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Artnet News
Feb. 24, 2009 

You know a museum is in trouble when it just comes right out and says. . . we’re in trouble. And that is just what Metropolitan Museum of Art board president James R. Houghton has done in a letter posted on the museum’s website declaring the "immediate steps" it was taking to head off "a significant operating deficit" as a result of the financial crisis. Though Houghton’s frankness is to be commended, the museum’s plan feels a little like putting a finger in a dike.

How is the Met dealing with its crisis? The most drastic move is its plan to shutter 15 "under-performing satellite shops" in the chain of "Metropolitan Museum" branded gift stores at airports and malls throughout the land -- hardly a tough pill to swallow for art lovers, to be sure. A look at the institution’s 2007-08 Financial Report, however, reveals that the merchandizing department at the Met has been facing deficits for at least two years -- expenses exceeded revenues by $321,000 in 2007, and by more than $1.4 million in 2008. Merchandising revenue has plunged by more than $2 million since last February, and the museum is even closing shops in its own building.

Meanwhile, the museum has also initiated "a museum-wide hiring freeze, revised procurement policies and curtailed travel and entertainment as well as the use of temporary staff." Houghton reports that some "infrastructure renewal" will be deferred or scaled back -- though he says that the American Wing renovation, and new galleries for the Islamic Art department and the Costume Institute are all safe. Met director Thomas P. Campbell has said that the museum will have to depend less on touring shows, and more on its own holdings (curatorial expenses make up some 30 percent of the budget). Yet all of this sounds sedate when set against the actual numbers.

Last year, the Met ran a modest $3.2 million deficit on its $310-million operating budget. Museum income included $63 million of "support" from its $2.9-billion endowment. This year, according to Houghton’s letter, the endowment has plunged to $2.1 billion, which if continued over time would mean a significant loss of revenue (thankfully the amount the museum can spend from its endowment each year is determined by a long-term average). Help from the city of New York is also being slashed by $1.7 million in 2009, with an additional cutback of $2.4 million proposed for 2010. Add it all up, and in the long run that’s a pretty significant hole. The deficit seems manageable, presuming donor gifts, membership, admissions and other revenues remain robust -- though Houghton warns that these too are under significant stress.

Also worth a mention: Among the assets listed as part of the Met’s 2008 portfolio are $29.5 million in “mortgage-backed securities.” That component of the endowment is down significantly in value from 2007, when the Met had more than $41 million invested in the category.

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Museum of Art continues to expand its contemporary art programming, opening "The Pictures Generation, 1974-1984," Apr. 21-Aug. 2, 2009. A broad survey of the influential "appropriation art" movement that crystallized around the seminal "Pictures" show at Artists Space in 1977, the exhibition features 160 works by Troy Brauntuch, Jack Goldstein, Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo, Matt Mullican, Richard Prince, David Salle, Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, James Welling and other figures. The exhibition is organized by associate photo curator Douglas Eklund.

Longtime Metropolitan Museum of Art patron Iris Cantor has given the museum a sultry nude by Gustave Caillebotte, the first work by the artist to enter the Met collection. Femme nue étendue sur un divan (1873), thought to be the earliest dated work by the artist, is a promised gift to the museum as a tribute to former museum director Philippe de Montebello.

Time has run out for the Las Vegas Art Museum, which is shutting its doors for good at the end of this week. According to press reports, the LVAM was felled by the current economic downturn, and the museum staff announced that it has run out of ways to keep its doors open. Drastic budget cuts led museum director Libby Lumpkin to quit at the end of last year. The fate of the works in the museum’s collections is to be determined at a meeting next week.

Are you ready for X, the new Chelsea nonprofit opening Mar. 7, 2009, in the old headquarters of the Dia Center for the Arts at 548 West 22nd Street? The year-long project -- "neither a museum, gallery, nor foundation, but a site that encompasses a global network of ideas" -- is the brainchild of Chelsea art dealer Elizabeth Dee, and is to be overseen by curatorial director Cecilia Alemani and project curator Jenny Moore. In the spirit of Dia, X features four suites of three-month-long installations. First up is an installation of films by Derek Jarman, a 35-sculpture "mise en scène" installation on the ground floor by New York artist Mika Tajima, and a recreation of Christian Holstad’s homage to the gay leather scene, Leather Beach, on the roof. Also on tap is an as-yet-unannounced commission for the façade. Admission to X is free.

Triple Candie is back. The provocative nonprofit space overseen by Shelly Bancroft and Peter Nesbett drew both cheers and jeers for its unusual shows, which included pseudo-retrospectives of works by David Hammons and Cady Noland mounted without the artists’ cooperation [see "Invasion of the Sculpture Snatchers," May 17, 2006], before closing its space on West 126th Street in May 2008.

Now, Triple Candie has reopened at 500 West 148th Street with "Almost Baroque: An Analysis of Nine Floral ‘Paintings’ from El Mundo," Feb. 15-Apr. 5, 2009. The show features decorative prints imported from China and sold at a nearby El Mundo department store, accompanied by art-historical analysis of the imagery. It turns out that the works are based on pre-existing paintings, though they are not exact copies. For further info, see

Some things just plain look better in an art gallery, no doubt including the famous 1995 sex tape featuring Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee on the honeymoon. Now, artist Chris Bors is presenting Forward and Backward Pam and Tommy (2009), an appropriation of the 15-minute tape that is shown in split screen, as it was originally released and in reverse. This opportunity to view two celebrity sex-gods in the full bloom of their youth comes only once, however: the tape is being screened for one day only, Friday, Feb. 27, 2009, noon-9 pm, at Envoy Gallery at 131 Christie Street in New York.

Fear not, cash-strapped arts writers -- help is on the way! After a three-year pilot program, the Creative Capital / Andy Warhol Foundation has announced that it is renewing its successful "Arts Writers Grant Program" for another five years. The program is one of the few games in town for writers looking for support.

The good news came appended to more good news, the winners of the 2009 round of grants, some $635,000 for a variety of authors, critics and even bloggers, in awards ranging from $7,000 to $50,000. Winners in the "book" category -- the most competitive, we are told -- are C. Carr, Darby English, Joseph Grigely, Branden Joseph, Douglas Kahn, Jonathan Katz, Julian Myers and Edgar Arceneaux, Lyle Rexer, Joan Rothfuss, Judith Stein, Roberto Tejada and Jonathan Weinberg.

Those receiving funding to write more modest articles are Jessica Chalmers, Michèle Faguet, Mia Fineman, Mark Harris, Judith Russi, Kirshner Annette Leddy, Frances Negrón-Muntaner, Viet Nguyen and Peter Plagens. Meanwhile, Kathryn Hixson, Christy Lange, Alix Rule and Lori Waxman take grants for "short-form writing." And, last but not least, Paddy Johnson and the team of Anjali Srinivasan and Yuka Otani get money in the "blog/new media" category.

The 2009 grant cycle opens Apr. 27, 2009. More info at

The Golden Lion -- the award for artistic achievement from the Venice Biennale, set to run June 7-Nov. 22, 2009 -- is going to two figures of storied clout in the avant-garde: Japanese-born Fluxus artist Yoko Ono and California conceptualist John Baldessari. The honor was recommended by director of the 53rd Biennale, Daniel Birnbaum. The two artists receive the award at the ceremony on June 6, 2009.

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