The Met Needs Your Generosity: and Leonard Lauder’s

Credit: Trees at l'Estaque, 1908 (oil on canvas), Braque, Georges (1882-1963) / Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, Denmark / De Agostini Picture Library / The Bridgeman Art Library
Credit: Trees at l’Estaque, 1908 (oil on canvas), Braque, Georges (1882-1963) / Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, Denmark / De Agostini Picture Library / The Bridgeman Art Library

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?

Answer: Meet Leonard A Lauder

Well, on Tuesday, right after we’d asked that question, and before we could get our breath, the museum proudly announced that it had been gifted a 1.1 Billion Dollar cash cow in the form of cosmetics tycoon Leonard A Lauder’s entire collection of cubist art. [ ]

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?

Cubist works worth $1bn donated to Metropolitan Museum of Art

Leonard Lauder’s $1.1 Billion Cubist Art Gift To Met Is One Of Largest Donations In History

A Billion-Dollar Gift Gives the Met a New Perspective (Cubist)

REVIEW: Gesumkunstwerk: Neue Galerie’s OTTO DIX

The Poet, The Dancer, The Business Man
The Poet, The Dancer, The Business Man

Otto Dix at Neue Galerie: March 11 to Aug.30

Leah Ammon shrugs when I ask her why the press release for Neue Gallerie’s Otto Dix show does not mention the layered sensuality of sounds and scents, effected by Frederico de Vera’s exhibition design.

The Neue concentrates on addressing the art and the artist in its press releases, the exuberant Communications Director tells me. But it is in line with museum director Renée Price’s philosophy of seeing each show as a Gesumkunstwerk – an entire artwork in itself. I would ask her how to spell that, but I don’t want to damp her very infectious enthusiasm.

She wafts a muddy scent toward us from a vent near the floor and we hear crickets while we look at Dix’s WWI works on paper in pencil and watercolor: the lonely sense of abandonment that Dix would have experienced in those dark trenches is indeed heightened as the atmosphere grows contemplative.

The thing to remember is that the Neue Galerie is class. Truly. It wears its estate pearls quietly. What might be immediately judged as a perhaps superfluous attempt to amplify the drama of Dix’s already powerful works, proves, actually, to be an understated design meant to place the viewer into a context which erases the white box.

Ammon tells me that, this uncelebrated Gesumkustwerk approach is signature to the Neue and has been used often, usually in the form of music.

The Neue’s Otto Dix show is a triumph of this unobtrusive design philosophy that uses scent, sound, and music along with a timeline-defying layout to highlight the experience and the story of the artist’s inspirations: WWI, and the Weimar era.

The success of organizing Dix’s works by four themes: WWI, Portraiture, Sexuality, and Allegory, is most strongly borne out when one is surrounded by his stunning portraits. Seeing them all together one is struck by the individuality of each one, and the great variety of methods which Dix freely availed himself of: pencil strokes are used on fine hair, translucent veins signal the vulnerability of a child, while painterly build up is used to express fullness and wrinkling. The painted eyes of some, built up to alarming heights create a stare that had to be inspired by a very real presence, and pallid and burning colors signal strongly the spirit of each personality.

A painting of the Poet Iwar von Luecken is long, weightless and etherial, a la, El Greco, while another, the daunting portrait of  Dancer Anita Berber is an almost mannerist study of snaky sensuality, slathered in a defiant bold red. Others are detailed in some spots and painterly in others. Works on wood are scored and layered to create fullness and deeply creased wrinkles. In many of these, the palpable heft of women’s flesh adds a fascinating contrast to Dix’s self portraits which are so posed and so flat that he seems at once exposed and armored in objectivity.

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, the Neue’s design shop is selling an Estée Lauder exclusive Berlin Red Lipstick and Bauhaus-style compact. They form a nice complement to the unforgettable Anita Berber portrait. The museum has unique access to cross-marketing opportunities with Estée Lauder through co-founder and president, Ronald S. Lauder. Asked about this, and how it may be viewed as a possible conflict of interest, Ms. Ammon is unfazed: it’s an “obvious connection,”– the style and the period, and cosmetics. I also find it in keeping with the spirit of Dix’s many soldier and girl paintings, fun, bold, and not too sweet.

Neue Galerie’s Weimar Mix: Otto Dix, and Nostalgic Whiffs

“Yes,” Leah Ammon, Communications Manager at the Neue Galerie, tells me, “the [Otto Dix] show includes sound, music, and scent installation. One room includes a wet earth smell and the faint sound of a cricket chirping, and another includes a 1920’s vintage Guerlain perfume scent and a selection of cabaret songs from the Weimar period, “

Well: that’s all I needed to know. Oddly, I’d seen the show’s press release and checked the listing on the Neue Gallery site and neither of them mentioned the scents and sounds. Even most of the reviews neglected to mention this very innovative mixed media approach to presentation.

What was, mentioned, all over the internet and not just on the art sites, was the fact that Estée Lauder had created it’s blazing Berlin Red and Bauhaus style compact to launch in time for the Otto Dix show. The cosmetics will be sold exclusively by the Neue gift shop throughout the show’s duration.

Co-founded by Ronald S. Lauder, the Neue Gallery appears to be boldly leveraging more synergies than the old fashioned art world has been comfortable with. Let’s see where this goes.

More to come: I plan to meet this week with Ms. Ammon to discuss the Neue Gallery’s recent experiments in sensual surround presentation and it’s big step into cross-marketing.

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