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|HEADS ROLL AT BOSTON MFA|
Boston Museum of Fine Arts director Malcolm Rogers has abruptly fired several senior curators and announced a radical restructuring of curatorial departments at the 129-year-old museum, according to a report by Christine Temin in the Boston Globe. A total of 18 jobs have been eliminated. Two senior curators were dismissed on Friday -- American decorative arts specialist Jonathan Fairbanks, a 28-year MFA employee, and European decorative arts curator Anne Poulet, a 20-year veteran. Other high-profile staff members on the way out are education department director William Burback and Lelia Amalfitano, director of exhibitions and visiting artists programs at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. According to sources, the badges and keys of those being laid off were confiscated summarily on Friday, right after they got the bad news.
Star curators Theodore Stebbins Jr. (American paintings) and George Shackelford (European paintings) are still on board, though the museum plans searches for new heads of their departments.
As for the administrative structure, Rogers plans to consolidate discipline-based departments by geography. Thus, the new Art of the Americas department includes what had been separate departments of American decorative arts, American paintings and art of the ancient Americas. Similarly, the new Art of Europe department combines European decorative arts and European paintings; the Art of the Ancient World department joins ancient Egyptian, Nubian and Near Eastern art with classical art; and the new Art of Asia and Africa department mixes Asiatic art and art of Africa and Oceania.
The plan also calls for the creation of a new department of photography with its own curator. The changes at the MFA, Temin writes, unify under Rogers' control what had previously been separate curatorial fiefdoms, in which curators wielded tremendous clout and had considerable fund-raising power.
THE PICASSO BRAND
Now that the Pablo Picasso estate, headed by Picasso's son Claude Picasso, has okayed a new Picasso-brand minivan from Citroën, expect still more commercial products using the upscale "Picasso" name. The Electronic Telegraph reports plans for a Picasso cigarette lighter manufactured by Dupont and a Picasso cognac from Hennessy with a label featuring the artist's 1940 work Café at Royan. Last year, in exchange for a large but undisclosed fee, the family allowed Las Vegas gambling magnate Steve Wynn to open a Picasso-themed restaurant inside his new Bellagio resort. The brand must be worth something -- Paloma Picasso's fashion empire is reportedly valued at $500 million. The Picasso family's exclusive right to exploit the Picasso name expires in 2023, on the 50th anniversary of the artist's death.
British bad-boy artist Damien Hirst is suing British Airways over its use of an advertisement he claims was inspired by his work, according to the Electronic Telegraph. The ad features colored dots next to a caption reading "Go -- the low-cost airline from British Airways." Hirst says the design bears a striking resemblance to one of his "spot" paintings, whose motif the artist proposed to BA four years ago as a decorative design for one of its planes, a collaboration that fell through. BA said that the Go advertising campaign was not inspired by Hirst but created by the design firm Wolff Olins.
HIRST ON MARS
Our other Damien Hirst story is even more incredible. A spot painting by the British artist will be included on Britain's Beagle 2 Mars mission in 2003 to provide a test card against which to calibrate cameras and instruments, according to the London Evening Standard. Hirst is reportedly excited about the project, which requires paints that will tolerate temperatures of 2000 degrees and that won't change color under ultraviolet light. "At art school we were encouraged to break boundaries," he said. "But Mars? Not in my wildest dreams…."
KAREN FINLEY, PLAYMATE
Move over Artforum, the magazine the avant-garde art world is buying this summer is the July issue of Playboy. The feature in question, blurbed on the cover as "Bill Maher's Chocolate Fantasies," is actually a six-page nudie photo spread of scrumptious, single mother-of-one Karen Finley. Several pictures feature the radical, Jesse Helms-baiting performance artist slathered with Hershey's Syrup, natch, but others focus on Finley wearing nothing but her make-up. What a babe! The always illuminating Playboy caption text notes, "As for nudity in her work, she says, 'I am concerned with the power of looking. Being nude, I am like the art.'" What does an artist get for something like that? About $40,000, said Finley.
$28 MILLION DEGAS
A pastel of a ballet dancer by Edgar Degas sold for £17.6 million at Sotheby's London on June 28. The work, Danseuse au repos (ca. 1878) was originally purchased by French businessman Jules-Emile Boivin from Durand-Ruel in 1895 for FF1,200, and had remained in the family ever since. Its presale estimate was £5 million-£7 million; the previous Degas record was £7.5 million, set at Christie's London in 1987.
HOCKNEY WINS RA AWARD
Los Angeles-based British painter David Hockney has won the £25,000 Charles Wollaston Award from the Royal Academy for his 20-foot-long painting, A Bigger Grand Canyon. The work is installed in a gallery with mirrors in its corners to reflect the painting and give the illusion of vast expanses of sky and landscape. The annual award is given to the most distinguished work in the Academy's summer exhibition, and was set up in 1978 with a donation from RA fan Charles Wollaston (1914-1992).
CUBAN MUSEUM MERGER
The 25-year-old Cuban Museum of the Americas in Miami has been closed and its collections transferred to the University of Miami. The Cuban Museum was engulfed in controversy after a 1988 show of art from Cuba was considered pro-Communist by some in Miami's expatriate Cuban community. In June 1990, a bomb damaged the museum entrance, forcing the institution to close for six months. In 1992, Miami politicians tried to cancel the museum's lease but failed after a court challenge. Since 1995 the museum had been limping along with little money for operations, much less exhibitions. Earlier this year, the city had threatened to sell the museum building, a former fire station, to get it back on the tax roles. The Cuban Museum collection ranges from early Cuban modernists Cundo Bermudez, Victor Manuel, Rene Portocarrero and Raul Milian to the so-called "third generation" in Miami, artists such as Maria Brito, Maria Martinez-Cañas, Jose Bedia, Mario Bencomo and Mario Algaze. "This is a wonderful thing for the university,'' said Brian Dursum, director of the University of Miami's Lowe Art Gallery.
SMITHSONIAN BUYS DOWNTOWN LANDMARK
The Smithsonian Institution is getting in on the revival of downtown Washington, D.C., buying the landmark Victor Building for $65 million. Located at Ninth and H Streets, N.W., the building is a hybrid, consisting of a 1909 Renaissance Revival-style façade on a new 330,000-square-foot structure. The Victor will provide permanent space for 320 employees of the National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of American Art, which are expected to close in January for extensive renovations. The Victor will also house the Archives of American Art.
ZIG V AT FINE ARTS MUSEUMS
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco have purchased David Smith's monumental painted steel work Zig V (1961) from the artist's estate. The acquisition is the first with the $10 million fund provided by San Francisco art patron Phyllis Wattis. Wattis also gave $10 million to the museums' building fund.
MORE MELLON GIFTS FOR NGA
The National Gallery of Art has announced the bequest of another 73 works from art collector Paul Mellon, who died at age 91 in February. The NGA made public a gift of 110 works earlier this year. The new gifts include Edgar Degas' The Fallen Jockey, nine Degas race drawings, 37 sculptures by Degas, including the wax Little Dancer, 14 Years Old, paintings by George Stubbs and John Frederick Peto, and 17 "animalier" bronzes by 19th-century artists.
COSTUME INSTITUTE CASH
New York arts patron Laura Johnson has pledged a $1 million bequest to support the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum. Johnson's late husband, Raymond Johnson, was president of Saks Fifth Avenue.
NEW JOHNS WORKS AT SFMOMA
Some artists debut their new work in gallery shows. Other artists settle for displaying the stuff in their own studios. And then there are the lucky few who show their latest production at museums. "Jasper Johns: New Paintings and Works on Paper" features seven paintings, two drawings and four prints made since 1997, and goes on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Sept. 15, 1999-Jan. 2, 2000. The show is organized by curator Gary Garrels.
WALKER WEB COMMISSION
The Walker Art Center premieres a new Web project by novelist Mark Amerika titled Phon:e:me on June 30, 1999. A novelist who lives in Boulder, Colo., Amerika has previously written The Kafka Chronicles and Sexual Blood, and also created the much-hyped interactive multimedia novel Grammatron. The self-effacingly titled Phon:e:me is billed as "part oral narrative, part experimental sound collage and part written hypertext" made using "a specially programmed speech synthesizer that sampled the artist's voice as he spoke all the phonemes of the English language and mimicked electronic sounds."
CUPBOARD GOES FOR $270,000
The Abraham and Hannah Perkins 1683 oak court cupboard, discussed by Sotheby's decorative arts specialist Wendell Garrett in the premiere installment of his Artnet Magazine column Garrett's Attic, sold at the hammer for $270,000 at Sotheby's New York on June 17. The presale estimate for the work was $40,000-$60,000.