Visual: November 2002

Friday, November 29

Austrian Court Seizes Painting The Austrian court – long criticized for not doing more to ensure the recovery of artwork looted by the Nazis – has taken the remarkable step of seizing an Egon Schiele painting valued between €45,000-60,000 which was to have been sold at auction. “The Vienna seizure is preliminary to possible private action to recover the painting. Although Austrian law favours owners who in ‘good faith’ have acquired stolen objects, a lawsuit nonetheless will apparently take place.” The Art Newspaper 11/29/02

Buy High, Sell Low? Dotcom pioneer Halsey Minor bought millions of dollars worth of paintings at the top of the market. Now he has another venture to fund, and he’s selling off his art. “Mr. Minor stands to lose about $13 million on the Christie’s sale alone, scheduled for Thursday. And experts speculate that he has already lost $10 million on paintings the Gerald Peters Gallery recently sold privately, including works by Hopper and Hartley.” The New York Times 11/29/02

Open Season Art openings aren’t about the art. In the popular imagination, they are glamorous affairs, exclusive soirees where stylish sophisticates rub shoulders with artists from the fringe. In truth, they’re mundane occasions. Imagine a year-end office party held every month and you’ll get the idea.” Los Angeles Times 11/28/02

Hirst In Space When British scientists were designing a small vehicle to land on Mars, they knew they wanted an artist to design a piece of art to go with it. They picked Damien Hirst. He came up with “a spot chart design, scaled down to 26 grams on a background of aluminium, and tinted with copper, cobalt, manganese and molybdenum in the nine colours of Mars, will be bolted to the side of the lander.” The Guardian (UK) 11/29/02

Wednesday, November 27

Contemporary Art – The New Impressionists? This fall’s auction season has confirmed one big shift in the art collecting world. “Whether new fortunes, changing fashion or opportunity are offered as an explanation, Post-War and Contemporary art has become as or even more valuable a profit center for the three houses as Impressionist and Modern art, the traditional motor of their business.” Forbes 11/27/02

The New Americans From where do you get your art history? If you’re a student, probably from a textbook. “Until recent years, few choices existed for textbooks of American art history, still a relatively young field in academia.” But the field has exploded with new choices. “Scholars applying the ‘new art history’ have expanded all boundaries of ‘American’ art in their studies—including media, people, and methods—creating a yearning in the field for new teaching tools that reflect these changes.” American Art 11/02

Tuesday, November 26

Et Tu, Saatchi? Charles Saatchi is probably the biggest collector of contemporary art in Britain. But he’s down on the Turner Prize and its judges (Like a lot of others are these days). He says the real art is going on outside of the Turner world and that he prefers “something that gives real visual pleasure and makes you sit up and think, not the pseudo-controversial rehashed claptrap that Turner judges actually believe is cutting-edge art.” The Telegraph (UK) 11/24/02

Going For Greatness The Cleveland Museum unveils plans for a major expansion. “With an estimated construction cost of $225 million, the project already has a price tag more than twice that of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, finished in 1995. Designed by New York architect Rafael Vinoly, the project calls for two large new curving wings on the east and west sides of the museum complex, which will frame the spacious, skylighted ‘Great Court’ in the center. The Great Court will be bigger, museum officials say, than the main lobby of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.” The Plan Dealer (Cleveland) 11/26/02

Filling In The Cracks A small band of philanthropists known as the Friends of Heritage Preservation is trying to save important buildings with targeted funds. The group looks for important buildings in need of help. Members of the 20-member group pay $25,000 in dues every two years and the money is used to take on projects that tend to “fall between the cracks.” Los Angeles Times 11/25/02

Drawn In It wasn’t too long ago that architects’ drawings were typically thrown in the trash after a project was finished. But they’ve become prized by collectors and scholars who want to study the ideas behind buildings. “Given the rise of computer-assisted design (CADS) as the standard tool for designing today’s buildings, it may seem surprising that architectural drawing remains a dynamic art form – and not only for traditionalists.” The Telegraph (UK) 11/25/02

GalleryWalk What is America’s Second City of art (after New York, of course)? “Despite its endemic sprawl and persistent inferiority complex, Los Angeles is the nation’s second city for the visual arts, and commercial galleries are a vital part of the scene. With nearly 100 that present public exhibition programs and keep their doors open during regular hours, Los Angeles is second only to Manhattan and well ahead of Chicago, its closest competitor, which has about 60 comparable galleries.” Los Angeles Times 11/24/02

Artist Offended By Exhibition Name An artist in Newfoundland is protesting the name of a show of his work at a local gallery that used to represent him. But the name is taken from the name of one of the artist’s own paintings. The artist accuses the gallery of being offensive, but the gallery owner maintains “iIt’s my painting. It’s the title of the painting. The artist named the painting. What’s the problem?” It’s hilarious. I didn’t name the painting. He did. It’s not like it’s written on the back of the painting. He named it. Now he’s claiming the painting is defaming himself.” National Post 11/26/02

Art Merger “The Bay Area’s pre-eminent fine arts schools – the California College of Arts and Crafts and the San Francisco Art Institute – are considering merging into a single new institution that would be one of the biggest independent art colleges in the country.” San Francisco Chronicle 11/25/02

Monday, November 25

China In The Recent Past The first Guangzhou Tirennial is a good check of the stew of styles emerging from Chinese art in recent years. It’s been a period of experimentation, and the rest of the world is taking notice. “As evidence of the growing global buzz about China’s art, opening night drew groups of collectors and donors from the Museum of Modern Art and the Asia Society in New York. And in a sign that its museums are also entering the global mainstream, the gift shop at the Guangdong Museum was filled with attractive tie-in products, including T-shirts and watches with images by leading artists.” The New York Times 11/25/02

The Best Job In British Art “Norman Rosenthal is the master of the big production. He occupies a unique and enviable role in British art. While other gallery directors find themselves bogged down in bureaucracy, in running an institution, Rosenthal can devote his time to conjuring up the dreamiest exhibitions. His track record is amazing. When he arrived at the Royal Academy 25 years ago, it was a fusty and largely irrelevant institution. Today, it is one of the world’s great exhibition spaces.” The Guardian (UK) 11/25/02

Why Can’t Public Buildings Be Art? Richard MacCormac’s design for a London Tube station has attracted hrodes of fans. “The station manager enjoys its obvious theatricality and musicians have responded to its magic. There isn’t even any graffiti on the wall. It is a lovely thing, a happy surprise as the jaded tube traveller emerges from the fetid heat of an underground train into the regenerative joys of born-again Southwark.” The station design was inspired by music and theatre, says MacCormac. So why can’t more public buildings be this way? The Guardian (UK) 11/25/02

Sunday, November 24

A Life In Art Since retiring New York collector/dealer Gene Thaw “has made philanthropy something of a second career. The Thaw Charitable Trust, established in 1981, is endowed largely from the sale of a van Gogh painting, The Flowering Garden, a decade ago. A founding member and past president of the Art Dealers Association of America, Mr. Thaw retired from active dealing a decade ago but remains an insider’s insider.” Says the director of the Morgan Library: “Gene’s generosity has been so great that he must be regarded as the single greatest patron of this institution since the death of its founders.” The New York Times 11/24/02

Languishing In The Provinces England’s great regional temples of culture – “mostly built and stocked by Victorian philanthropy, – have become tatty and are withering for want of love, money and inspiration. The municipal museums and galleries of England have for too long been run by local authorities. When money is tight, their museums, like the libraries and parks, are the first to suffer.” The Central government has said it wants to help… but where is that help? The Telegraph (UK) 11/23/02

The Glenn Gould Of Collecting Last summer Canadian art collector Ken Thomson paid $117 million for a Rubens (or maybe it wasn’t a Rubens, depending on who you ask). This month he announced a gift of $300 million to the Arts Gallery of Ontario. The man’s appetite for things art is voracious. “To describe Ken Thomson as a driven collector is like describing Glenn Gould as a gifted pianist; the words cannot quite do it justice.” The Globe & Mail (Canada) 11/23/02

Fort Worth – A New International Player The new Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth opens to the public in two weeks. But this past weeks critics were allowed in to take a look. “In addition to a sublime building designed by award-winning Japanese architect Tadao Ando, it now boasts works of a quality one expects of a museum that has suddenly become the country’s second-largest arena for postwar art. The message rings clear: What was once considered a regional museum with modest ambitions has become part of the international mainstream.” Dallas Morning News 11/24/02

Art Of Infamy Courtroom artists don’t generate much excitement in the art world. But collectors are starting to pay attention. “Celebrity criminals tend to garner the most interest… But even white-collar cases can fetch a fat price if the parties have brand-name appeal and the trial is deemed historic. The sale of an original drawing from the Microsoft antitrust trial, for instance, earned courtroom artist Walt Stewart $8,000.” The Globe & Mail (Canada) 11/13/02

Friday, November 22

Art Critics – Underworked, Underpaid So what does you average art critic look like? The National Arts Journalism Program has produced a new report with some answers. “For starters, most art critics make less than half their annual income writing criticism. Only 40 percent of those surveyed are employed as full-time critics, yet 75 percent function as chief art critics for their publications. Furthermore, some of the nation’s largest daily papers do not have full-time art critics. The most notable example is USA Today, Gannett’s national newspaper with a circulation of 2.3 million. Most critics are older than 45 and make less than $25,000 a year from their work as critics.” The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 11/22/02

Royal Collecting/Royal Inertia The British Royal Collection has 7000 paintings in it. But what has Queen Elizabeth added to it in her 50 years on the throne? Twenty pictures. “Although the scale of acquisitions may be modest, no reigning monarch has done much better since Queen Victoria, and the record under Edward VII, George V and George VI was equally disappointing.” The Art Newspaper 11/22/02

Ken’s Art/Frank’s Building Ken Thomson’s $370 million gift to the Art Gallery of Ontario will help make possible a $178 million rebuild of the museum by Frank Gehry. Gehry grew up in Toronto before leaving for the US in 1947, but up til now hasn’t designed anything for his hometown. “The Thomson-Gehry alliance is a magical one. The men enjoy a relaxed jocularity together and their admiration for each other is easy to read.” The Globe & Mail (Canada) 11/21/02

The Art Of Sinking How fast is Venice sinking? For at least three centuries it’s been going down at a rate of about 8 inches a century. How do scientists know? By looking at the paintings of 18th Century painter Giovanni Antonio Canaletto. The scientists turned to Canaletto because precise measurements of the city’s sea level only date to 1872, while the artist’s works are from the previous century. Canaletto was so true to detail he even painted the dark algae stains on buildings along canal banks, a detail many artists avoided for aesthetic reasons.” MSNBC (AP) 11/21/02

Thursday, November 21

Uffizi Gallery May Shut Florence’s Uffizi Gallery could see its lights turned off because it has been unable to pay its utility bills. “The arts authority owes £165,000 for electricity and other bills have been mounting up. Its financial plight, which caused a stir in the art world when it was reported in the newspaper La Repubblica yesterday, is attributed to recent government moves to make the management of art heritage autonomous.” The Telegraph 11/21/02

A Billionaire’s Gift To A Toronto Museum Ken Thomson is Canada’s premiere art collector. He’s also Canada’s wealthiest person with a fortune worth $23 billion (CDN). Now 79, he says he plans to give “$70-million in cash and $300 million in art to an expanded and renovated Art Gallery of Ontario,” and that the gifts are only “the start of a series of gifts and loans to that institution.” Tuesday he “staggered the Canadian art world by announcing he would donate in trust an estimated 2,000 works to the AGO.” The Globe & Mail (Canada) 11/20/02

  • Art Donors – What’s In It For Me? The foundations of some of the world’s great museum collections generally come from private collectors. But what do collectors get out of giving or loaning their artwork? Quite a bit, actually. “If a gallery is seen not to respect the legal wishes of its donors, that may well undermine other peoples’ confidence in making gifts and bequests. And, in the present climate, where galleries have relatively little financial power in art markets, they are increasingly reliant on the kindness of strangers.” The Guardian (UK) 11/21/02
  • New Ethics Standards for Museums The American Association of Museums lays down new guidelines “for accepting contributions to ensure the institutions maintain their integrity and donors don’t benefit by giving. A museum’s governing authority and staff must ensure that no individual benefits at the expense of the museum’s mission, reputation or the community it serves.” Nando Times (AP) 11/20/02

Smithsonian Flying High “Smithsonian officials yesterday showed off their next museum, a facility so big it could swallow the Titanic, with space left over. The new building is part of the National Air and Space Museum annex near Dulles International Airport that will give the public a close-up view of more than 200 historic aircraft — from sleek spy planes to World War I biplanes. [The exhibition space is] a cavernous structure 10 stories high and covering the equivalent of three football fields.” Washington Post 11/21/02

Outsider Art – Phenomenal or Fraudulent? “Outsider art — or, to be reductive, folk art made by the unschooled (and frequently unskilled) — is the hottest art phenomenon to sweep galleries and academies since the identity art craze of the eighties and nineties. The poor, alienated, ignorant and mentally marginal are the new ‘ethnics’; their otherness as remote and alluring to privileged art buyers as any African mask… But how innocent can art be when it is so smartly packaged?” The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 11/21/02

Bridging the St. Louis Gap Visitors to St. Louis are often surprised to discover that the famous Arch, which defines the city’s downtown skyline, really isn’t all that accessible, at least on foot. Now, the city is considering several plans to establish a downtown connection to the Arch for pedestrians and tourists. Standing in the way are an interstate highway and a major city boulevard. The plans are all architecturally pleasing, and the final decision will likely come down to cost vs. convenience. St. Louis Post-Dispatch 11/21/02

Much More Than A Velvet Elvis (Isn’t It?) Pat Sheil inherits a black velvet painting. So what’s the market? “The first thing we had to do was investigate the state of the black velvet art market. Initial inquiries were less than encouraging. The first valuer simply laughed, but at least he came straight to the point, without saying a word. The second fellow raised one eyebrow and assured us that there was nothing wrong with the frame.” The Age (Melbourne) 11/21/02

Wednesday, November 20

Desperately Seeking Sanders A British art historian claims that she has found records proving the existence of John Sanders, an actor and painter thought to be responsible for the only living portrait of William Shakespeare. Trouble is, the painter Tarnya Cooper has ‘found’ is not the right John Sanders, judging from his age and relative inexperience at the time the portrait in question was painted. Still, historians feel that Cooper’s John Sanders may well lead them to the John Sanders they’re all looking for. The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 11/20/02

The Anonymous Postcard Scramble “A host of artists, designers and musicians have put brush to paper to create potential masterpieces for the annual Secret Postcard exhibition at the Royal College of Art… But buyers bid for the postcards without knowing who the artist is because all works are displayed anonymously and are only revealed once sold. The exhibition creates a great deal of interest from the public who have the opportunity to buy cheap art which could one day net them a fortune.” BBC 11/20/02

Tuesday, November 19

Mexican Wall Art Standoff A few years ago the Mexican government hired an artist to paint a mural depicting Latin-American writers on a wall of the new San Francisco main library. The mural was finished and dedicated, but the Mexican government never paid the artist. A change in government swept out the official who commissioned the work and the new government is unwilling “to accept responsibility for decisions of the past.” San Francisco Chronicle 11/18/02

Hey – A Canaletto For Your Home? Britain’s Art Fund is celebrating its 100th anniversary, “during which it claims to have stopped nearly half a million works of art from going abroad.” The fund is arranging exhibitions all over the UK, some of them in unusual locations. None of the plans more unusual, though, than a proposal to put an Old Master painting in a private home. “Obviously there are security and conservation issues, but we seriously intend to allow an Old Master painting to be shown to an ordinary home. We are serious. I can assure you it will happen, the museums love the idea.” The Guardian (UK) 11/19/02

  • Art Rescue Project Since 1903 the Art Fund has rescued “almost 500,000 treasures at risk of sale to private or foreign owners” and turned them over to public museums and galleries. The Independent (UK) 11/19/02

Indians Back Out Of Museum Deal The Pechanga Indian Tribe has backed away from a deal with the financially troubled Southwest Museum in Southern California “The proposed deal would have given the Pechangas a chance to borrow thousands of the Southwest Museum’s artifacts, 98% of which are held, unseen by visitors, in the Mount Washington facility’s storage rooms. To display the artifacts, the Pechangas proposed a museum and cultural center of their own, which would rise near the tribe’s hotel and casino on the edge of Temecula. In exchange for the loan of artifacts, the casino-wealthy tribe was to have provided $750,000 yearly to the Southwest Museum for five years, then as much as $1.3 million yearly once the items were on display at the reservation.” Los Angeles Times 11/19/02

  • Previously: COURTING IN THE SOUTHWEST: Los Angeles’ Southwest Museum has an important collection of Native American artifacts. But the museum is poor and is contemplating acquiring a wealthy partner. The suitors are a movie cowboy museum or an indian casino. “But a partnership with either the Autry or the Pechanga Band raises new questions. Some Indian groups have criticized the Autry proposal as a none-too-subtle attempt by the cowboys to take over the Indians, culturally speaking, while some in the art world have expressed concern about whether a casino would really be an appropriate overseer for a major collection of Indian artifacts.” The New York Times 08/29/01

Sex Sells – One Museum That Turns A Profit The Museum of Sex in New York has been open six weeks, and at $17, its admission price is high. But already the museum has attracted 15,000 visitors, many more than needed to “make a profit.” The New York Times 11/19/02

Anger Over Street Art In Argentina About 60 artists placed dozens of human-like dolls covered in fake blood and vomit on the streets of Buenos Aires. The controversial art project angered many when “ambulances were called and passers-by distressed after seeing what they believed were dead bodies on the corners of some of the city’s major streets and avenues.” Ananova 11/18/02

Monday, November 18

Guggenheim Visits Down 25 Percent: Is the Guggenheim Museum in danger of going bankrupt, as a New York Sun story suggested in late September? Not at all, say museum officials. Sure the museum is hurting – staff has been cut, and the museum’s Soho gallery was closed – and attendance is down 25 percent this year. For next year? “Staff layoffs, reduced museum hours, and changes in the exhibition programme were all suggested as possibilities, according to a spokesperson for the Guggenheim.” The Art Newspaper 11/15/02

Don’t Box Me In Why is it that some of the most critical people condemning contemporary art seem to have the strongest ideas of exactly what art is? And those ideas usually involve some sort of idea which has been done before. Beware, writes Martin Gaylord, having inflexible definitions of art is a sign of narrow minds… The Spectator 11/02

Sunday, November 17

Nazi-looted Art Seized in Vienna For the first time, Austrian authorities, acting under a court order, have seized a painting thought to have been stolen by occupying Nazi forces during World War II. The seizure was sought by a Vienna-based Jewish advocacy group, and hailed by art experts worldwide as a crucial step in the movement to repatriate the thousands of artworks looted by the Nazis. The New York Times 11/16/02