Sunday, 8 June 2008

The state of higher education philanthropy

The Economist writes about trends in University funding, especially France, in an article which celebrates the growing autonomy of educational institutions and increased funding from the private sector. No surprise there: encouraging free markets or, in the case of education, operating models based on free market mechanisms, is their self-confessed raison d’être (full disclosure: I also kneel at the altar of Milton Friedman). The famous generosity of the American philanthropic system comes in for praise. In the past, this has been credited to Europe’s deep-seated belief that the role of government is to provide social services (In 1948 over 90 percent of Britons ‘felt there was no longer a need for charities in the country’!). The Economist associates this state of affairs with a grim but oft-quoted statistic: only 2 of the top 20 Universities in the world are in Europe (Cambridge and Oxford) according to Shanghai Jiao Tong University's rankings. They also point out ‘Only 24% of working-age Europeans have a degree, compared with 39% of Americans.’ Has Europe’s and, of more concern to us, Great Britain’s welfare state put them miles behind America?

Not so fast.

The Guardian points out that ‘annual spending by Europe's top 25 corporate foundations last year outstripped the US by over €500m (£335m), distributing €1.7bn (£1.14 bn) compared to €1.1bn (£738m) in the US’. Furthermore, America’s hyper-rich distort the picture: although ‘US charitable foundations as a whole still give more than the Europeans - €7.3bn (£4.9bn) compared to €4.4 bn (£2.9bn) ... The Bill Gates Foundation alone accounts for more than $1bn (£527m).’

Meanwhile, in the UK, education is increasingly the beneficiary of private donations. Of the causes for individual charity in the UK, ‘Education is the only cause to see a significant growth in the share of total amount given’ between 2004/5-2006/7, according to the Charities Aid Foundation.

More important, some are questioning whether increasing funds from charitable organizations can have an adverse effect, especially in primary education. Here America serves as a deplorable example. According to executive Director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy Rick Cohen, ‘in President Bush's proposed budget for the fiscal year 2007, the administration justified proposed cuts in its small schools programme by citing the availability of funds for the same purpose from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. That made a foundation programme, where the decisions are made by a few administrators and the foundation's two trustees, a potential substitute for a federal government action. The foundation programme was not delivered uniformly nationwide, and unlike the education department programme, there are no mechanisms for complaint or administrative review.’

It seems the UK is stumbling toward a middle ground between the stifling environment in France and the problematic American model. As students at the Courtauld, I think we can agree on the need to keep moving toward the latter; perhaps we should let others know how they can help us get there.

-Joanna M.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Anne d'Harnoncourt, 64

The art world and the Courtauld community suffered a devastating blow yesterday with the death of the great Anne d’Harnoncourt, 64, a scholar of modern painting and the much-loved Director and CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art for the past 26 years. The daughter of renowned Museum of Modern Art director Rene d’Harnoncourt, she took an MA at the Courtauld in 1967. As a former intern at that museum, I can attest to the degree to which she was loved by the staff. She presided over a period of scholarly rigor, fiscal success, and expansion of facilities during which the museum’s standing and collections grew. I had hoped that she would be considered for the vacant directorship of the Metropolitan Museum of Art because she, like Philippe de Montebello, had a record of navigating the increasingly treacherous waters of museum administration, between scholarship and fundraising. This comes as a second major blow to American museums in 2008: the two last great scholar-directors are no longer atop their institutions. Very sad news.

Update: The cause of death has finally been released: cardiac arrest. There has been some mention of a recent mastectomy but that seems to be unrelated. The Philadelphia Inquirer's obituary can be found at this link.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Cuno Controversy

Art Institute of Chicago (and former Courtauld) Director James Cuno's new book Who Owns Antiquity? Museums and the Battle Over Our Ancient Heritage has been causing a bit of an uproar. Critic Lee Rosenbaum responded scathingly on her blog CultureGrrl a few days ago. The best response yet has come from the Times today, in an article well worth a read here.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Robert Rauschenberg, 1925 - 2008

Robert Rauschenberg died yesterday evening. The New York Times obituary can be found here.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Exciting discovery

Researchers have discovered the world's earliest known use of oil paint in Afghanistan caves. Story here.

Florez at the Met

Check out this video of a Vienna performance of the the aria "Ah! Mes Amis" from Donizetti's "La Fille du Regiment." When this tenor, Juan Diego Florez, performed the same aria at the Metropolitan Opera on Monday night, he earned a rare mid performance standing ovation and gave the Met's first solo encore since 1994. It's a weak aria in a weak opera that displays everything that's wrong with the artform, with artistic expression sacrificed to technical fireworks, but is a sight to see nonetheless.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Bad art writing

There's an interesting column today in the Wall Street Journal on the embarrassingly weak curatorial prose that cripples the Whitney Biennial. I'm sure this kind of writing will be familiar to many Courtauld students. It doesn't belong in a museum any more than it belongs in our essays. Density and opacity do not amount to quality, despite the urgings of our weaker periodicals. Crisp, cogent, effective scholarship lacking in jargon has come to be seen as insufficiently academic/abstract. This has resulted in a serious decline in the quality of art writing in and out of the academy. Perhaps this generation of Courtauld students will bring about an improvement.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Review: "On Time" East Wing Collection 8

The East Wing Collection is a biennial student-curated contemporary art exhibition featuring the work of up-and-coming artists alongside that of well-known established names. This year’s committee is made up of second and third year students from the Courtauld Institute, one of our smaller colleges specialising in History of Art. Through a democratic selection process, they have chosen works by 31 artists to deck our halls with for the next 18 months, and hopefully get the public to explore the institute’s passages and corridors, staircases and lecture rooms, in search of some of the best contemporary works this side of the Thames. The exhibition is called On Time, and deals with the notions of temporality and mixed, overlapping, and interpreted time. The opening night saw a champagne fuelled stench of heavy talk and light projectors; Harald Smykla offering us a technicolour version of our main stairwell complete with scribbled passers-by and eager witnesses, all from an acetate sheet coloured and projected back onto its subjects with an OHP. Incorporated into this dizzying spectacle were two dancers called ‘green bean dance’ who grabbed and flung each other round our basement café amidst Stephen Brunel Hurst’s wooden crosses and plaque like references to machinery, arithmetic and engineering. Their sounds echoed through the paint-encrusted spaces of an 18th century palace, once famously home to the RA summer exhibitions, now returning theatrically to the eclectic mix of contemporary artists and their works, usually present in Piccadilly during those summer months.

One of the highlights of the show is Antony Gormley’s ‘Blanket Drawing 1’ unfolded and pinned to a white wall like a spent human soul bowing down in front of its viewers, its edges curling, its creases flecking cracked and brittle paint. Through the door and into the next staircase you’ll find a series of canvases with enlarged and painted website pages, mostly ‘facebook’ or those whose subjects are embittered teens with tag lines such as ‘the taste of tears’. Arresting and cold, the faces of the reproduced bedroom snaps offer to the public a real taste of the unprotected openness of private lives broadcast perpetually over the world-wide-web. Time ticks on, and each room unearths another view of lapsed and lapped time-spans, Sue Blackwell’s ‘Whilst You Were Sleeping’ (a dress cut into a thousand butterflies hanging from the ceiling by knotted tense threads) offering not only the image of other-worldly time zones, but the proof of time spent on the creation of a ‘beautiful’ artwork. The exhibition is so extensive that by the time you’ve managed to get round it all, there’s not much left of our little institute to explore, and the time that has passed has filled up with its own images.

Well presented and beautifully designed, the spaces occupied by the exhibition come alive with projections and unseen light, or wait, brooding and uneasy, for you in the darker areas of the corridors. Sebastian Winnett’s ‘Untitled (grappling hook)’ is a video piece on loop, depicting a man in a box-like room swinging a home-made anchor through the air. Prodding at ideas of purgatory, perpetual tasks and two-sided ambitions, he sometimes wins, sending the metal lunging around his body on the rope, sometimes loses, tangled up and exhausted in the middle of the grey cell. Take time to walk around the maze of old passages and staircases that cross and extend through the college and I am sure you’ll see something that will pick at the threads of childhood memories, or play out tasks, aspirations and possible futures like anchors; sometimes spinning with their own momentum, sometimes weighing us down. For more information about the exhibition and its opening times please see

- Matthew Reeves

Monday, 14 April 2008

Most Visited Museums in the World

Based on the highly suspect methodology used by the website, these are the most visited museums in the world in order:

1. Louvre
2. Vatican Museums
3. Metropolitan Museum of Art
4. Getty Museum
5. Musee d'Orsay
6. Uffizi
7. Art Institute of Chicago
8. Tate Modern
9. Prado
10. National Gallery, Washington

Another blow for Krens

The embattled outgoing Director of the Guggenheim, Thomas Krens (see my previous post on the subject here), has suffered another blow to his museum as franchise strategy. As this article in the Las Vegas Sun reports, the Guggenheim Las Vegas will be closing for good at the end of the month.

Most Powerful People in British Culture

The Telegraph has released their list of the 100 Most Powerful People in British Culture. Though the panel that made the selections is humorously slanted towards theatre and film, a number of visual arts and museums folks made an appearance. To save blog readers some scrolling, here are the relevant people and their places on the list:

2. Nicholas Serota, Director, Tate
4. Antony Gormley, Sculptor
16. Neil MacGregor, Director, British Museum
25. Sandy Nairne, Director, NPG; VP of the Museums Association
32. Grayson Perry, Artist
52. Charles Saatchi, Collector, impresario
54. Damien Hirst, Artist
66. Iwona Blazwick, Director, Whitechapel Gallery
67. Rachel Whiteread, Artist
96. Mark Wallinger, Artist

Friday, 28 March 2008

Auspicious Comments from Dr. Penny

In a confidence-inspiring interview with the Art Newspaper, the London National Gallery's new director, Dr. Nicholas Penny, has shown his awareness of two problems that have plagued not only the NGA but many other British museums as well: weak holdings of American 19th century pictures and an emphasis on special exhibitions to the detriment of curatorial work on the permanent collection.

It appears that his time at the National Gallery has helped him see the value of painters like Thomas Eakins, and he's absolutely right that "Bellows is a great artist whose work can stand comparison with Goya and Monet." (His The Lone Tenement from the National Gallery in Washington is above.) The British public deserves to see more of these and others; the Gallery feels woefully incomplete with only Sargent to represent the cultural production of an entire country.

Though it's not clear that this is what Penny is suggesting when he bemoans the move towards blockbuster exhibitions with little scholarly relevance, a more vital relationship with the permament collection would serve the NGA well. Directing curatorial efforts to fleeting, work-sapping loan exhibitions leaves the permanent collection galleries to become "a tomb where the past and its taste remain preserved", to quote Adam Gopnik. "Idea installations" should be made in the galleries and pictures should be cycled in and out of storage. The opportunities for new comparisons and conversations would be welcomed by scholarly staff, as well as by visitors- temporary permanent collection exhibitions could be promoted just like loan shows to get visitors in off the street. Urgency need not come from loans alone.

It looks like Dr. Penny is aware of the problems. Let's hope that he has what it takes to fixthem.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

city ballet in london

I cannot believe that New York City Ballet is in London, for the first time since 1983(!) and there are empty seats at the Coliseum. On the other hand the Royal Ballet sells out regularly at Covent Garden, a much bigger house. Perhaps it's because Royal Ballet and City Ballet are two very different companies, and if you're a devoted fan of one, chances are you're probably not going to be that passionate about the other, for purely aesthetic reasons. Plus people usually root for their home team, I guess. But, still, I seriously think many balletomanes are missing out here. The good news, though, is that with so many unsold seats, they're selling lots of stand-bys, so you can get a really good seat at an incredibly good price. So, what are you waiting for :-)

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Dutch Update

After several announcements of vacancies in the US museum world, I thought it was about time to update the Courtauld Blog about important changes in the Dutch museum field. Two important moments are noteworthy. Since January 2008 the American Emilie Gordenker has taken up the position of Director at the Mauritshuis in The Hague. The former Senior Curator Netherlandish and Flemish art of the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh took over from long-time director Frits Duparc. This charismatic leader has reigned the museum for seventeen years and left right after the announcement of the acquisition of an important painting (for which he had been building up a relationship of ten years with the current owner). The work is Zeegezicht met schepen (Seascape with ships), by Jan van de Capelle (1626-1679), dating c. 1660. The purchase was sealed in December 2007, and it will be on display for three months in The Hague. Thereafter it will be returned to the owner, who will keep it on loan until his death, when it will be again returned to the Mauritshuis. With this beautiful arrangement Frits Duparc receives a dignified and appropriate goodbye from the museum for which he has meant so much.

Moreover, it was recently announced that Wim Pijbes, current director of the Kunsthal (Art Hall) in Rotterdam, is appointed as new director of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. This is remarkable, since current director Ronald de Leeuw has created and led most of the rebuilding and reconstruction plans for the museum since 2003. It was then thought that the museum would re-open this summer (of 2008) but the opening date has been postponed to 2010, with a recent re-postponement until the end of 2012, "possibly 2013" as it was put by the Minister of Culture, Ronald Plasterk. It is curious that De Leeuw is not finishing this mega-project. Whether Wim Pijbes will change directions or stay loyal to most of De Leeuw's plans of mixing art and historical artefacts in the newly reconstructed seventeenth-century building will be seen in the future.

To be continued ...

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Krens resigns!

Thomas Krens, director of the Guggenheim Foundation, resigned yesterday after a controversial and combative 20 year reign. Article here. He will be remembered for increasing the popular appeal of the Guggenheim New York with superficial blockbusters like the infamous "Art of the Motorcycle" and for the expansion of the Guggenheim "brand" internationally. He can be blamed as much as anyone for the infiltration of this sort of corporate speak into the museum. Despite the fact that he is a member of the Williams College Mafia of students trained in art history by the great S. Lane Faison Jr., Krens' highest degree is an MBA and he has run the Guggenheim like a corporation. While he professionalized the administration and streamlined decision making and enjoyed a great success in the construction of the Guggenheim Bilbao, he alienated many members of staff and the board. From the Times article, it appears that he was finally forced out by the board after they realized that potential hires were reluctant to work under Krens.

This adds another directorial vacancy to an already long list at major museums in the States. One can only hope that the Guggenheim learns from the trouble with Krens and selects a scholar-director to replace him and restore the reputation of the Foundation to its former heights.

New York Philharmonic in North Korea

The New York Philharmonic wrapped up a groundbreaking visit to North Korea yesterday after a series of concerts and masterclasses. See stories here and here.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Thefts in Switzerland

On February 8th, two Picassos were stolen from the Seedamm-Kulturzentrum in Pfaeffikon, Switzerland, not far from Zurich. See the story here.

Now today, four major Impressionist and post-Impressionist works were stolen from the Emile Bührle Foundation in Zurich itself, including Monet's dazzling Poppies near Vetheuil. The story is here.

The Times says police don't think the two robberies were related, probably because of the different styles used. The Picassos were taken quietly at night while today's disaster involved ski masks and guns in broad daylight, conjuring memories of the thefts at the Munch Museum in 2004.

Anyone else disappointed in the way that the gravity of this situation is conveyed by talking about the monetary value of the artworks in question? Paintings are treated as liquid assets, while the value stated is unattainable for stolen goods. I suppose it's inevitable that newspapers write to the lowest common denominator like this.

The small museums of Switzerland had better learn from these incidents and step up their security. It's not as though they weren't warned. The bold thefts at the Musee des Beaux Arts, Nice in 2007 should have been sufficient lesson. The museum had little security and no cameras in place at the time and the paintings have not been recovered. One can only hope the Swiss thefts turn out better.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

The Snoot Factor

Check out this hilarious article from New York Magazine ranking the snootiness of the various candidates for the directorship of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They didn't do a stitch of research and based their conclusions largely on the headshots and details the New York Times provided in a January rundown of the contenders, but it is pretty funny nonetheless. Their most snooty, Neil MacGregor of the British Museum, is, in fact, probably the least snooty of all. He famously turned down a knighthood and is known for being humble and down to earth. Most snooty would, from what the New Courtauld Mafia gathers from curatorial sources, go to Gary Tinterow. He does not have a great reputation among his peers and could have a tough time commanding loyalty.

Pick Neil!

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Banksy at Bonham's

Last night I went to the world’s first sale of urban art at Bonham’s in New Bond Street. Urban art has recently emerged as a contemporary art category and recognizes graffiti or street art as fine art. No ticket or registration was required for entry, which probably accounted for the attendance of over 500 people. The showroom was packed, full of energy, and uncomfortably warm.

Three works by Banksy, one of the highest profiling urban artists working today, fetched the highest prices of the evening. Laugh Now (2002), which is a mural of ten spray painted monkeys wearing placards that are either blank or read “laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge”, fetched the highest price at £190,000.

Banksy began as a graffiti artist in Bristol during the 1980s. In the beginning his works were largely executed in a free-hand style; however, in 2000 he adopted the stencil style that he is so well known for today. Banksy’s graffiti statements are raw and inspired, which probably accounts for his popularity and commercial clout.

On his website Banksy’s speaks out against the sale of his art at auctions: “I don't agree with auction houses selling street art - its undemocratic, it glorifies greed and I never see any of the money.” He also claims that he “only ever mount[s] shows in warehouses or war zones or places full of live animals” saying that he is “aware the pictures don't stand up on their own.”

Indeed the notion of urban art in galleries or auction houses, or hanging on the collector’s wall is completely ironic and paradoxical. The label of urban art defines itself in relation to the urban landscape. The power and beauty of Banksy’s works are intrinsically linked to their situation and ephemeral nature. His often brash and sometimes poetic and touching images require a context against which the critique or refuge can be situated. Their impermanence intensifies and condenses their poignancy; the critiques and protests are made almost desperate by the inevitability of their being silenced, and the hopeful images assume the promising but ultimately empty auras of desert mirages. It is ironic then that the works that inspired the highest bids cease to inspire when owned.

99% of the work sold, “a truly extraordinary phenomenon that the market has never seen before”, according to Bonham’s. Other notable artists represented at the sale last night include Keith Haring, Antony Micallef, Adam Neate, Faile, Paul Insect, Space Invader, Swoon, D*Face, Shepard Fairey.

-Vanessa N.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Moving Music

The video above is by now infamous, but is fairly entertaining and representative of the new breed of extremely emotive piano playing, of which Lang Lang is the most reviled proponent.

This new column from Bernard Holland of the New York Times is worth a read. The television program he refers to, full of ridiculous flailing by young pianists, encouraged by an eminent conductor, would seem to be the PBS broadcast of the Van Cliburn Competition, hosted by Michael Tilson Thomas of the San Francisco Symphony. Having seen the video, Holland has certainly got a point.

However, I'm not so sure that young audiences are turned off by all this emoting, as he suggests. We've come to expect it, and I suspect that many of my peers would hardly be able to sit through a performance that didn't include the visual interest of a wild conductor or soloist. We are a visual generation. We like our music in 3 minute chunks, preferably with video accompaniment. These musicians are responding to demand for entertainment for the eyes as well as the ears. Blame the youth, Mr. Holland, not the conservatories!

A Renoir Duo

During the previews of Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art Sale, it was a real pleasure to closely look at the small version of Renoir’s La Loge. Especially concerning the fact that the larger version, owned by the Courtauld Galleries, will be the central focus of an upcoming exhibition titled Looking at La Loge. The Courtauld's celebrated painting will be surrounded by works depicting theatre boxes by his contemporaries.

Unfortunately, it has not been established whether the small version will be presented. The Courtauld Institute has not succeeded in contacting the previous owner, so its appearance on the art market opened new, yet unknown doors. While the arts correspondent of the Guardian a bit too enthusiastically announced today that the small version will certainly be on display, the Courtauld Institute is currently still hoping that the new owner will lend it to the exhibition. On February 5th, the painting was sold at Sotheby’s for an unexpected 7.4 million pounds (the estimate was 3.5 m). It remains unknown which of the two versions was painted earlier, although they probably stem from the same year, 1874.

A wild guess is that the small version was painted after the larger one for promotional use. The small La Loge is painted in a less detailed manner, with thinner paint, except for the roses in the female’s hair and dress. Despite its obvious difference and whether or not it is because the large version is so well-known, in my opinion, the small version also radiates a certain sense of excellence. The significant use of black paint and the positioning of the female in relation to the male figure are similar. It can only be hoped that the photograph above is not the only opportunity for the future to see the two paintings together, because they form a unique, strong and impressive duo. Yes, this may definitely be read as an appeal to the new owner.

Nevertheless, La Loge surrounded by contemporaries will be a greatly interesting exploration through the nineteenth-century Parisian theatre world and opens to the public from February 21st until May 25th.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Final days of the Gilbert Collection

The world class collection of decorative arts formed by world class self-promoter Arthur Gilbert that has been resident at Somerset House since 1996 will close to the public on January 27th. The Gilbert Collection was displayed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art until the petulant millionaire became frustrated with the unwillingness of that museum to water the plants in his galleries frequently enough or to provide enough magnifying glasses or to give him his own dedicated curator so he carted it off to England in exchange for a knighthood. Ah, the glorious LA philanthropic tradition, previously bemoaned here.

Despite Gilbert's shortcomings, the collection he formed is truly special and it is absolutely worth a visit or 3 before it's closed up for the move to the Victoria & Albert Museum. There it will continue to have a suite of dedicated galleries when it reopens in 2009, but the announcement posted on the Gilbert Collection's website includes the following important sentence:

Some pieces will be incorporated into displays elsewhere in the V&A and some of the silver will be returned on loan to the historic houses for which it was originally made.

At long last, the vanity of Gilbert will cease to limit the ability of curators to present it to the public. It's surprising but relieving to find that he didn't include, in the terms of his gift, a clause that said the collection could never be split up and all pieces must always be on display, that classic LA move that ensures that museums remain "a tomb where the past and its taste remain preserved," to quote Adam Gopnik.

If and when you make a visit to the Gilbert Collection before it leaves, you must not miss the snuffboxes. (Others might argue for the micromosaics, also wonderful objects.) The gold, bejewelled boxes are things of staggering beauty made for the humblest of tasks. They are well installed in Somerset House in a dark room with spotlights picking up the diamonds and enamel that encrust the 40 or so on display. The photograph above is of particularly lavish example made for Frederick the Great. It will be sad to have them in far off South Kensington, though it is unquestionably the right decision to bring the collection to a larger public.

It is a source of no small pleasure to me that I have been able to track down an image of the gloriously tacky recreation of his LA office, complete with his honorary degrees and a wax effigy of the man himself, that occupied one of the Collection's galleries for many of its years in the UK. (The real Sir Arthur is on the right.) Not the proudest day for Somerset House.

P.S. Those two "paintings" behind wax Arthur are examples of the dazzling micromosaics. They have to be seen to be believed.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Farewell to Philip Conisbee

National Gallery of Art Washington Senior Curator of European paintings Philip Conisbee, 62, died last Wednesday from lung cancer. He will be remembered for distinguished museum scholarship that includes "In the Light of Italy: Corot and Early Open-Air Painting," "Van Gogh and Millet," and "Georges de la Tour and his World." Born in Belfast, he studied for his BA and Ph.D. at the Courtauld before teaching at Reading, ULondon and Leicester. He will be missed.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Following Philippe

There is exactly one well-proven, ethically unimpeachable director of a major American museum that has not been mentioned amidst the wave of speculation about Philippe de Montebello's successor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Anne d'Harnoncourt of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

One can't help but wonder why the most similar current museum director to Philippe de Montebello, the figure that gives the lie to the critical consensus that he is the "last of his kind," has been ignored in recent coverage of the Met's search. Not only is she the next longest serving director in America, now in her twenty-fifth year in the job, she too has only an MA (from the Courtauld) as her highest degree but a solid scholarly reputation nonetheless and even has the same aristocratic "de" as Philippe. (She comes from Austrian aristocracy while Philippe is a French Count.) Commentators may be writing her off for the reason I gave in a previous post: that she is practically synonymous with the Philadelphia Museum of Art and it is difficult to imagine her leaving. She has in the past rebuffed inquiries from the National Gallery in D.C. and the MoMA and she may be difficult to drag away in the midst of major construction of new special exhibition galleries and a much-needed parking garage. However after successfully seeing the renovation of the Perelman building to completion she may be at last ready for a new challenge. At 64 years old, she's in her prime and has what it takes to be a dynamic advocate for at least the standard ten year term.

The absence of d'Harnoncourt from the lists is certainly not due to any lack of qualification on her part. Her record has been exemplary and, as I can attest from an internship at the institution, she has successfully held the respect and loyalty of the staff, an important part of the job of any leader but particularly at an institution as crammed with fragile egos as the Met. With a background in 20th-century art, she couldn't be a more perfect candidate for the Met's major agenda item, building the modern and contemporary collections. At the PMA, she has lead the development of 20th and 21st collections that make those at the Met seem utterly laughable by comparison.

Though my pick for the job is Neil MacGregor, the fact that the lists of candidates compiled by critics everywhere don't mention Anne d'Harnoncourt reeks of sexism. She has demonstrated that she can ably handle a similarly large and complex institution and has what it takes to make the Met better than it is. The list-compilers of the New York Times and others have let their readership down on this one. When that readership includes every member of the Met's Board and Search Committee, as is the case with the Times, this is a serious problem.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Saving Neil

As I mentioned in this post, the British Museum's director Neil MacGregor is everyone's favorite candidate to succeed Philippe de Montebello at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Besides the legendary Anne d'Harnoncourt of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, who is unlikely to be lured away for any job, it would be difficult to think of another currently serving director that has so ably demonstrated the personal integrity, scholarly chops and administrative ability that the Met's search committee will be looking for in de Montebello's successor.

It would appear that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has noticed the threat of the country's greatest non-profit leader leaving for America and has quickly made some moves to urge him to stay. (The offer of a knighthood proved insufficient in the past- "Saint" Neil, as is staff his said to call him, turned it down.) Culture Secretary James Purnell named MacGregor to the grandiose position "Chairman of World Collections." The job, which is in effect that of a culture ambassador to encourage international loans of Britain's collections, appears timed and targeted to make Neil's departure from the UK difficult. The Art Newspaper article I link to above does not give an indication of exactly when this happened, but it appears so recent that the Department's website has not yet posted the press release. One can only conclude that the announcement's timing, one day after de Montebello declared his intention to retire, is no coincidence. Well played, Perfide Albion, well played!

introducing friedemann vogel

Stuttgart Ballet's first soloist Friedemann Vogel is widely considered to be one of the best male ballet dancers in Europe today. Although in the hierarchical world of ballet companies, Stuttgart's name may not be as instantly recognizable as that of the Royal Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, or the Kirov, Stuttgart's dancers together form a particularly strong company.

Vogel, born in Stuttgart, completed his ballet training at the John Cranko School in his hometown before training at the Princess Grace Academy of Classical Dance in Monte Carlo on fellowship. In 1997 he won a prize at the prestigious Prix de Lausanne--the competition's roster usually reads like a ballet Who's Who list sent from the future. Class of '97 included now New York City Ballet soloist Antonio Carmena and Royal Ballet much-loved principal Alina Cojocaru. The following year Vogel won the bronze medal at the very competitive "Olympic-Style" International Ballet Competition, held every four years in Jackson, Mississippi (don't ask me why).

That year he joined Stuttgart Ballet as a member of the corps du ballet and quickly rose through the ranks. When the Stuttgart Ballet had a brief run at City Center in New York in 2000, legendary dance critic Anna Kisselgoff noticed the young Vogel. "Friedemann Vogel," she writes, "a 19-year-old in the corps, is already a standout, eye-catching in his lively purity." In 2002 he was promoted to first soloist, the company's highest rank. In the same year he also won the much-coveted Erik Bruhn Prize for young dancers, beating Guillaume Côté and David Hallberg, of National Ballet of Canada and American Ballet Theatre respectively. (The female prize went to ABT's Michelle Wiles).

His repertory includes title roles in the classics as well as principal roles in pieces by choreographers ranging from Balanchine to Forsythe and Béjart. Vogel's technique, like many of today's ballet stars, is impeccable. (But some are more impeccable than others). Beyond technique, though, Vogel is a versatile dancer who handles any material with a confidence that's rare even among the top echelons. His dancing has a unique, lyrical quality that's hard to describe--might have something to do with his beautiful lines, remarkable sense of musicality and above-average flexibility (among male dancers). With good looks and great dancing, it is no wonder that Vogel always stands out. He has guested for several companies and has always attracted much attention, including in London (2005 and 2007).

But all the accolades and rave reviews don't mean anything. You've got to see him dance live. Luckily for us, we're all in for a treat as Friedemann Vogel is coming to London. The Stuttgart Ballet is bringing its production of John Cranko's Romeo & Juliet to the city as part of the Spring Dance Season at the Coliseum, the line-up of which will get any dance lover excited: The New York City Ballet, with four different programs (!), Stuttgart, Carlos Acosta with Guest Artists, and Sylvie Guillem/Russell Maliphant (!). There will be eight performances of Romeo & Juliet, from Tuesday March 25 - Sunday March 30. By the way, if you're interested in any of the shows, my advice is: book now! Many of them will sell out. Unfortunately I don't know which dates he is performing yet.. But will definitely try to find out.

If you miss Vogel in March, he's coming back to London again in June, guesting in Derek Deane's "Strictly Gershwin" at Royal Albert Hall, an "in-the-round dance celebration of Gershwin greats." (Last June he was Prince Siegfried in Deane's in-the-round Swan Lake at the same venue and outdoors at Versailles in July). Along with Vogel, Royal Ballet's Tamara Rojo and National Ballet of Canada's Guillaume Côté are joining the dancers of English National Ballet. The show runs from 13-22 June.

Here's a clip of Friedemann Vogel in William Forsythe's notoriously difficult "In the Middle Somewhat Elevated," one of my favorite dance pieces. At the above-mentioned Erik Bruhn Prize, he danced this piece and a pas de deux from Giselle, with another Stuttgart first soloist, Alicia Amatrian. There are several interpretations/versions of this piece on Youtube. Vogel's is one of the most outstanding. (For the definitive version, type in Sylvie Guillem--Forsythe choreographed the piece for her. It's amazing). I couldn't find a good clip showing Vogel in a classical piece, otherwise I would have posted it here too.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Disturbing Changes at the British Council

The British Council is destroying itself from inside. Right now a bureaucratic conspiracy is unfolding to abolish its arts departments (film, drama, dance, literature, design, and the visual arts), and replace them with ‘cultural diplomacy’ - whatever that means. What could be more culturally diplomatic, in real terms, than the sixty exhibitions a year for which the visual art department is discreetly responsible, taking British art all over the world, from the Venice Biennale to Tehran and Beijing. Repercussions go way beyond the art world. Like the BBC, the British Council has national cultural importance: in the current global political climate, its aim to promote British culture abroad is as crucial as ever. These furtive, idiotic bureaucrats have to be called to account.


Big stories from the States

The blog returns after winter break and finds a number of big arts stories waiting for it:

The New Yorker ran what is just about the first sympathetic coverage of disgraced Getty curator Marion True (left) in their issue of December 17. (Abstract here ) She has gotten a raw deal from the start and this profile, though it contains a few significant oversights, is an important step forward in the coverage of her case.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art announces the "gift" of the Lazaroff collection of modern art, a significant addition to the institution, already the finest museum west of Chicago. Soon thereafter, (a.k.a. yesterday), Eli Broad, board member, donor, and funder of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at the LACMA, announced, in what could only be taken as a slap in the face to the LACMA administration, that he would not be giving his collection to fill the building he built but would instead keep it in a foundation that loans to museums. He was annoyed that the curators would not guarantee that his collection be kept permanently on display, an absurd requirement that calls to mind Norton Simon, Armand Hammer, and Arthur Gilbert. The latter, the man behind the Gilbert Collection, housed until Jan. 27 at Somerset House, pulled his collection from the LACMA and brought it to England when similar demands could not be met. Los Angeles' nouveaux riches have not yet come to understand the meaning of true philanthropy and the city's greatest museum has suffered because of it. Men used to wielding immense power in life have been unwilling to relinquish that power to mere scholars of art in death. (At least the Gilbert Collection situation has ended for the best- its incorporation into the Victoria & Albert museum has the collection where it belongs at long last, in a museum in the care of scholars, Gilbert's vanity largely forgotten.)

Philippe de Montebello has announced his decision to step down as director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art by year's end. His tenure has served as a model of ethical, serious, scholarly leadership and one can only hope that the Met's board learns from the success of the scholar-director model and does not join so many other museums in trying MBAs as directors. Many people with Courtauld connections are in the running for the job, including former Director of the Institute James Cuno and alumnus Neil MacGregor.