Subscribe to our RSS feed:

RSS Feed Button

Artnet News
Dec. 16, 2008 

More than one big art patron has been caught up in the $50-billion "Ponzi scheme" perpetrated by Wall Street investment advisor Bernard L. Madoff, whose activities as a philanthropist touched even the Museum of Modern Art, which lists him as a "benefactor" in its 2005-06 capital campaign.

Perhaps the most prominent art-world victim of the Madoff fraud is Boston arts patron Carl J. Shapiro. A women’s wear magnate and one-time director of Vanity Fair Corporation, Shapiro and his wife Ruth have a namesake charity, the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation, which has a focus on arts and culture, as well as education, hospitals and Jewish causes. According to the Boston Globe, the Foundation has lost about half of its money in the Madoff meltdown -- a staggering $145 million.

The 95-year-old Carl Shapiro actually plays a starring role in the scandal, albeit an apparently unwitting one. He and his 64-year-old son-in-law Robert M. Jaffe are members of the Palm Beach Country Club, an elite Florida institution where members "paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to remain members. . . in hopes of an introduction to Mr. Madoff, usually by Mr. Jaffe or Mr. Shapiro," according to the New York Times. Ruth Shapiro sums things up in the story: "All I can say is that this is an awful awful time for us."

The Shapiro Foundation has been a key funder of both of Boston’s major museums. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where Ruth Shapiro is an "honorary overseer," has a "Ruth and Carl Shapiro Curator of Prints and Drawings," a "Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Gallery," a "Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Family Courtyard," a "Carl J. Shapiro Film Program," a "Shapiro Celebrity Lecture Series" and a "Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Colonnade and Upper Rotunda," among other things. Meanwhile, at the Institute for Contemporary Art, Boston, the foundation bankrolls programming for special-needs visitors on an ongoing basis, and gave $25,000 for a Teen Education initiative in 2008.

The Shapiro Foundation has also contributed money to the Norton Museum in Palm Beach for renovation of its Great Hall and its galleries of Chinese and contemporary art, and was a principal advocate for the establishment of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. The Shapiros are the single biggest donors to Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.

Still another name being mentioned as a victim of the Madoff fraud is Miami-based billionaire Norman Braman, who, in addition to owning the Philadelphia Eagles, is a prominent art collector. According to the 2008 Forbes magazine list of the world’s richest people, it was the "[s]welling contemporary art market" that "bump[ed] Braman onto The Forbes 400" (he was number 281), with $1 billion in art including works by Jasper Johns, Pablo Picasso, David Smith and Andy Warhol.

Meanwhile, not everyone sees calamity in the scam. According to the Times, some industrious soul had already snapped up the rights to the domain name and was selling it on eBay, seeking $10,000 or more. It was registered to the L.A.-based Scarab Arts.

The ongoing scandal surrounding Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich’s alleged attempt to sell the senate seat of Barack Obama is putting the spotlight on his behind-the-scenes scheming in general, including allegations that repeated cuts to the Illinois Arts Council were part of a political vendetta against state assembly speaker Michael Madigan, who had conducted a bitter public feud with the governor. Earlier this year, Illinois Issues, a publication of the University of Chicago at Springfield, reported that Illinois political "insiders speculate that this year’s $4.5 million drop in state funding for the Illinois Arts Council is a direct shot at the speaker’s wife, who chairs the council," referring to IAC head Shirley Madigan.

The cuts to the state arts budget provoked widespread dismay in the Illinois arts community last year, leading the non-profit Illinois Arts Alliance to spearhead a letter-writing campaign to Blagojevich and legislators under the banner "arts are not pork." Targeting the spouses of political antagonists -- including having them summarily fired from government jobs -- seems to have been part of Blagojevich’s MO, at least according to the website the Daily Beast. "I took the high road with what's happened to me," says one such victim. "But now, I say to hell with it. I don't mind telling my story now, because he deserves everything he gets."

What the hell is going on out at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art? The museum has allowed its endowment to shrink to a reported $6 million, and plans to close its popular Geffen Contemporary branch in three weeks. Last month, supercollector Eli Broad offered the museum a $30-million challenge grant. The museum response? Silence.

Press reports have the museum exploring a merger with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art or the University of California, or a scheme to lease the entire collection to an unnamed local collector and operate the museum facility as a kunsthalle. Other observers have suggested that the Getty Trust could play a role in rescuing L.A. MOCA. Then there’s the possibility that the museum might sell off a few high-priced masterworks to raise cash.

Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight has demanded that the museum trustees dig into their own pockets and come up with $25 million, which he said would give the museum time to craft a strategic plan to raise $100 million in endowment funds to secure the museum’s finances. Trustees who decline, he suggests, should resign.

Los Angeles Times columnist Tim Rutten urged more radical surgery: Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and city council president Eric Garcetti, who are ex-officio museum trustees, should demand the resignation of the entire 26-member L.A. MOCA trustee board, along with museum director Jeremy Strick. Only then, Rutten suggested, could MOCA begin to rebuild.

Several commenters on the Los Angeles Times arts blog, "Culture Monster," have noted that the L.A. MOCA trustee board includes wealthy people who spend millions of dollars every year on artworks for their own collections. The board’s finance chief is Thomas Unterman, a corporate lawyer and venture capitalist who oversaw the sale of the newspaper company in 2000 for $8.3 billion. According to Rutten, Unterman bears primary responsibility for the museum’s current plight.

Does the MOCA board actually have the deep pockets necessary to meet the fundraising challenge? The MOCA board president is Jeffrey Soros, a screenwriter who is nephew of billionaire financier George Soros. Other members include Fabrizio Bonanni, an executive at Amgen; Blake Byrne, a retired television executive; Charles S. Cohen, CEO of Cohen Brothers Realty and owner of the Pacific Design Center, the museum’s second satellite exhibition facility; Kathi Cypres, whose husband Gary Cypres is CEO of Hispanic Express, an L.A.-based chain of discount travel agencies, and founder of the Cypres Family Sports Museum; CAA agent Beth SwoffordSteve Tisch, a film and television producer (Seven Pounds) and co-owner of the New York Giants; and, last but not least, iconic L.A. artists John Baldessari and Ed Ruscha.

Speculation that Strick will lose his job has been on the increase. Tyler Green, who is reporting on the controversy from Washington, D.C., via his "Modern Art Notes" blog, suggests that Strick should move to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, which has been without a director for more than a year. The move would work, Green says, because the Hirshhorn is publicly funded -- though perhaps he is only joking.

As we go to press, the LACMA board has released a delicately worded proposal for the "merger" of the two museums, retaining MOCA’s name and some of MOCA’s founders and artists on a combined trustee board. The fate of Strick in the merger is unclear. The L.A. MOCA trustee board is scheduled to meet tonight, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2008. Stay tuned.

Quietly, while everyone was down in Florida for art-fair week, the National Academy Museum at Fifth Avenue and 89th Street in Manhattan flogged two major Hudson River paintings from its collection to raise cash. The two sold works, which brought in close to $15 million, are Frederic Edwin Church’s Scene on the Magdalene (1854) and Sanford Robinson Gifford’s Mount Mansfield, Vermont (1859). The sale was brokered by Sotheby’s. The buyer was an unnamed private foundation.

NAM interim director Carmine Branagan told the New York Times that the sale was necessary to raise operating funds, and that without it, "the academy would close." Apparently NAM has had rocky finances for some time, and has considered selling its Fifth Avenue mansion, its home since 1942. The museum has not, however, launched any kind of fundraising campaign.

Founded in 1825, NAM is an artist-run institution and holds over 7,000 artworks. NAM’s artist membership approved the deaccession in a vote of 183-2 of the academy’s 370 members, according to the Times. Artists are blasé about accessions when it comes to the sale of other artists’ works, or so it would seem. To completely disperse its collection, the museum could sell 250 works, twice a year, for the next 14 years.

The sale prompted the Association of Art Museum Directors to issue a strongly worded statement condemning the move. The AAMD asked its members to stop lending artworks to or collaborating on exhibitions with NAM, which is considered the kiss of death in museum circles. Previously slow to take action, the AAMD seems to have a new aggressiveness under director Michael Conforti, head of the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass.

The story was first reported by Lee Rosenbaum on her blog, CultureGrrl, which also reports that NAM is considering the sale of two other paintings:  John White Alexander’s Portrait of Mrs. Hastings and Robert Blum’s Japanese Beggars. The auction record for works by the two artists are $530,000 and $1.48 million, respectively.

Video artist Jennifer Steinkamp is the U.S. representative at the 11th International Cairo Biennale, Dec. 20, 2008-Feb. 20, 2009. Steinkamp is presenting a multichannel video piece, Dervish (2004-05), as well as Dervish Cairo (2008), a suite of three prints, at the Cairo Arts Palace. Also scheduled is additional cultural programming organized by Kimberli Meyer, director of the MAK Center for Art & Architecture at the Schindler House in Los Angeles, including contributions by Malik Gaines, Sherin Guirguis, Chip Tom and Maureen Furniss. The team plans an 80-minute program of short videos, a roundtable discussion  and a website and blog

The Brooklyn Museum is transferring its entire costume collection -- over 23,500 items amassed over more than 100 years -- to the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The project, which Brooklyn Museum director Arnold Lehman called "a model for museum partnerships," was funded by a $3.9 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which underwrote the documentation of the costume holdings.

In the late ‘90s, the fate of the Brooklyn Museum costume collection became something of a cause célèbre in the museum world, as Brooklyn had shut down its costume and textile department in 1990 and was accused of neglecting its holdings. Brooklyn’s collection includes designs by Worth, Paul Poiret, Lanvin, Christian Dior, Balenciaga, Charles James, Norman Norell and Claire McCardell, and was widely considered an important record of the New York fashion industry.

(In the past, the Brooklyn Museum has said that the high cost of caring for and storing the collection had motivated the search for a new home. Museum insiders, however, note that the trove had to be cleared out to make way for the museum’s new feminist art center, paid for by philanthropist Elizabeth A. Sackler. The long delay in relocating the costume collection -- the Fashion Institute of Technology was also floated as a possible partner in such a deal -- is attributed to the Brooklyn Museum’s reluctance to be seen as incapable of caring for its own holdings.)

The combined collections of both the Met and Brooklyn number more than 54,000 objects, and is the largest in the world. An exhibition of the Brooklyn material is planned for the Met in 2010. A selection of 4,000 designs is also to be made available to academics on, a collection sharing website; individual members of the public are not able to use the site, however.

David Ross, the former director of the Whitney Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and now director of Albion Gallery in New York City, is nothing if not au courant. Thus, his Twitter feed, where idle web-surfers can follow his every thought (literally, as in "thinking about the remarkable Barkley Hendricks exhibition at the Studio Museum").

Ross’ tweets also include a proposed cultural policy list for the new Barack Obama administration, to wit: 1) pass bill giving artists tax incentives for donating their work to museums; 2) create a new public works program for artists and writers; 3) reinvigorate federal arts support; 4) restore fellowships for artists, writers and musicians; 5) invest in K-12 art and music education; 6) revive the "Arts America" program to "tell the American story abroad" with art and music; 7) expedite the visa process for visiting artists, musicians, writers and academics; 8) consider the creation of a cabinet-level post for culture; 9) strengthen tax laws encouraging art gifts to museums; and 10) establish a $250-million bail-out fund for cultural institutions in need.

For its first exhibition of 2009, the Saatchi Gallery in London is surveying contemporary art from the Middle East with "Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East," opening Jan. 30, 2009. Over 20 artists are included in the survey, including Diana Al-Hadid, Halim Al-Karim, Ahmed Alsoudani, Kader Attia, Nadia Ayari, Ali Banisadr, Shirin Fakhim, Shadi Ghadirian, Barbad Golshiri, Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, Khaled Hafez, Wafa Hourani, Hayv Kahraman, Jeffar Khaldi, Laleh Khorramian, Farsad Labbauf, Tala Madani, Ahmad Morshedloo, Sara Rahbar and Marwan Rechmaoui.

The Saatchi Gallery re-opened in the 70,000-square-foot Duke of York HQ building with "The Revolution Continues: New Art from China," Oct. 9, 2008-Jan. 18, 2009, drawing an average of 5,200 visitors a day -- more than that of "Sensation" at the Royal Academy in 1997. For more info on "Unveiled," click here.

Steven Harvey
, the painter and art dealer who formerly managed the contemporary art department at Salander O’Reilly Galleries, recently launched his own private art business, which has now mounted an exhibition at the Gallery Schlesinger space at 24 East 73rd Street in Manhattan. "Old School," Dec. 2, 2008-Jan. 3, 2009, features paintings by six artists who, according to Harvey, base their explorations of contemporary life in defiantly "old school" painterly figuration. The artists in the show are Chuck Bowdish, Kurt Knobelsdorf, Stanley Lewis, Sangram Majumdar, Paul Resika and EM Saniga. For more information, contact

Marc Mayer
has been appointed director of the National Gallery of Canada. Mayer, a former deputy director at the Brooklyn Museum and curator at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, is currently head of the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal.

The Whitney Museum of American Art has named Francesco Bonami as guest curator for the 2010 Whitney Biennial. He is collaborating with Gary Carrion-Murayari, a senior curatorial assistant at the museum, who is associate curator for the biennial. Bonami, a former curator at the Chicago MCA who organized the 2003 edition of the Venice Biennale, said, "I’m intrigued by the concept of what is American, and how we define American-ness." Born in Florence in 1955, Bonami became a U.S. citizen in 2001. 

GEORGE BRECHT, 1926-2008
George Brecht, 82, New York-born, Cologne-based Fluxus artist, died in his sleep on Dec. 5 in Cologne. He was known for his playful, minimalist "scores" for performances and artwork, typically written on a small white card that was mailed to friends. His first exhibition was at Reuben Gallery in New York in 1959, and his work was also included in the Museum of Modern Art’s "The Art of Assemblage" (1961) and "Information" (1970). He had a retrospective at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne in 2005.

François-Xavier Lalanne, 81, designer and sculptor who teamed with his wife, Claude, to make light-hearted Pop furniture, often based on forms from the animal and vegetable kingdom, died at his home in the village of Ury, south of Paris, on Dec. 7. He gained wide renown in 1964 with his Rhinocrétaire, a sculpture of a rhinocerous that transformed into a writing desk. The Lalannes -- Claude is 84 -- had a show of new works at the Paul Kasmin Gallery in Manhattan in 2007.

contact Send Email