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    How to Fire a MoMA Director
by Charlie Finch
 
     
 
Museum of Modern Art director
Glenn Lowry
 
Former MoMA president William S. Paley (left) with John Hightower, MoMA director 1970-72.
 
Bates Lowry, MoMA director 1968-69.
Photo Dan Budnik
 
Alfred Barr, 1969.
Photo Russell Lynes.
 
"When MoMA director Glenn Lowry came to my studio," Cecily Brown told me at Walter Robinson's 50th birthday party, "I found him fascinating. He asked really intelligent questions about my work."

Nevertheless, Ms. Brown plans not to participate at a scheduled P.S. 1 panel, in solidarity with striking PASTA-MoMA workers. Not for her the specious arguments revelers at P.S. 1's dull summer parties employ: that P.S. 1 is somehow still distinct from the Museum of Modern Art. Glenn Lowry has oft proclaimed them joined at the hip, and P.S. 1's mission as MoMA's renovation holding yard significantly adds to the pressure on PASTA.

It can't be said enough -- MoMA's refusal to end the strike, its stubborn, plutocratic "let them eat cake" attitude towards its own white-collar workers, is a disgrace.

It's hard to believe that past MoMA boards under the control of Nelson Rockefeller (or even Blanchette!) or William Paley would have tolerated the cancellation of Summergarden music concerts, film festivals, a benefit by Sheryl Crow, etc. (not to mention a possible sympathy action to come by construction workers) without firing somebody at the top.

In 1968, for example, Paley pressured the current director's namesake Bates Lowry into resigning as director after just one year. Lowry's sins? Going over budget and insisting on also being named Director of Painting and Sculpture.

At the time, MoMA trustee John de Menil remarked, "When you have a good board and a good director, some connivance must occur" for the director to be fired. He put the blame on Paley and David Rockefeller.

Here lies the M.O. for firing Glenn Lowry, settling the strike quickly and replacing Lowry with someone more attuned to the New York art world like Dia Art Center director Michael Govan.

It is the Hollywood faction on the board -- Michael Ovitz, Doug Cramer, et al., which could possibly pull a coup.

These fellows deal with the most demanding unions in the world, such as SAG and AFTRA, and, being Tinseltowners, they are hypersensitive to the kind of overwhelming bad publicity that the strike has generated.

Sure, glaring Glenn makes the trains run on time ... but maybe he doesn't -- what about those cancellations? And is this any way to run a major museum -- moving fat-cat dinners indoors from the garden to avoid the cacophony of strikers; insulting the strikers (according to the New York Observer) like a tin-pot tyrant from Toronto?

MoMA's board didn't tolerate Bates Lowry's successor, either, dismissing John Hightower in 1972 after he mangled the very first PASTA strike in 1971.

They shouldn't wait that long to fire Glenn, who is way in over his head in a big city like New York.

In 1943, MoMA's board gave the fired Alfred Barr his own desk in its library for him to oversee things "ex jure."

Let's put Glenn's desk in the gift shop, with his buddies from Bloomingdale's, and a few PASTA members.

That will give him some things to stare at.


CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (1998).