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 B├╝hrle 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.