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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
It was billed as an unprecedented cluster of cultural glory that would transform Abu Dhabi into the Paris of the Middle East: three centrepiece museums, including the world’s largest Guggenheim and a branch of the Louvre, designed by “starchitects” to rise up among a complex of five-star beach resorts and luxury villas on Saadiyat island in Abu Dhabi.
But six years after the project was unveiled, while several five-star resorts have opened, the only visible signs of the complex are an illuminated model in an exhibition centre near a windswept desert construction site.
Repeated delays and financial concerns have diminished the impact of the scheme, say project insiders and art experts, and some now believe the emirate has no option but to scale back its grandiose plans, possibly even scrapping the Guggenheim museum.
Those concerns have been compounded by reports of the mistreatment of migrant workers labouring on the £17bn Saadiyat island complex and worries about whether the art ultimately put on display will be subjected to censorship by the conservatives who hold sway in this part of the world.
Verena Formanek, senior project manager for the Abu Dhabi Guggenheim, admitted it was still a distant prospect. “The light’s on the horizon when the Louvre Abu Dhabi opens. I think that’s the first time I will really feel more secure because then I will see a museum is really open here and this will change a lot.”
But she added: “Really, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is far away.”
After a renovation that nearly tripled its size, the revamped Palais de Tokyo swung open its doors Thursday, inaugurating what is now the largest – and perhaps dustiest – contemporary arts center in Europe.
The dust is not a mistake. It’s part of an unfinished look meant to inspire artists now allowed to run free within its walls.
About 50 artists began a 30-hour stint of around-the-clock creation to celebrate the center’s new life at the imposing Art Deco building on Paris’ Right Bank.
The renovation, that cost some (EURO)20 million ($26 million) over 10 months, opened up a dizzying 22,000 square meters (nearly 237,000 square feet) of space. That’s more than three soccer fields.
Visitors stepped with trepidation over the center’s four floors on Thursday, past dusty columns, partially painted concrete and exposed cables.
Was the renovation incomplete?
The unfinished look, so said the center’s President Jean de Loisy, is deadly intentional.
“The landscape here is different from any other center in the world,” de Loisy told The Associated Press. “Nothing is perfectly clean, nothing is perfectly painted on purpose. It is so important in art not to control everything. It’s all in favor of creativity.”
The private collector and billionaire Nicolas Berggruen, son of the late German-Jewish art dealer and philanthropist Heinz Berggruen, is set to follow in the footsteps of the collector Eli Broad by sending several works on long-term loans to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Lacma), where Berggruen is a trustee. “I’m building up a collection for Lacma,” he says, “focusing on German artists such as Thomas Schütte, Martin Kippenberger, Gerhard Richter and Joseph Beuys.” Works by West Coast artists such as John Baldessari, Ed Ruscha, Charles Ray, Paul McCarthy, Bruce Nauman and Mike Kelley from Berggruen’s collection are also due to end up at the museum. “Los Angeles is still a developing cultural centre and that’s why one can make a difference there,” he says. His father, Heinz Berggruen, sold his collection of modern masterpieces for $120m—one-tenth of its value—to Berlin in 2000. There is now a museum in the city to house these holdings.
The Art Newspaper
Udo Kittelmann, the director of the Nationalgalerie, and Michael Eissenhauer, the director general of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Berlin State Museums), announced last month that the Gemäldegalerie, which houses Old Master paintings, could become a museum of 20th-century art “in the next couple of years”.
The capital of Germany should have a prominent gallery dedicated to 20th-century art that does not try to conceal the “painful” gaps in the collection caused by the nation’s traumatic past, says Kittelmann.
The Old Masters currently housed in the Gemäldegalerie in the Kulturforum, which is near the Neue Nationalgalerie, would move to an extension of the Bode Museum created by converting a former garrison across the road. Kittelmann and Eissenhauer spoke of their vision at the opening of “Divided Heaven, The Collection: 1945-68” (until late 2013) at the Neue Nationalgalerie.
Securing space for a 20th-century art museum in Berlin is high on Kittelmann’s agenda. Because the Mies van der Rohe-designed Neue Nationalgalerie is listed and lacks space for a permanent display, art from important historical periods is not regularly on show.
The Art Newspaper
Opening reception, “Collecting Stories,” The Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University (photo thanks to the Slow Muse website).
The Rose Art Museum at Brandeis recently kicked off its 50th anniversary celebration with an exhibition called “Art at the Origin: The Early 1960s,” an event that a few years ago seemed to have been cut off at the neck with the announcement by then president Jehuda Reinharz that the museum would be closed and the collection sold in order to keep its host institution financially afloat. The exhibition highlights paintings acquired by founding director Sam Hunter, all of them new at the time—by artists such as Johns and Rauschenberg, Louis, Kelly, Warhol, and Lichtenstein—paintings that effectively, and in some cases controversially, identified the Rose with the art of our time. That identity persists into the present and is widely appreciated, as evidenced by “Collecting Stories,” the second part of the current exhibition, which is displayed in the museum’s spacious Lois Foster Gallery and consists of acquisitions by subsequent Rose directors during the past four decades, many of them by artists who, loud and clear, voiced their support for the Rose during the bleak months of its threatened demise.
Left Bank Art Blog