Live tweets from the Association of Art Museum Directors meeting in New Orleans last night revealed that Detroit Art Institute director, Graham Beal, was going public with news of a “grand bargain” between city mediators and a number of interested national and local foundations, including the Kresge Foundation, The Ford Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, as well as the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.
The news, breaking since December amidst rumors and paranoia, came just hours before headlines in The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News announced that negotiations, while still in progress, and still entangled in some sticky complications, seemed to be promising some dramatic relief in the form of some $300 — $500 million dollars.
Oddly, Beal was paraphrased in AAMD’s tweets as stating that DIA itself had been locked out of negotiations and had little to do with the deals:
Tweeted @MuseumDirectors, “Beal: @DIADetroit has had very little to do w/negotiations. They have happened around us; I have never met the Emergency Manger #AAMDNOLA”
The plan to leverage foundation support has been largely driven by U.S. District Court chief judge Gerald Rosen, the Mediator in the Detroit bankruptcy case, who called the foundations together this fall to discuss solutions for saving DIA’s collections and supporting pensioner’s claims. Ford Foundation CEO, Darren Walker, has also been cited as a booster, bringing other foundations on board.
On April 4th, Thomas P. Campbell, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, sent around a Press Release explaining the museum’s “admissions policy” — a policy which many consider misleading at best, fraudulent at worst.
The announcement followed widespread reporting on two lawsuits brought against the museum by members who found the Met’s signage and admissions practices troubling but had failed to effect change from the inside. Responding to a landslide of negative press, Campbell sent out e-mail that linked to a message on the Met’s site expounding upon the legal basis, as well the alleged necessity, for the Met to garner donations from the public in order to finance it’s exhibits and services.
After explaining that the Met relies on “many sources—including Membership, gifts and grants, corporate contributions, merchandise sales, restaurant revenue, and endowment income” to meet its current $250 million a year operating budget, and stating that “admission revenue is critical among” these sources of funding, Campbell makes his pitch:
“Does the Met hope its visitors pay as generously as they can? Of course! Without your generosity, we might still be the quaint little museum in the park that few visited in the 1880s—with none of the glorious new galleries and engaging programs we are now able to provide to the more than six million people who come through our doors each year.”
Was Campbell telling us that the Metropolitan Museum of art, despite sitting rent-free on city property, despite its long lists of corporate contributors, its grants and gifts from wealthy patrons, and its government subsidies, needed to fish for dollars from the pockets of unsuspecting tourists and shy students who took the signs at font-face value and forked out $25 suggested admission when they could have entered for free? Are we to think of the Mighty Met as a poor Dickensian waif, her soot-covered hand extended stealthily toward the pockets of passersby?
The collection of 78 cubist works, meticulously collected over something like 40 years, is comprised of 33 works by Picasso, 17 by Braque, 14 by Gris, and 14 by Leger. Lauder’s collection, which may, he says, continue to grow (and be gifted to the Met) is noted for its clear focus on works of historical significance. Lauder’s curator of 26 years, Emily Braun sites “ ‘The Trees at L’Estaque’ as an example. It “is considered one of the very first Cubist pictures,” she told the New York Times, “It created a new form of pictorial space that Braque arrived at from his close study of Cézanne’s landscapes.”
The collection “will transform the museum” the news release said. And, indeed, the Met’s cubist collection which used to be sorely wanting — art critic Holland Cotter once noted that the Met had been “content with a tasting menu of Blue Period, Rose Period and neo-Classical fare”—now rivals that of the Museum of Modern Art.
“In one fell swoop this puts the Met at the forefront of early-20th-century art. It is an unreproducible collection, something museum directors only dream about,” Campbell told the Times.
Lauder’s generosity puts him at the top of the list of Forbes list of high ranking philanthropists. [Check out their slideshow] On top of the billion dollar collection, his, and other trustees’ and supporters’ money is going to support a revamp of the Mets modern and contemporary galleries, and a 22 million dollar endowment for a new research center for modern art at the Met.
An extraordinary gift to our City?
“This is an extraordinary gift to our Museum and our City, Lauder said. Um. So now, can we change the admissions signs?
The sign says ADMISSION in large letters and lists a charge of $25 for adult visitors. So you must pay $25. No, wait: the small print says, “Recommended” so it’s free but you are asked to volunteer something along the lines of $25. But, that can’t be because it also touts “No extra charge for special exhibitions” — so that means there is a charge for admissions, so…what do you pay?
Well, If you are duped by the large print, you pay $25; if you feel guilty or cheap in the face of the sign and the cashier, you pay $25; and if you are buying tickets online you’ll find that the Met sells them for $25 with no caveat. Only those in the know will pay like a New Yorker, a voluntary fee of anywhere between 1 and ten dollars.
The signage is confusing (and the sales policies more so) and no one doubts that the obfuscation of your right to enter for free is deliberate: the museum would like to make some money.
That is why two recent law-suits brought against the hallowed New York institution in response to it’s deceptive admissions policies reveal that it’s time to interrogate, not just the disingenuous signage, but the entire body of assumptions regarding who the museum and its art belong to, and who should pay for its maintenance.
Two Suits, One Firm, and Harold Holzer
To begin, let’s get some very important facts straight: the Metropolitan Museum resides on Central Park land which it uses free of charge in exchange for its service to the public. The building is leased rent-free from the city under the same stipulation.
“The Met,” says architect Theodore Grunewald, who, along with fellow long-time member Patricia Nicholson, filed a suit in November of last year, “is as much the property of citizens as the trustees who manage the art inside.”
Filed by the law firm, Weiss & Hiller, this suit which is still pending, cites a survey which found that 85 % of nonmembers polled (out of a pool of 360 visitors) thought entry fees were required, and requests that the state court in Manhattan block the Museum from charging any fees at all. Meantime the same law firm has filed a new suit!
Did You Buy Tickets with a Credit Card?
On Tuesday the Met was hit with a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of three visitors, Filip Saska and Tomas Nadrchal of the Czech Republic, and museum member, Stephen Michelman of Manhattan. They are claiming that the Met “engages in an intentional campaign of misdirection that includes misleading signage and fraudulent marketing.” This newest complaint also asks for an injunction, as did the one in November, but adds a request for “unspecified damages” to be payed to all visitors who, in the last three years, paid for admittance with a credit card.
(In other words, if this case goes forward, Met Admission Policies + Ticket Purchase w/ Credit Card w/in last three years = Cluster Fuck)
“Free admission was conceived of 150 years ago for an entirely government-subsidized institution, like the Smithsonian. There is no model for this kind of operation any more. The city contributes $10 million of a $240 million-dollar-budget. We rely on many crucial revenue streams to maintain our building, preserve, protect, exhibit, and publish our collections, and mount up to 25 shows a year. This lawsuit flies in the face of reality and the huge amount of responsibility and work we have in the service of our collections and our visitors.”
On February 22nd, at noon, tickets to the MoMA’s Kraftwerk – Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 went on sale. By 4:00 PM desperate aficionados were posting sweaty pleas on Craigslist offering to pay as much as $200 per.
The MoMA ticket portal on ShowClix, currently says “Sorry— Kraftwerk events have sold out! We appreciate your patience and understanding. Thank you!” But fans, drowning the Twitterspshere in bile were not feeling very patient or understanding, and now Craigslist abounds in ticket offers for as much as $2,000 per!
One seller, offering tickets to the best offer, writes, “Best offer gets it. No weirdness please, just cash.”
So what happened?
MoMA had apparently entrusted the online ticket sales to ShowClix, a small start-up ticketing company in Pittsburgh, which failed to anticipate the overwhelming demand they’d face when tickets to the MoMA’s tiny 1,000 seat atrium went on sale.
The band has not played in the U.S. for 17 years and has a rabid following. What’s more eight evening concerts meant only 8,000 tickets would be sold: so, with a virtual avalanche of buyers from around the word logging on at once, the ShowClix servers experienced what CEO Joshua Dziabiak called “frequent timeouts.” The tickets were sold out right away but successful buyers were unaware since very few of them were shown a final “thank you” screen.
Joshua Dziabiak, ShowClix CEO, offered an apology to those who “spent hours in front of your computer watching a spinning wheel—or watching the page go blank.”
Congrats to Olek for inadvertently offending readers of Haolam Hacharedi, an orthodox Jewish magazine which pulled issues containing a review of the artist’s latest coup off stands. Apparently when they decided to review Olek’s show at Tony’s Gallery in London, they were unprepared for the photographic contents of Olek’s texty wall weavings which contain intimate messages from the artist’s own mailbox, many of them of a sexual nature.
Isn’t that all men care about? Text, I mean.
Emergency measures were taken as head of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations in London, Rabbi Padwa, knocked out a dictum forbidding sale of the issue.
The Press Release says: “THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART PRESENTS THE FIRST LIVE RETROSPECTIVE OF THE ELECTRONIC MUSIC PIONEERS KRAFTWERK” and promises “Entire Repertoire of Eight Conceptual Albums Performed Live Over Eight Consecutive Evenings from April 10 to 17.” The evening will be comprised of the albums performed in chronological order along with “elaborate staging” “3D images” and (shiver) “new improvisations.”
In case you’re a nostalgic baby boomer or a young technophile:
Tickets are $25.00 and will go on sale to the public on Wednesday, February 22, at 12:00 p.m., only at MoMAKraftwerkTickets.showclix.com. Space is limited. There is a two-ticket limit per person for the series, with each individual order limited to one transaction. Tickets will be distributed exclusively via will call, with photo ID required.
Last Wednesday the Catholic League’s William Donohue told The Washington Post that, “You have to know when to step on the gas and when to step on the brake.” Ironically, he was speaking about his own turn to step on the brake, having given the gas already to his thrust to remove David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly from the National Portrait Gallery’s current Hide/Seek exhibit. But even as he spoke, activists, fellow artists, local galleries, The Andy Warhol Foundation, and Smithsonian curators were stepping on the gas.
Mr. Donohue was telling reporters that his work was done and he would not be attending a dialog at the New York Public Library that night, where Hide/Seek curators Johathan Katz and David C. Ward were scheduled to speak.
Katz and Ward, who have organized what the Post called “perhaps the highest-profile and most canonically scholarly exhibition of gay and lesbian art ever mounted in a major museum” were in danger of having months of careful work upstaged by the controversy surrounding the Wojnarowicz yoink. They gave a scholarly lecture, holding their grievances at bay until the question and answer period. Reluctant as they were to vilify the Smithsonian during a time when cultural institutions should be presenting a united front against what Katz calls “an American Taliban,” they did express disapproval of the hasty decision to edit Hide/Seek without even, as Ward puts it, “a fighting retreat.”
Meantime, artist AA Bronson had asked that very day, that his portrait, Felix, be removed from the NPG as a protest: “To edit queer history in this way is hurtful and disrespectful,” he wrote in his letter to the National Gallery of Canada (current owners of the work). Though they respect Mr. Bronson’s decision, whether or not the gallery has the legal right to remove the work remains to be seen.
While the Smithsonian’s thumping continues apace, New York activists are preparing to mirror the last week’s protest marches in Washington, as they spread word of a march this Sunday that will proceed from The Metropolitan Museum of Art to The Cooper-Hewitt/Smithsonian at 91st Street.
DATE: Sunday, 12/19
TIME: At: 1:00 pm
Protest against the Smithsonian
A march to protest the Smithsonian’s Censorship of David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly from the National Portrait Gallery’s current Hide/Seek exhibit
March begins at: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
From there it will proceed to The Cooper-Hewitt/Smithsonian at 91st Street.
Via NewsGrist blog, This latest correspondance from artist, AA Bronson, to Martin Sullivan, Director of the National Portrait Gallery. Apparently Sullivan phoned Bronson to tell him that The National Gallery of Canada could not cancel the loan of Bronson’s work, Felix, due to the nature of their loan agreement. Mr Bronson responds below.
Date: December 17, 2010
To: Martin Sullivan, Director of the National Portrait Gallery
From: AA Bronson
Dear Martin Sullivan,
Thanks for telephoning me and I am writing to confirm our conversation.
You began by offering to bring me to Washington to see the exhibition, at the Museum’s expense.
You reported that the National Gallery of Canada was unable to cancel the loan because of the loan agreement, but that Marc Meyer, the Director, urged you to cooperate with me. (My understanding from Marc is that they CAN terminate the loan, but they would rather not do so on political grounds. Marc, maybe you can clarify).
You described my work “Felix, June 5, 1994” as one of three works given a major amount of space in the exhibition. It was because of that space that the museum was unable to give as much space to the videos in the exhibition as they really needed. You withdrew the David Wojnarowicz video because you felt it wasn’t being given “proper respect” because of the lack of space. I am not positive that I got this right, but I think you said that this was done BEFORE the Catholic League published a statement about the work, and you claim that a journalist goaded the politicians into making their statements. Please don’t take offense if I say that this all sounds exceedingly convenient. Not to say that it isn’t true but it is not convincing.
My proposal is that you reinstate the video, but in its complete form, as the artist intended (you were showing only a clip before, I understand, which already constitutes a prior censorship of the work).
If that means removing my work in order to make an appropriate space for the video, in its full form, I give my permission to do just that.
James T. Bartlett has resigned as National Portrait Gallery commissioner, in protest of the Smithsonian’s removal of David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly from the “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” exhibition.
Since its decision to withdraw the Wojnarowicz piece in deference to complaints from William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, who dubbed it “hate speech” and to pressure from certain members of congress, the Smithsonian has been bombarded with criticism from other members of congress, supporters of free speech and the arts, friends and supporters of the artist, the Andy Warhol Foundation, and many of it’s own members, including Bartlett.
Created by the artist in response to a diagnosis of AIDS, and in a signature religion-probing gothic style, the video was removed from the (now ironically named) Hide/Seek, an exhibition of gay portraiture, at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery on November 30th.
The yanking of Fire in My Belly followed threats from Republican leader, Representative John Boehner of Ohio and Representative Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House, who threatened the Smithsonian by claiming that the venerable institution was misusing taxpayer funds and they could look forward to losing funding in future.
Though the exhibit was privately funded, the Smithsonian does receive some public funding. But National Portrait Gallery officials have stated that their quick response was prompted by a fear that a swift news cycle was quickly burying the exhibit in distractions and that they were forced to stay ahead of it.
Initial reports of the work’s withdrawal brought on immediate protest and have resulted in a veritable avalanche of bad press.
On Wednesday, December 1st, upon hearing of the Smithsonian’s cave-in, Victoria Reis, co-founder, Executive & Artistic Director of the nearby Transformer gallery, ordered an immediate, 48 hour screening of a 4 minute clip of the work (similar to what was included in Hide/Seek). This version of Fire in My Belly was shown in the storefront window facing outward to the public.
Protests spread out from the small non-profit gallery on December 2nd as a march proceeded from Transformer, at 14th and P streets NW to the National Portrait Gallery to picket in front of it.
By December 3rd Transformer obtained from the Wojnarowicz Estate (represented by PPOW gallery) & the Fales Library, an original 13 minute version of the “film in progress” plus 7 minutes of excerpts, and began to show those inside the gallery. But that screening, ending on the 4th, proved to be a spur to further protest.
Frustrated that the screening was to end that Saturday, two men began showing an iPad video of the the work at the NPG, inside the entrance to the Hide/Seek exhibit. They were detained and banned from the Smithsonian for life.
In a letter co-written by Reis and Board President, James Alefantis, repudiated the NPG’s failure to uphold its own claims that “it is committed to the struggle for justice so that people and groups can claim their full inheritance in the American promise of equality inclusion and social dignity.”
The letter goes on to quote Rep. James P. Moran, chairman of the subcommittee that provides funding for the country’s major art institutions who, in response to the Wojnarowitcz controversy said, “The whole point is that we should not be censoring we should be discussing.”
In a statement reacting to the Smithsonian’s decision, P.P.O.W Gallery and The Estate of David Wojnarowicz said, “In 1990 the artist won a historic Supreme Court case, David Wojnarowicz v. American Family Association. The courts sided with Wojnarowicz after he filed suit against Donald Wildmon and the American Family Association, who copied, distorted and disseminated the artist’s images in a pamphlet to speak out against the NEA’s funding of exhibits that included art works of Wojnarowicz and other artists. We are deeply troubled that the remarks, which led to the removal of David’s work from Hide/Seek, so closely resemble those of the past. Wojnarowicz’s fight for freedom of artistic expression, once supported by the highest court, is now challenged again. In his absence, we know that his community, his supporters, and the many who believe in his work will carry his convictions forward.”
Meanwhile, silent protest marches continue to plague the Smithsonian with picketers carrying the iconic photo of Wojnarowicz with his mouth sewn shut. Some protesters have even projected the censored video onto the side of the building, apparently unhindered by police.
Even Stephen Colbert has joined in the fray, saying of Eric Cantor’s threats, “This defunding threat isn’t some cheap exercise in mindless censorship. It’s an anti-paradigmatic revolutionary work of conceptual art banning. Cantor’s art is about the art that isn’t there, making the inaccessible literally inaccessible.”
This evening, in an unprecedented admonition to any of it’s previous benefactors, The Andy Warhol Foundation threatened to cease funding to ALL Smithsonian Institution exhibitions if they will not reinstate the Wojnarowicz piece.
Transformer plans to display a sign in its window until the work is reinstated. Commemorating the Smithsonian’s shame, the sign reads:
A Fire in My Belly
Video by David Wojnarowicz (1954 – 1992)
Created in 1987, Censored by the Smithsonian Institution 2010