the newly incorporated Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences. The architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White was victorious in a competition held to design a master plan, and the West Wing of the Museum was opened in 1897. A year later Brooklyn was incorporated into New York City, and the independent spirit that fueled the mammoth project was diminished. The central portion of the facade was added in 1905, and in 1907 the East Wing and the Grand Staircase were completed. The original building campaign would come to a halt in 1927 with only one-fourth of McKim, Mead & White’s original conception realized.

In 2004, the museum unveiled a new, modern, glass entryway and public plaza which has proven a popular public space.

Back in my Brooklyn days, I lived within walking distance of the museum and oft admired it as I moseyed over to Prospect Park. You gotta love McKim, Mead, & White.

Brooklyn Museum responds to negative NYT review

The Brooklyn Museum‘s exhibition Tipi: Heritage of the Great Plains which opened mid-February “focuses on the tipi as the center of Plains culture and social, religious, and creative traditions from the early nineteenth century to the present.” Museum staff collaborated with a team of Native and non-Native curators, scholars, and artists to develop the exhibition. There were some great pictures of museum staff erecting tipis in the museum’s Great Hall.

But Tipis got a decidedly critical review from the New York Times’ Ken Johnson. Johnson writes:

Beyond some basic historical context, the exhibition offers no revelatory perspective on its contents. That might be partly because, as the organizers, Nancy B. Rosoff and Susan Kennedy Zeller (both Brooklyn Museum curators) point out in their catalog preface, part of the planning process involved focus groups and visitor surveys “to determine the level of visitor interest in and knowledge of the tepee and Plains culture.” They also invited a team of American Indian scholars, artists and tribal members to vet their plans. The result is an exhibition that speaks down to its audience, assuming a low level of sophistication, and that does as little as possible to offend or stir controversy.


Last week, Brooklyn Museum curator Nancy Rosoff responded:

In the wake of prevalent popular misconceptions and stereotypes, Native American participation was central to our goals in organizing the exhibition. The perspectives of our Native consultants—who have firsthand experience of tipi traditions and protocols, of languages and stories that belong to oral traditions, and of tipi arts and designs that have been passed down over generations—enriched the project immeasurably and were crucial to giving an accurate and sensitive presentation of Plains objects. Native involvement in the exhibition was a privilege for our Museum not an obligation.

But Wall Street Journal museum critic Lee Rosenbaum wrote in her recent examination of American Indian exhibitions:

Because tribal authorities consulted by Brooklyn Museum curators Nancy Rosoff and Susan Kennedy Zeller strongly objected to public exposure of artifacts imbued with a warrior’s power, you won’t find any historic shields displayed in that museum’s deeply informative, child-friendly temporary exhibition, “Tipi: Heritage of the Great Plains” (to May 15). By contrast, one of the stars in the permanent collection at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo. (reviewed here last year), is a rawhide Arikara shield from North Dakota (c. 1850) bearing the image of a buffalo bull.

Brooklyn had to settle for a contemporary “shield”—a brightly colored glass circle by Marcus Amerman, Choctaw, decorated with images inspired by Lakota warrior Rain-in-the-Face’s magisterial buffalo-hide shield, shown in the large photomural on the opposite wall.


When a museum is displaying the art and artifacts of a particular culture, I think it is crucial to involve members of that culture in the planning and interpretation of the exhibits. But is there such a thing as being too sensitive to their wishes? Does entertainment and education ever trump socio-cultural appropriateness?