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America's Smithsonian
in New York

Rembrandt Peale
George Washington
America's Smithsonian

Freedom 7
Mercury Capsule
America's Smithsonian

Arnold Scaasi
Flowered dress 
with coat lined
in matching fabric
ca. 1960

Arnold Scaasi
with model 
Gillis McGill in
pink taffeta
evening dress

Water Buffalo 
Guinea Bissau
Bidjogo peoples, 
20th Century
Brooklyn Museum

Female Figure
Ivory Coast
Baule, 20th Century
Brooklyn Museum 

Pickard Hall
University of
Columbia, MO
Chris Neal

Male Figure
Ivory Coast
Baule, 19th or 
20th Century
Brooklyn Museum 

The Parthenon
Lee Rosenbaum


The Parthenon frieze:
The west side

The Parthenon frieze:
The north side 

Burial mask of

Head of

Edgar Degas
La Classe de Danse
c. 1873-75 

visual reality
by Lee Rosenbaum
Corporations have always sponsored museum 
exhibitions out of self-interest. First 
they did it to enhance their public image. 
Then they began looking for a direct tie-in 
to their products---Tiffany & Co. sponsored 
historical shows of Tiffany objects; 
Daimler-Benz sponsored a show of Andy 
Warhol's Mercedes-Benz pictures; Formica 
Corp. sponsored crafts shows of objects 
made from the company's materials. The 
newest form of pragmatic "philanthropy" has 
reached new levels of audacity, as 
corporations commandeer large chunks of 
museum exhibition space to show off their 
current product lines.
Why not? You can't blame business for 
trying to get the biggest bang for the 
buck. But where are the museum directors 
and curators who are supposed to be drawing 
the line between corporate patronage and 
corporate takeover? At the refurbished 
Guggenheim SoHo's "electronic reading 
room"-- a user-unfriendly, spaceship-like 
environment designed, built and funded by 
ENEL, the Italian electric power company--
you can now navigate three ENEL-produced 
CD-ROMs on Italian culture and then proceed 
to the museum's shop to purchase ENEL's 
disks. At the touring "America's 
Smithsonian" exhibition (just closed at the 
New York Coliseum on Columbus Circle and 
next appearing at the Rhode Island 
Convention Center, Providence, Aug. 21 - 
Sept. 19, 1996), you can pick up a Discover 
Card application in the expansive 
exhibition territory ceded to that company 
as one of four sponsors that paid $10 
million apiece to promote their products in 
close proximity to Lincoln's top hat and 
the Mercury space capsule.
And while we don't expect the New York 
Historical Society to sell the latest 
Arnold Scaasi frocks at the designer's 
upcoming retrospective (Oct. 2, 1996 - 
Jan. 5, 1997), we must marvel that this 
chronically underfunded and underattended 
institution postponed a show of its own 
John James Audubon paintings (to allow more 
fundraising and better planning, according 
to director Betsy Gotbaum), to mount a 
Scaasi-proposed show of some 150 of his own 
designs from the late 1950s to today, with 
funds from an anonymous Scaasi-obtained 
donor. The choice is particularly startling 
since the Historical Society dumped its 
entire costume collection on the 
Metropolitan Museum in the 1970s, and has 
scarcely cast a curatorial glance at 
fashion or current culture since. 
But just think of all the monied society 
types who will scurry in their Scaasis to 
the gala opening party benefiting the 
museum and breast cancer research, to be 
co-chaired by Gotbaum, Gayfryd Steinberg 
and Evelyn Lauder. "It will bring in a 
whole new group of people," confidently 
predicted Gotbaum, who said that the museum 
is scraping by on a $5.3-million annual 
budget but really needs $8 million.
For those who believe that a museum's 
collection should be a public trust, not a 
cash cow, the Museum Loan Network is an 
idea whose time is overdue. Bucking a 
tendency among some major museums to exact 
high rental fees from other museums for 
long-term art loans, MLN this fall will 
issue its first computerized directory 
identifying works in storage that museums 
will lend to others at cost (i.e., 
shipping, insurance). With funds from the 
John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and 
the Pew Charitable Trusts, MLN is about to 
announce its second round of grants 
supporting identification of works that 
museums wish to lend or borrow, and funding 
the implementation of loans. The first such 
loan, from the National Gallery, 
Washington, will be a Rothko painting to be 
placed on view Sept. 6 at the Museum of Art 
and Archaeology, University of Missouri, 
"We are trying to build new networks 
between large and small museums. Often 
small museums are intimidated about asking 
for things," observed Lori Gross, director 
of MLN, based in the office of the arts at 
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 
Cambridge. Among major museums receiving 
MLN grants to scour their storerooms:
The Brooklyn Museum (African art); 
Art Institute of Chicago (Asian art, 
20th-century painting and sculpture); Detroit 
Institute of Arts (general collection). The 
Williams College Museum of Art, 
Williamstown, Mass., has been exploring the 
possibility of borrowing African art from 
Brooklyn, with help from MLN.
"This will turn us into a true national 
museum," commented Ken Moser, Brooklyn's 
vice director for collections, who hopes to 
extend the loan program to the museum's 
Egyptian, Islamic, Southeast Asian and 
American collections. "The time has come 
for these works in storage to be looked at, 
researched, preserved and used." Brooklyn 
hopes to make some 250 objects available 
for borrowing from its 5,000-work African 
Speaking of ideas whose time has come, the 
Greeks are hoping it's the right moment to 
end the 193-year enforced exile of the 
Elgin marbles. Heartened by recent 
stirrings of British support for their 
return, the Greeks are optimistically 
preparing a new home for the marbles 
(panels from the frieze of the Parthenon) 
in the new Acropolis Museum, tentatively 
scheduled to begin construction early next 
year at the current site of the Center for 
Acropolis Studies, Athens. The museum's 
director, Peter Calligas, revealed that a 
centerpiece of the new $125.52-million 
facility will be a structure of the same 
length and width as the Parthenon, around 
the outside of which will be arrayed the 
marble panels still owned by Greece. Bare 
spaces will be left on the walls to 
anticipate the return of Lord Elgin's 
booty. "It's a bit of emotional blackmail," 
conceded Calligas.
Meanwhile, the London Times reported in 
June that 40 members of European 
Parliament, including 15 from Great 
Britain's Labor party, had introduced a 
measure asking the EP to intervene on 
behalf of Greece's request for the marbles' 
return. The Labor party's arts spokesman, 
Mark Fisher, has said he favors discussions 
with Greece. But his party's would-be 
successor to Tory party Prime Minister John 
Major, Tony Blair, is reportedly less 
Influencing the political climate was a 
British television documentary presented in 
April by William Stewart, a sometime game-
show host, who made a strong case for 
repatriation and then took a telephone poll 
of his audience's views: 91,822 of the 
99,340 callers voted to send the marbles 
Calligas understands the British Museum's 
reluctance to relinquish one of its top 
crowd-pleasers, but makes the convincing 
case that the sundered Parthenon frieze is 
a single work that must be seen whole. One 
can only hope that display conditions in 
the new Acropolis Museum will improve upon 
the minimal labeling and inadequate climate 
control in the old one.
Why were thousands of enthusiasts waiting 
as long as three hours to besiege 
"America's Smithsonian" at its first stop 
in Los Angeles, while the New York showing 
seemed to have more guards than visitors?
Now that the Indianapolis Museum, in 
conjunction with its current Egyptian art 
exhibition, has auctioned off three bottles 
of Tutankhamun Ale (a British-made beer 
purportedly brewed from a 3,250-year-old 
Egyptian recipe), will the National Gallery 
offer some choice Rothschild vintages in 
conjunction with its upcoming display of 
modern art from the Rothschild Family 
With the big dance number from Jean 
Renoir's 1954 movie French Can-Can now 
playing in the midst of the Metropolitan 
Museum's Toulouse-Lautrec show, can we 
expect a film clip of Odile's pirouettes at 
the Chicago Art Institute's Degas show 
("Degas: Beyond Impressionism," Sept 30, 
1996-Jan. 5, 1997)?
Now that Courtauld Institute professor 
Michael Hirst, co-curator of the London 
National Gallery's 1994 show on the early 
Michelangelo, has recently joined Leo 
Steinberg and James Beck in debunking 
Kathleen Weil-Garris Brandt's attribution 
of the putative "Michelangelo of Fifth 
Avenue," will her Burlington Magazine 
article (postponed from July to October) 
turn the scholarly tide?
Correct answers to be published in Robert 
Hughes' next column in Time. Winners get a 
trip to the Smithsonian Institution's 
"Museums for the New Millennium: A 
Symposium for the Museum Community," 
Sept. 5-7, Washington, D.C.
Lee Rosenbaum writes frequently for the 
Wall Street Journal "Leisure & Arts" page 
and Art in America magazine. She is the 
author of The Complete Guide to Collecting 
Art (Knopf).