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 ...