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Artnet News
Oct. 16, 2008 

With the worldwide economic slowdown, museums are almost sure to face a new era of belt-tightening. The major players are presumably still assessing the effect of the plummeting stock market on their endowment portfolios, but several smaller, less-cushioned institutions have already announced cutbacks, which may very well indicate the shape of things to come:

* In Kansas City, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, fresh from opening its Stephen Holl-designed Bloch Building last year, instituted a wide variety of cuts last month, designed to pare the operating budget for the current fiscal year by two percent. The changes range from minor adjustments -- raising building temperatures from 70 to 72.5 degrees and switching to compact florescent lights -- to major disruptions, including closing the museum completely on Tuesdays, and trimming the hours of the café in the Bloch Building to a mere two hours a week.

In addition to reflecting the current economic slump, the plight of the museum bears a bit of a parallel to the housing bubble. According to the Kansas City Star, the Nelson-Atkins’ showy, $200-million expansion, though critically lauded, has so far failed to generate the necessary increase in paid visits to justify the rise in operating expenses.

* The Mississippi Museum of Art (MMA) in Jacksonville, Miss., is looking for ways to fill the budgetary shortfall that has resulted from the poor market performance of its endowment investments, according to a report in the Northside Sun, a local paper. The MMA, which has a $2.3 million annual budget, has two endowments of $1 million each, one for day-to-day operations, the other for programming and acquisitions. In recent years, as much as $80,000 has come from interest earned from each of the funds, but the stock market crash means that this year the museum expects to "draw little or no interest" from its program endowment, and a mere $30,000 from the other. The museum is considering cuts and increased reliance on corporate partnerships.

The same article reports that the nearby Birmingham Museum of Art is looking for new sources to make up the $300,000 it has earned in recent years on its $9 million endowment (about four percent of its $7.5 million annual budget), and is specifically focusing on finding co-sponsors for its upcoming shows. "We took a hit on our endowment," BMA deputy director Amy Templeton said. "It’s invested diversely, so it’s not as big of a hit, but it’s still a hit."

* Finally, in Chicago, the city’s beloved Field Museum has announced that it is laying off five employees, and cutting expenses such as catering. In a phrase that could well apply to many non-profit museums, the Chicago Tribune sums up the Field’s situation: "The museum has not reported any budget shortfalls, but it won't know the struggling economy's true impact until donors begin making their annual contributions toward year's end."

A few minor economic difficulties, of course, is hardly enough to stop new museums from being built. On Nov. 8, 2008, the new Taubman Museum of Art debuts in Roanoke, Va. The striking 81,000-square-foot building is designed by Los Angeles architect Randall Stout, and looks something like what Frank Gehry’s take on the Sydney Opera House might be (Stout is, in fact, a protégé of Gehry’s). The new institution is named after U.S. ambassador to Romania Nicholas F. Taubman.

What to expect from a museum a press rep describes hopefully as "the most important cultural institution in a part of the country that most do not associate with cutting-edge architecture and art?" The Taubman promises a focus on 19th- and early 20th-century American art, with a notable archive of work by Thomas Eakins, and individual works by figures including Asher B. Durand, Childe Hassam, Robert Henri, Winslow Homer, Maurice Prendergast, Norman Rockwell, and John Singer Sargent. It has also made acquisitions of pieces by more recent lights of American art like Romare Bearden, John Cage, Jasper Johns, Jacob Lawrence and Robert Rauschenberg.

The Taubman opens with two temporary exhibitions as well, a celebration dedicated respectively to 17th century Florentine painting, and to contemporary art that rethinks the paradigm of landscape photography. Tickets are being sold to the gala opening on the new museum’s website,, and are $250 a pop.

Having been banned in the lead up to the Republican convention in St. Paul [see Artnet News, Aug. 28, 2008], artist Suzanne Opton’s "Soldier Billboard Project" is now going up in a variety of cities throughout the U.S., including Atlanta, Houston, Miami and St. Paul. The billboards feature selections from more than 90 photographs Opton has taken of soldiers returning from tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, stark close-ups meant as reminders of the war’s human cost. Having been rejected by CBS Outdoor, Opton’s project is now set to be hosted in space owned by Clear Channel. The images will remain on view through the November presidential elections.

The Rockefeller Foundation has announced the recipients of its inaugural Bellagio Creative Arts Fellowships, which go to three visual artists: Mona Hatoum, Kofi Setordji and Shahzia Sikander. Winners of the honor, which will henceforth be awarded annually, receive a three-month residency in a private apartment, complete with studio space, at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center, adjacent to Lake Como in Northern Italy. For more info, see

Berlin’s Galerie Christian Nagel is participating in "Nico 20/70," dedicated to the Cologne-born Velvet Underground singer and Andy Warhol muse Nico. "NO more mirrors, ON more mirrors," as the show is called, kicks off Oct. 16, 2008 -- what would have been Nico’s 70th birthday. On view at Christian Nagel are photographs of Nico by Willy Maywald, Herbert Tobias, Petra Gall and Lisa Law, and artworks dedicated to the chanteuse by Gregor Hildebrand and Bianca Schönig.

Heather James Art & Antiquities / Rohrer Fine Art is set to open the new Heather James Fine Art at 45-188 Portola Avenue in the town of Palm Desert, Ca. The new 8,500-square-foot space debuts on Nov. 29, 2008, with a series of "mini-exhibitions," including a show of work by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Andy Warhol; more contemporary work by artists Samuel T. Adams, Peter Gerakaris, Kaoru Mansour and Timothy Tompkins; and still other displays of classic modernist and Impressionist works.

Bart Rutten has been named new curator of visual arts at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, where he will be responsible for the management of the museum’s venerable collection of audiovisual works, painting and sculpture. An expert in video art, Rutten has worked at the Stedelijk Museum ’s-Hertogenbosch, an affiliate of the Stedelijk located in the town of ’s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands. Rutten begins his new position in December.

Thomas Eller, long-time editor of Artnet’s German-language magazine and in recent years director of Artnet’s Berlin office, has found a new gig. Eller is leaving Artnet to become the first director of the Temporäre Kunsthalle Berlin, located on Schlossplatz, in the heart of the city. The new art space kicks open its door with a show by Berlin-based video artist Candice Breitz on Oct. 29. An artist himself known for 3D photo installations, Eller won the Käthe Kollwitz Prize in 2006, from Cologne’s Käthe Kollwitz Museum. The current editor of Artnet Magazine Germany is Gerrit Gohlke.

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