BAD PRESS FOR AFRICAN MUSEUM
The Museum for African Art more or less disappeared from the art-world radar in 2002, when it closed its Maya Lin-designed two-floor storefront on Broadway in SoHo to go in search of a new home. The museum did occasionally surface over the years, most recently in 2009, when it was announced that New York City and New York state would each earmark $12 million for a $80-million, 90,000-square-foot four-level museum facility in a new Robert A.M. Stern-designed luxury condo tower at Fifth Avenue and 109th Street. To the extent that art-world observers thought the museum would come to fruition, the government largesse was viewed as a lucky break for a worthwhile cause.
Last week, the project was cast in a less flattering light by a front-page story in the Village Voice by veteran investigative reporter Wayne Barrett, who accuses New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and former city controller William Thompson -- opponents in the recent city mayoral race -- of working together to funnel between $43 million and $51 million to a museum that was "led by Thompson’s current wife and longtime companion, Elsie McCabe Thompson." What’s more, Barrett writes, this munificence has come to an institution that, until recently, was "little more than an office in a warehouse in Long Island City." The Village Voice article suggests that the public funding for the museum was marred by conflicts-of-interest and ethical shortcomings, and also raises questions about the fiscal management of the nascent museum itself.
Through its public relations company, Jeanne Collins & Associates, the museum insisted that it "has acted with transparency and integrity -- and in full compliance with the law and city and state regulations." The museum has currently raised $70 million of a $90 million capital campaign, and plans to raise a total of $113 million by the end of 2012. The new facility is in fact under construction, and scheduled to open in early 2011. The building boasts a 40-foot-hall atrium, a lobby with 5,000 square feet of exhibition space, a grand stair leading to a second floor with galleries totaling more than 16,000 square feet, a 260-seat theater and an "event space" with a roof terrace overlooking Central Park.
Inaugural exhibitions include "El Anatsui: When Last I Wrote to You about Africa," which is organized by the museum and premieres at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto on Oct. 2, 2010, before touring to several other institutions (with funding from Toyota and the Warhol Foundation), and "Grass Roots: African Origins of an American Art," a presentation of more than 200 objects that "examines the intertwined histories of the coiled basket in Africa and the southeastern U.S." This last show, co-organized by the museum, is currently on tour. A third exhibition, "Juxtapositions," focuses on works from the museum collection.
DALI MUSEUM IN LIMBO
St. Petersburg, Fla.’s Salvador Dali Museum is in limbo, after the Pinellas County Tourist Development Council voted on Wednesday to defer a decision on funding for its new building. The Dali is in the midst of constructing a $36-million new museum, designed by architect Yann Weymouth and scheduled to open in January 2011. However, fundraising has run short, and construction may halt in spring 2010 if the museum can’t come up with another $6 million. According to an article in the St. Petersberg Times, Dali museum board president Tom James claims that the "museum will be forced to take out loans using art from the Dali collection as collateral if the tax dollars or new contributions don't come through soon."
The museum’s collection of works by Surrealist Salvador Dali is valued at between $300 million and $500 million, and currently housed in "an old marine warehouse." In addition to incorporating "elements of the classical and the fantastical," the new Dali Museum will has 18-inch-thick concrete walls engineered to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, a feature considered vital to protecting the trove. Representatives of the Dali Museum had made a pitch to the tourist development council for $5 million in hotel tax money to fund continued construction, but were rebuffed, with councilmembers expressing concern that the request would divert money from other uses, such as advertising tourism for the area. The officials did form a special subcommittee to weigh the matter.
The Dali supposedly attracts some 200,000 visitors a year in its current location, and projects that the new building might pull in as many as 300,000 annually. Among the shows currently on view at the museum are "Dalí: Gems" and "Dali Illustrates: Alice in Wonderland and other Timeless Tales." Museum fans can help with a donation through the Dali’s website, where a message from director Hank Hine asks "our community and wider audience to help us realize, or rather surrealize, this dream."
SPEED ART MUSEUM HIT WITH BALONEY ART
The art scene in Louisville is in a tizzy about a fundraiser scheduled for the Speed Art Museum on Feb. 5, 2010. To celebrate the museum’s founding in 1927, the Speed put out a call for artists to donate small artworks to an upcoming exhibition, "Louisville 27: Community." All works were to be accepted, exhibited anonymously and sold for $27 apiece to raise money for the museum.
Not everyone thought this was such a good idea. "It's a first," Courier-Journal arts reporter Diane Hielenman wrote. "I'm thinking it ought to be a last, too." Hielenman added that if she were an artist, she might just donate the money to the museum, and keep the artwork. Put-upon area artists also took offense at a gesture that they saw as devaluing their work. A group of artists has banded together to create a Facebook group, "Speed? Baloney!" -- which now has 209 fans -- exhorting Louisville artists to respond with "spicy humor" by submitting works made out of baloney to the invitational.
"The opening two lines of the Speed Art Museum’s first Open Call Exhibition say it all: ‘Do you love Louisville? Prove it with art!’," notes Louisville artist Billy Hertz in a statement. "What the hell does the Board of Directors and its fundraising arm think the artists of this community have been doing for the last three or four decades?"
Responding to the uproar, Speed director Charles Venable took to the pages of the Courier-Journal, addressing Heilenman’s article specifically. Venable notes that the Speed supports area artists by collecting their work, and by offering free admission. He adds that the "Open Call" initiative was not meant to exploit artists, but instead to sidestep the "elitist" apparatus of the art world, offering anyone a chance to show and sell work, regardless of their medium or celebrity.
"The small amount of funds likely to be generated by this event will go to the Speed's education program in which approximately 30,000 children participate annually," Venable concludes. "Some of these children will become the artists of tomorrow."
REALLY SMALL GALLERY IN SANTA MONICA
What could be more perfect for a time of art-world retrenchment than really small art? Opening in Santa Monica on Feb. 20, 2010, the Nano Gallery is the brainchild of curator Jonny Coleman, a space dedicated to "showcasing small artworks of all media." Works to be shown at the gallery are restricted to fitting in a space that is six inches to a side, or smaller. The initiative is hosted in the space of Bleicher/Golightly Gallery at 1431 Ocean Avenue. First up at Nano is Berlin-based artist Gert-Jan Akerboom, who presents really small drawings of bonsai trees. As for what to expect in the future, Coleman’s blog states that Nano "will be simple and small but will do big things."