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It was news last fall when the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston announced a five-year partnership with Sheikh Nasser Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah and his wife, Sheikha Hussah Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah, of Kuwait — through which the al-Sabahs would send parts of their collection for long-term viewing in Houston. They want their treasures seen around the world, as a means of expanding the view people have of Muslims to include its culture. Given so many political ties in Texas (the Sheikha visited George H.W. Bush last week), and with its oil companies, it was natural for the family to choose the MFAH (though having Mahrukh Tarapor, formerly with the Metropolitan Museum and now senior adviser for international initiatives to the MFAH, must have helped).
So the other night, the MHAF unveiled its entry in the Islamic race: a gallery filled with about 70 objects on loan from the al-Sabahs. It can’t compare in volume with the Met’s newish Islamic wing, which attracted more than 1 million visitors in not much more than a year, or with the Louvre’s new wing for Islamic art — topped by that golden “flying carpet” — but still. Apparently what the Kuwaitis sent is choice. The museum’s description:
Among the highlights showcased in this display are spectacular Mughal jewelry, illuminated manuscripts, exquisite ceramics, and intricately decorated ceiling panels. More than 60 examples from the 8th to 18th centuries are on view, made in the Iberian Peninsula, North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. The collection also includes carpets, glass and metalwork, paintings, architectural fragments, scientific instruments, and works on paper.
Judith H. Dobrzynski
Real Clear Arts
Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum is due to fully reopen on Sunday 23 September after eight years’ of work. The original 1895 building of the Modern and contemporary art museum has been refurbished and an extension added that overlooks the city’s Museumplein.
The new building, which was delayed partly because structural problems emerged during its construction, has been designed by Amsterdam-based Benthem Crouwel Architects. There are three main elements to the new building: a large glassed entrance, which opens onto Museumplein, upper-level temporary exhibition galleries in a structure nicknamed “The Bathtub” and a basement with a substantial display area for the permanent collection. Most of the €127m project has been funded by Amsterdam’s city council.
The inaugural exhibition, “Beyond Imagination”, is a show of work by emerging Amsterdam artists (23 September-11 November). A Mike Kelley retrospective follows (15 December-1 April 2013). The show of the late US artist, who died earlier this year, will go on to the Centre Pompidou in Paris, MoMA PS1 in New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
The Art Newspaper
For the Philadelphia tourism industry, the consummation devoutly to be wished has arrived at last.
The reopening of the Rodin Museum last weekend, its original character sensitively restored, completes the longed-for “museum mile” along the Parkway that tourism promoters hope will prove to be an irresistible magnet for the culturally motivated.
The Rodin, the new museum of the Barnes Foundation next door, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art a few blocks west certainly create a destination worth a special journey, as the Michelin guides would put it.
The question now is whether this new synergy will benefit all three museums, particularly the Rodin. Despite the French sculptor’s exalted reputation, it doesn’t attract nearly as many visitors as its counterpart in Paris, which draws about 700,000 annually. (The Philadelphia Rodin Museum’s biggest year since 1996 was 2002, when 63,523 people came. Average annual attendance during the decade beginning 2001 was 51,123.)
What makes the art of today different from the art of 1912? One answer is: the kinds of space in which it is shown. Since the 1960s, reclaimed industrial space has replaced traditional galleries as the chosen theatre of avant-garde art. It began with artists like Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol taking over old factories in downtown Manhattan. It has gone on to mean sculptors working in steel yards , or museums converting old docks. Art students in Glasgow this summer showed degree work in a venue called the Glue Factory that is … an old glue factory.
Minimalist art, with its use of industrial materials and setting out of objects in potentially limitless arrays, started in the 1960s and was made for warehouses. This interaction between space and style has shaped the art of today.
Tate Modern, already one of the world’s most exciting reclaimed buildings, this summer moves into newly converted regions of its former power station. The Tanks will be a venue for live art, another form for which industrial spaces seem made. The opening season is about to start. It is certain to be spectacular.
Florence’s mayor, Matteo Renzi (above), now in his second term in office, struck a deal in 2010 with the then minister of culture, Sandro Bondi, to help the city reap more benefits from its tourism industry. Between 2010 and 2013, the ministry of culture will forgo 20% of ticket revenue from Florence’s national museums, which will be used to fill funding gaps in the Nuovi Uffizi project (around €3.5m a year).
The city of Florence has long been accused of lacking vision when it comes to contemporary art, a charge that is hard to refute. Ex3 Toscana Contemporanea, the only contemporary art museum in the city to receive public funding, was forced to close in mid-June because it had run out of money. It opened in 2009 and had so far mounted 16 exhibitions. However, its public subsidy of €85,000 in 2011, for example, was not enough to cover its annual operating cost of around €200,000. The director of the museum, Andrea Tanini, pointed out in an open letter that Florence’s €2m cultural budget for 2012 is destined almost entirely for established institutions that are already financially stable.
This blow to the city’s already struggling contemporary art scene is a symptom of the city’s cultural strengths and weaknesses. Florence is by no means a large city but it has 50 cultural institutions, including 25 state museums, seven municipal museums, private collections, churches and oratories, palaces, historical gardens and piazzas. However, the overall consensus is that, despite this treasure trove, Florence lacks any sort of cohesive cultural strategy. This has, in turn, created a situation in which the tourism industry has dominated and alienated the city’s inhabitants from their own cultural heritage. Carlo Sisi, a celebrated art historian and the president of the Marino Marini museum, says: “Florentines look at the Bargello museum, the Palazzo Pitti and the Uffizi as tourist hotspots rather than as places that belong to their world. This is why we need to rethink our cultural strategy to include them in it.”
Edek Osser, Tina Lepri and Ermanno Rivetti
The Art Newspaper
The Museum of Fine Arts has been given 34 rare West African pieces from a group of works known as the Benin bronzes, marking a dramatic upgrade in a long-neglected area of the museum’s collection.
The 28 bronzes and 6 ivories come from New York collector Robert Owen Lehman, son of the famous American banker, and will go on display late in 2013 in a newly created gallery.
“This is the transformation of our collection,” MFA director Malcolm Rogers said Thursday. “It’s some of the greatest art ever produced in Africa, and it has been poorly represented in our collection. It’s going to really open visitors’ eyes to an extraordinary world.”
The museum did not start collecting African art until 1991 and, before this gift, had only one Benin piece. Though the Benin works are very difficult to acquire today, hundreds of them are held by a few major museums, including the British Museum, Ethnological Museum in Berlin, and Field Museum in Chicago.
After all the Sturm und Drang surrounding the Barnes Foundation’s relocation to downtown Philadelphia, what has emerged? What has been lost and what has been gained?
The institutional narrative of the Barnes has been overshadowed by the tortured events that led up to the decision to relocate the galleries from the Philadelphia suburbs, seven years ago, a topic of seemingly inexhaustible debate. Art-world chatter before the 19 May reopening was preoccupied with an unusual design directive for the building. During the court proceedings, Barnes officials had promised a historically faithful rehang of the objects in the new space, replicating the idiosyncratic configuration that Albert Barnes last saw before his demise at the age of 79, in a car crash, in 1951.
For Barnes, a man possessed of an obdurate will and an eccentric approach to art, it was not just the objects in his astounding collection that mattered but their combined teaching value. The sprawling salon-style ensemble in his 1925 neoclassical mansion in Merion, Pennsylvania, amounted to a finely calibrated pedagogical Gesamtkunstwerk. Masterpieces by Van Gogh, Cézanne, Matisse, Renoir and Picasso mingled on the walls along with decidedly lesser works, handmade locks and hinges, more than a few copies and misattributed objects, eclectic furniture and artful bric-à-brac—all studiously placed to make points about the nature of light, colour, beauty and form.
This may have been the collector’s real legacy, and the new Barnes, whatever else it did, had to honour it.
The Art Newspaper
Tucked away on Cortlandt Alley, a small side street that is itself tucked away between Tribeca and Chinatown, there’s a small, glowing, storefront space. It gleams pristinely like a cross between a brand-new grocery store and an art gallery, but the objects on display aren’t for sale. In fact, this is Manhattan’s latest self-ascribed museum — titled, simply, The Museum.
The Museum does not house artworks, fashion or fossils; instead, it showcases bits and pieces of the everyday: a pile of broken glass from New York City, a plastic glove from Paradise Valley, Montana, a hot water coil heater from Kaunus, Lithuania. There are also some more traditionally notable offerings, such as the shoe thrown at George W. Bush at the Minister’s Palace in Baghdad in 2008 or a series of objects (driver’s license, cell phone, comb) salvaged from the Pacific Ocean by deep-sea diver Mark Cunningham. “A smart man’s garbage is a foolish man’s fortune & vice versa,” reads the Museum’s mission statement. “There is always beauty and magic in the plebeian.”
When Judge Stanley R. Ott ruled in 2004 that the Barnes Foundation’s collection of paintings and sculpture, worth billions, could be extracted from its Merion home and remounted in a new building downtown, the Barnes set out to replicate the original galleries, in scale and configuration, exactly.
This much now is an accomplished fact. And yet, as the new Barnes Foundation opens this weekend, everything is different.
Gone forever, of course, is any claim to authenticity. Whatever the Barnes of 2012 and beyond becomes, visitors will never again have the same fully prescribed experience, the powerful feeling of being led around the museum by the hand of its founder.
Current Barnes leaders are careful not to use that word: museum. They call the new building on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway a campus. The Barnes, however, is a collection of art that the general public may see, at generously set hours, in exchange for the payment of money. That is what is universally recognized as a museum — something different from what the Barnes started out being. McBarnes, its most indignant critics are calling it.
Leading US museums are finally in recovery mode and their directors are much more optimistic about the financial outlook than a year ago, but few are feeling bullish. Endowments may have increased but they have not regained their peak of 2007. Of the ten richest museums we surveyed, seven were within sight of their previous levels, but the wealthiest, the Getty Trust, is only a third of the way to the $1.8bn it lost during the downturn (see table, p10). The road to financial health will be long for all but a fortunate few, and many fear that the economic recovery may prove short-lived. Nevertheless, many directors describe themselves as “cautiously optimistic”.
Thomas Campbell, the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, remembers spending his first six months making 10% cuts in 2009. “It was all quite tough. We did what we needed to do,” he says. Seventy-four members of the professional staff were made redundant, and 95 took early retirement. His outlook is much more positive, buoyed by a return in the value of the endowment, booming attendance figures (see p35) and major donations, including $60m from a trustee, David Koch, announced in February. “I don’t want to tempt fate but the situation seems better,” says Campbell, who revealed that the museum raised more than the $100m it needed to renovate its wing of American art, which reopened in January.
Javier Pes and Helen Stoilas
The Art Newspaper