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“Art makes people better people,” says Renzo Piano, “and a place for art makes the city a better place to be.”
He is speaking at the opening of the Astrup Fearnley Museum on theOslo waterfront, a new £65m home for the private art collection of ashipping company, which he describes as “an open forum, where art meets life”.
Piano should know about such things. The 74-year-old has designed 17museums and art galleries across the world in his long career, ranging from the revolutionary vertical art factory of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, built with Richard Rogers in 1977, to the refined, low-slung shed of the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas, constructed 10 years later, to the delicate lightbox of the Fondation Beyeler, erected outside Basel in 1997. Each decade brought a seminal new building that changed the way architects think about spaces for art, cementing Piano’s reputation as a global brand for big museums.
“I see Astrup Fearnley as completing the cycle, almost coming back to the beginning,” he tells me, as we sit in the upper gallery, looking out across the fjord – a picture-postcard view dotted with islands and sailing boats.
“The Pompidou was a rebellion against the idea of a monumental gallery. We were the bad boys then,” he grins. “We didn’t want to make a mausoleum to art. Instead, we created a big piazza for the people, and here in Oslo we have returned to that idea.”
Right on the waterfront, the museum takes the form of a vast glass sail that arcs over to envelop three timber buildings beneath, separated by a canal and terminating the dockside promenade in a consciously iconic swoop. Unlike many of his previous galleries, which take the form of finely tuned if somewhat anonymous containers, Astrup Fearnley is here to play the role of glamorous civic saviour – the cultural anchor for a whole new urban quarter.
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.”
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.”
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
Not many museum directors have the opportunity Dean Sobel has—which is nothing short of the chance to rewrite a chapter of American art history.
As the first director of the Clyfford Still Museum, set to open in Denver on Nov. 18, Mr. Sobel will be reintroducing a first-generation Abstract Expressionist who abruptly severed his ties to the commercial art world in 1951 and rarely showed or sold his works after that. A few museums own some of his works—massive canvases of ragged swaths of black and a primary color that resemble rawhide—but his last large exhibition was held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1979-80. Nearly 95% of Still’s output has been locked away for decades. At the Museum of Modern Art’s Abstract Expressionist exhibition earlier this year, which had roomfuls of works by Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Barnett Newman, Still was represented by one painting.
Mr. Sobel, who has spent the past six years studying the hidden trove—825 paintings and 1,575 works on paper—is convinced that Still is not only a giant of Abstract Expressionism, but also the first of the breed. “We are going head to head with Rothko, Pollock, de Kooning and Newman,” he says. “The goal for us is to put Still back in, to show the greatness of him and that he was the great innovator of the movement. He creates Abstract Expressionism before all the others.”
Judith H. Dobrzynski
Wall Street Journal
When the American Folk Art Museum opened its new building on West 53rd Street in December 2001, it was widely hailed as a sign of hope, both for the museum and New York.
Here was evidence the city could recover from the terrorist attack of a few months earlier: a shiny bronze structure smack in the heart of Midtown that would be the first major art museum to open in Manhattan since the Whitney Museum in 1966.
Today that building is owned by another institution. The museum has defaulted on its construction bonds, moved into its old, smaller space near Lincoln Center and is talking of dissolving and transferring its collections to another institution.
The final outcome still is not clear. But the museum’s descent into financial trouble is a parable about how poor decisions and unfortunate timing can undermine even the most noble of ambitious undertakings.
New York Times
People hold strong opinions about museums. Some assert that their primary function should be scholarship, others insist that it’s more important to communicate with a wide audience. In pursuing either of these goals, should museums focus on exploring objects or investigating their contexts—are they about looking at things or telling stories? Adding to the debate, there’s lingering anxiety about relativism; some commentators (and probably many visitors) think museums should strive to be objective, others relish a variety of views.
It has become a cliché to say that museums are today’s churches—special places for contemplation, separate from day-to-day concerns; conversely, there’s an argument that museums should aim to be commonplace, part of normal life. It is intriguing that museums were once talked of as places that reinforced cultural hegemonies, but now they are more often seen as democratising access to art, and even as politically correct when they attempt to include groups formerly omitted from history. While some believe museums have changed far too much, others think they haven’t been transformed enough.
The Art Newspaper
Can you recall your first visit to a museum? Your first exposure to great art? Or, perhaps, a museum visit or a work of art that turned you into an art-lover? Or an artist? What are your museum memories?
Tomorrow is International Museum Day, an annual event created by ICOM, the International Council of Museums that has been around since 1977. This year, ICOM says that more than 30,000 museums in about 100 countries will take part. And the Association of Art Museum Directors, meanwhile, calculates that about 100 American art museums will participate, often by reducing admission rates or offering special programs. (Not everything takes place tomorrow, though — some museums shift the day to make it more convenient.)
This year, ICOM has chosen the theme “museums and memory” in an attempt to prompt museums to explore how they help preserve individual and collective memory.
Judith H. Dobrzynski
Real Clear Arts