CRITICS BASH NEW MOMA
When it rains it pours. Almost three months after the Museum of Modern Art first unveiled its new $425-million, six-level, 630,000-square-foot facility, two major organs of contemporary art-world opinion -- Artforum magazine and the New York Times -- have weighed in on the new museum, and found it wanting. "MoMA has lost its edge," hazarded new Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff, recently imported from Los Angeles but no slouch when it comes to expressing his opinion. He finds the third-floor architecture and design galleries "lifeless," "haphazard" and "cluttered with trinkets," laying the blame squarely at the feet of department head Terence Riley, who has failed, Ouroussof says, to make MoMA a leader in the field.
Upstairs, in its sixth-floor galleries, MoMA has installed its first temporary exhibition, "Contemporary Voices: Works from the UBS Art Collection," a show of 64 works that were initially assembled by MoMA boardmember Donald B. Marron, who bought the art for PaineWebber, the brokerage firm he sold to UBS for $12 billion in 2000. Though "amazingly strong" for a corporate collection, according to Times critic Roberta Smith, the show is "pre-approved and risk-free." What's more, many of the best works (by Lucian Freud, Andreas Gursky, Damien Hirst, Howard Hodgkin, Roy Lichtenstein, Brice Marden, Sarah Morris, Sigmar Polke, Neo Rauch and David Salle) are being retained by UBS for its own holdings. "It is too bad," Smith remarks drolly at the end of her review, "that the Modern didn't have the time or energy or space to mount a truly full-scale examination" of the art of the late 70s to the early 90s.
Over in Artforum magazine, the tone of the coverage of the new MoMA is set by Todd Eberle's dark and brooding cover photograph showing an Alberto Giacometti figure and Joan Mir's Moonbird in the museum garden, framed to eerie effect by silhouetted, drooping beech branches, as if the museum were some ruin in the jungle. Parsing the articles inside is a more daunting (and dare we say masochistic) task, considering the slack and self-indulgent writing. Columbia University architecture dean Mark Wigley admits that MoMA has taken "a quantum leap forward," but complains about the museum's visitor brochure, and says that the "quiet architecture gets in the way." A partisan for his field, Wigley clearly feels that architect Yoshio Taniguchi's design is too subservient to the art (though, contra Ouroussoff, Wigley likes the architecture and design galleries).
Yve-Alain Bois, until recently the head of Harvard's art history department, takes us on a dyspeptic tour of the museum, bitching about almost everything he sees. The spaces are too large, too regular and have too many doors, sculpture is too little represented, the installation is too pluralistic and has "no punch, no rhythm, no strong movement." Picasso, Pop, post-war European art and political art are all poorly served. Overall, Bois notes a "curatorial timidity" and "loss of nerve" that he attributes to the "no ripples, please" principle of corporate culture. Bois also writes something about museum trustee Ronald Lauder demanding (or not needing to demand) that five works in the contemporary galleries be credited as his gifts.
Most interesting of all is the essay of Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, whose affection for crypto-Stalinism can be seen in his feverishly eloquent critique, from its praise for exhibitions of Rodchenko and the "Russian Avant-Garde Book" to its complaints about "pluralism" and what he calls "the inevitable contradictions of the liberalist-pluralist model." Utopia and emancipation have been discarded, he proclaims, in favor of "spectacle and warfare."
A spokesperson for the museum greeted the negative remarks with equanimity, noting, "I guess that's why they're called critics."
HISTORIAN FINDS FLAWS IN N-YHS HAMILTON SHOW
Anyone can walk into the New-York Historical Society and see that the admittedly right-wing history exhibition, "Alexander Hamilton: The Man Who Made Modern America," Sept. 10, 2004-Feb. 28, 2005, is a museological travesty. Organized by National Revieweditor Richard Brookheiser, the show features a domineering installation of five giant (each about 17 x 17 ft.) newsreel screens that have nothing to do with Hamilton, as well as a timeline defaced with several advertisements for that bastion of Republican meanness and dishonesty, the New York Post [see "Artnet News," Sept. 29, 2004].
Now, CUNY history professor Mike Wallace, director of the Gotham Center for New York City History, has penned a historical critique of the show in the New York Review of Books and also posted an online analysis of the show's politics, titled Business Class Hero. As it turns out, the affection of today's capitalist class for Hamilton makes perfect sense. According to Wallace, Hamilton opposed the Bill of Rights, favored the rule of well-bred elites (and once proposed a "president elected for life") and had a "thirst for military glory." As new U.S. Treasury secretary, Hamilton favored a measure that profited speculators -- the new class of "paper aristocrats" -- over Revolutionary War soldiers. The exhibition, by omitting any sign of commerce, agriculture or manufacturing, Wallace writes, provides "a stockbroker's-eye view of the economy."
NEA UNCHANGED IN BUSH BUDGET President George W. Bush wants to slash hundreds of domestic programs in his 2006 budget, but the National Endowment for the Arts has dodged the axe. According to a report in the Washington Post, the administration put NEA's 2006 budget at $121.2 million, the same level as 2005. The budget also allocates $615 million for the Smithsonian Institution and $97 million for the National Gallery of Art (an increase of $5 million, earmarked for salary increases and utility costs).
HIRST SMASHED AT LEVER HOUSE
One of Damien Hirst's Pharmaceutical Windows -- a set of 12 stained-glass windows depicting a pile of colorful pills, originally done for the artist's now-defunct London bar -- was smashed in a melee during the Imitation of Christ fashion show at the lobby of art collector Aby Rosen's classically modernist Lever House on Park Avenue on Feb. 6, 2005. According to a report by Open All Night media, the fracas was caused when the paparazzi went after teen celebrity Mary-Kate Olsen and security guards intervened. The windows were sold at Sotheby's London on Oct. 18, 2004, in two lots of six, going for $453,000 and $373,000.
BOURGEOIS IN CUBA, AND UPSTATE NEW YORK? A new exhibition of works by Louise Bourgeois at the Wifredo Lam Center in Havana, entitled "Uno y Otros," Feb. 4-Apr. 26, 2005, is the first major survey of a U.S. artist to be mounted in Castro's island redoubt in several decades. According to press reports, U.S. restrictions against trade with Cuba required that the works -- including a version of the artist's giant spider sculpture, Maman, as well as 20 sculptures and 20 drawings -- be shipped via Canada. The show is organized by Phil Larratt-Smith, Bourgeois' archivist; Bourgeois herself, who is 93, is not attending.
Meanwhile, Dia:Beacon is investigating the possibility of building a special structure to house the installation that Bourgeois made for the Tate Modern Turbine Hall in 2000. Titled I Do, I Undo and I Redo, the three large steel towers are about 30 feet tall, and feature platforms at their apexes surrounded by mirrors.
AIPAD PHOTO SHOW HITS NEW YORK
A reminder for connoisseurs of vintage and contemporary fine art photography -- the 25th annual AIPADPhotography Show, rolls into the Hilton New York on Sixth Avenue in midtown Manhattan, Feb. 10-13, 2005. Sponsored by the Association of International PhotographyArt Dealers, the show features over 75 exhibitors, including Joseph Bellows Gallery (La Jolla), Bonni Benrubi Gallery (New York), Howard Greenberg Gallery (New York), Robert Klein Gallery (Boston), Galerie Priska Pasquer (Cologne), Julie Saul Gallery (New York), Andrew Smith Gallery (Santa Fe), Staley + Wise Gallery (New York), Throckmorton Fine Art (New York) and Zabriskie Gallery (New York). Also scheduled are a panel honoring Henri Cartier-Bresson, chaired by MoMA photo curator Peter Galassi and including photographers Bruce Davidson, Susan Meiselas and Joel Meyerowitz, and a presentation honoring Helen Gee, owner and founder of the legendary Greenwich VillageLimelight gallery in the 50s. Admission is $20; for more info, see www.photoshow.comLACMA GETS HALFF COLLECTION
The late advertising mogul Robert H. Halff, a former trustee of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, has left the museum a collection of 53 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper by 41 artists. Highlights include an Andy WarholCampbell's Soup Can, Roy Lichtenstein's painting Cold Shoulder and Claes Oldenburg's Baked Potato. Other artists include Lee Bontecou, Sam Francis, Donald Judd, Jasper Johns, Agnes Martin, Joan Mir, Robert Motherwell, Martin Puryear, Richard Serra, Joel Shapiro, Frank Stella and Cy Twombly. Halff also left an endowment for the Robert H. Halff Fund for the acquisition of contemporary art.
LOWER EAST SIDE PRINTSHOP TO GARMENT DISTRICT
After 35 years at its location on East 4th Street, the nonprofit Lower East Side Printshop is relocating to Manhattan's Garment District. The new space, boasting two studios totaling 4,500 square feet, a darkroom and a conference room, is slated to open at 306 West 37th Street on Apr. 9, 2005. The print shop serves over 80 artists a year, and has worked with Barbara Kruger, Robert Longo, Leon Golub, Juan Sanchez, Kiki Smith, Nancy Spero, Philip Taaffe and many others. For more info, see www.printshop.orgMODIGLIANI HITS THE MOVIES
The long awaited biopic of Amedeo Modigliani, written and directed by Scottish filmmaker Mick Davis and starring Andy Garcia in the title role, has begun to hit the festival circuit. In its recent showing at the Miami Film Festival, however, Modigliani got a less-than-stellar review. "The only thing worse than a bad movie is a bad, pretentious movie," wrote reviewer Phoebe Flowers. Furthermore, the critic found the artist to be "so vile, so unbearable, that his talent is rendered utterly irrelevant." To view the trailer, see www.modiglianithemovie.comNATIVE AMERICAN ART IN VENICE
Native Americans are to be officially represented at the 2005 Venice Biennale by performance and installation artist James Luna, a member of the La Jolla Band of Mission Indians from southern California. Luna, who was included in the 1993 Whitney Biennial, is be exhibiting a three-part work titled "Emendatio" at the Foundazione Querini Stampalia under the auspices of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. Native Americans were sponsored for the 1999, 2001 and 2003 biennials by the Native American Arts Alliance.
GREEN PRIZE IN URBAN DESIGN Harvard has awarded its eighth biennial Veronica Rudge Green Prize in Urban Design to the Ancient North Syrian city of Aleppo. The $35,000 prize, to be awarded to Aleppo mayor Dr. Maan Chibli on Apr. 13, 2005, honors the rehabilitation of Aleppo's historic city center, a 15-year-long undertaking overseen by the German Technical Cooperation."City of Stone: Aleppo's Rehabilitation" goes on view at the Harvard Design School, Apr. 4-May 25, 2005.
DIRECTOR FOR NASCENT STILL MUSEUM
Dean Sobel, former director and chief curator of the Aspen Art Museum, has been appointed project director for the proposed Clyfford Still museum in Denver. Patricia Still, the artist's widow, agreed to give 750 paintings and 1,400 works on paper to the city on condition that it build and maintain a museum to house the collection.
GOLDEN SNAGS DIRECTOR'S POST
The Studio Museum in Harlem has named curator Thelma Golden as its new director. She succeeds Lowry Stokes Sims, who becomes president of the museum in July.
NEW DIRECTOR AT ALJIRA Eathon G. Hall, Jr., has been appointed program director at Aljira in Newark. Formerly he was curator of education and public programs at the Bronx Museum for the Arts.