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the royal flush

by charlie finch  









SWAT team
   Is MOMA losing its magic?

The Museum of Modern Art has always been the arena for eccentric struggles between its highly intelligent staff and its power-crazy trustees.

In a constant state of awkward physical expansion, MOMA always appeared to employ Chaos Theory for its architectural experiments, usually because Nelson Rockefeller of John Hay Whitney bought another block for the playpen.

Then there's the small matter of art. MOMA didn't acknowledge Abstract Expressionism until 1959 and missed the Pop Art phenomenon completely (Andy and Edie had to go to Philadelphia for their 1965 event, for god's sake!!!), even though longtime trustee Celeste Bartos bought Campbell's Soup Can Warhols from Leo Castelli by the fistful.

Instead, in 1965, MOMA tried to start an Op Art movement (Bridget Riley, Vasarely) that fizzled in the glass.

Which brings us to now. Andrew Decker, in the current ARTnews (which has traditionally had an inside track on MOMA news) reveals that current director Glenn Lowry is in way over his head, ordering too many memos and meetings. The former Toronto tightwad has upped the yearly operating budget from $4 million to $6 million.

Wags opine that the MOMA board really wanted Glenn Loury, the Af Am academic. Hiring the other guy, Mr. Wrong, was like bringing in a farmer to run an ad agency.

According to Decker, MOMA, a place where Alfred Barr or Philip Johnson made curatorial decisions alone during dessert, invited 32 "insiders" to a country retreat where out-of-the-loop Adam Gopnik, Bill Rubin's longtime protegé, called the classic De Stijl MOMA lobby, so intimately deep, "a waste of space."

Suck Tina Brown's tit, you Bronx twit!!!

Decker's sources summed it up succinctly: Lowry the Islamicist should "lead the museum, not the trustees."

Ah, the trustees. All the world knows how dumb Ron Lauder is from his disastrous stints as New York mayoral candidate and ambassador to Austria.

Lauder is so thick that he went out and spent millions on Richard Serra's Intersection, donated it to the museum, and then realized that MOMA's floors couldn't take the weight. So they bought the Hotel Dorset.

Then there's Aggie Gund, who told the New York Times with a sense of noblesse oblige that would shame Marie Antoinette, "If they were bombing Vietnam, I would refuse the medal" (that's the National Arts Medal, not the Croix de Guerre).

Yes, it would take a whole war, a change in the tide of human history, and what would be the headline?

Gund Rejects Medal

Here's what mid-level MOMA staffers tell us about Aggie:

1) Gund and laser-brained P+S chief Kirk Varnedoe, whose mind can melt walls and may have to during reconstruction, don't speak.

2) Not a sparrow falls in Sette MOMA, that Gundy doesn't complain about it.

3) And if you gave her an art history test, particularly with essay questions, Gundo would flunko.

Fortunately, MOMA's curatorial staff has always been the sword in the stone, nowadays Varnedoe, John Elderfield, Peter Galassi and Pamela Wye, among others.

Our buddy Rob Storr is like a human minesweeper, duking it out with Hilton Kramer over late de Kooning; defending ungrateful Korean artist Bul Lee for putting stinking fish in the Projects room; parrying freaky frog Catherine David in Artforum; piling up major Chuck Close and Tony Smith shows on his plate; and rubbing suntan lotion on Elaine Dannheisser.

Rockin' Rob does it all in a closet-sized cubicle office piled floor-to-ceiling with art books; like van Gogh, a solitary chair.

Which brings us back to the Main Point (a club in Philadelphia).

Only MOMA would stage an elaborate show/happening in 1994, to completely rehabilitate Rem Koolhas (they even put his stuff in the subways), have it succeed beyond MOMA's wildest expectations, and then dismiss Koolhas, the obvious choice, from its pretentious "Architects Expand MOMA Competition" in the very first round.

You know the reason -- as long as Philip Johnson lives, ain't nobody gonna outshine the Seagram's Ganymede.

Koolhas even proved himself by designing the terrific Lehman Maupin space in SoHo, which should be a template for MOMA's new galleries.

A modest proposal: Sell the midtown properties (the Rockefeller Center era is over), buy a couple of square blocks on Tenth Avenue, give it to Koolhas and go to town!!!

"The good news is I'm divorcing you. The bad news is I'm getting married again."
   -- Red Grooms (to his first wife)

It seems the IRS sent Larry Gagosian a bill for $13 million, but Larry's lawyers successfully argued that the money was owed by a defunct tax shelter and Gogo owed zip!!

"I got rid of what I was collecting. Jennifer Bartlett, Mark Innerst, Joan Nelson."
   -- Collector Elaine Dannheisser in the New York Times

"I own seven Walter Robinsons"
   -- Collector Simon Cerigo

God forbid that you sell a Jennifer Bartlett, or Bartlett's longtime flack 'n' claque Roberta Smith will raise hell, as she did in last Friday's Times.

Nevertheless, we agree with Roberta's point that MOMA's collector-driven trendiness knocks out the in-betweeners. Putting the Sue Coe (a master working in, gasp, a traditional medium) in the hallway is a disgrace.

My colleague, Coagula senior editor Fred Dewey, was an official guest at the White House Arts Medal ceremony, for his work with the L.A. literary salon Beyond Baroque.

Fred reports: "President Clinton was even more affable than expected.

"Things were loose on the public side of the White House, but when we got to the private garden ceremony, we were surrounded by SWAT teams and Secret Service agents.

"Agnes Gund (a medal recipient) was warm and friendly. She introduced me to her entire family -- her daughter runs a writer's workshop in L.A.

"George Gund (Ag's brother), who owns the NHL San Jose Sharks, stuck to me like glue."

After weeks of American press blubbering about drunk drivers and paparazzi, the French police now tell us that Princess Diana's car was sideswiped by a vanished Fiat Uno.

CHARLIE FINCH is the New York editor of Coagula Art Journal and has coauthored the forthcoming Most Art Sucks from Smart Art Press.