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The Southwest Museum and the Autry Museum of Western Heritage may merge to create a new National Center for Western Heritage, reports Christopher Knight in the Los Angeles Times. The confidential plan calls for the construction of a new building for the Southwest Museum on the grounds of the Autry Museum. Southwest Museum director Duane King and Autry Museum CEO John Gray conceded that informal discussions have taken place.

The Autry museum, founded by cowboy singer Gene Autry in 1978 as a repository of Hollywood memorabilia and cowboy artifacts, last year received a $100-million endowment from Autry's widow, Jackie Autry. It has an annual operating budget of $12 million. The Southwest Museum, founded in 1907, has a major collection of Indian art and artifacts numbering 350,000 items. The museum plans to break ground this summer on a $3-million expansion and renovation. Its budget is $1.6 million a year.

The merger faces an uncertain future. As Southwest board member James F. Dickason said in 1990, when the subject was first broached, "They're cowboys and we're Indians, and the two just don't get along."

In his Sunday sermon at St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue in New York, Edward Cardinal Egan took time out to weigh in on the controversy surrounding Renee Cox's photographic Last Supper at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Egan called the artist a "pathetic individual" and accused the museum of being "silly." After complaining about the earlier controversy involving Chris Ofili's Holy Virgin Mary painting, and then mistaking Cox for a man and the photo for a painting, Egan said, "They bring in another fellow, and he paints a naked lady as Christ at the Last Supper. The bigots who do this say, 'Go out and find minority people to do this,' and the sophisticated people say, 'Oh, isn't that fine?'"

For her part, Cox told the New York Daily News (which went with the story on its front page on Monday), "I'm so sorry the poor man feels that way. It must be coming from some level of frustration, and maybe the lord will help him, too. The Lord gave me this idea, because I'm a child of the Lord as well.

In related news, New York governor George Pataki has come out against New York mayor Rudolf Giuliani's plan for a "decency panel" to vet exhibitions at museums that receive public funding. "I do not believe that government should be determining in private museums what the appropriate standards should be," he said.

On Sunday, forces of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban shot anti-aircraft weapons at two 5th-century carvings of Buddha, measuring 175 and 120 feet, carved out of the cliffs at Bamiyan. Reports of the damage are mixed as the Taliban has banned entrance to the region. Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar responded to widespread criticism of the destruction by describing it as a tribute to "the brave Afghan nation."

Last Friday, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urged the Taliban to accept the offer by Metropolitan Museum of director Philippe de Montebello to fund the removal of the works from Afghanistan and their subsequent safekeeping in world museums.

The Venice Biennale is drawing near -- it opens to the public June 10 -- and word is that Postmodernist sculptor Robert Gober is using a beach-and-highway theme for his installation in the mini-White House that is the U.S. pavilion. The show includes a sculpture that resembles a bronze butter churn, another work that resembles a plunger on a square block, a photo of a highway and an artist's book that charts a 1978 trip by the artist to Jones Beach. The show is jointly organized by Hirshhorn Museum curator of contemporary art Olga Viso and Art Institute of Chicago curator James Rondeau.

The National Gallery of Art has acquired Richard Serra's monumental steel work, Five Plates, Two Poles (1971). Composed of five steel plates standing on edge and held in place by two steel poles on the ground, the sculpture is an imposing 23 feet wide and 8 feet high. The work is the first by the artist to enter the National Gallery collection, and went on view in the East Building on Mar. 2, 2001.

Sculpture fever also hits the Metropolitan Museum of Art this spring, when it installs five sculptures by Joel Shapiro on its 10,000-square-foot roof garden. The three large cast bronze and two painted cast aluminum sculptures date from 1989 to the present and are drawn from public and private collections. This is the fourth consecutive single-artist installation on the roof. It opens May 1.
-- compiled by Sherry Wong
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Christopher Knight

Committed to the Image: Contemporary Black Photographers

Chris Ofili

Robert Gober

Richard Serra

Joel Shapiro