Friday, May 22, 2009

$1M for DeCordova sculpture park

Plus museum changes name to "DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum"

The DeCordova Museum in Lincoln announced the formation last week of a new endowment to fund its sculpture park – and a $1,000,000 gift from the Parker Family Foundation of Lexington, Massachusetts, to kick it off. The DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park added that it is changing its name to “‘DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum” to reflect its renewed focus on the 35-acre outdoor sculpture park. (Though the website still has the old name.)

DeCordova Executive Director Dennis Kois has smartly made the museum’s 35-acre sculpture park, a neglected DeCordova resource, one of his primary focuses since joining the museum last June. (The schedule of exhibits for the next several months also seems to suggest sharper, catchier programming.) Kois has identified sculpture as niche the museum could fill both locally and nationally because, in part, there are still few major institutional players devoted to sculpture across the country.

A potential hurdle has been that sculpture – making it, shipping it – is often pricey. The formation of the endowment and securing this gift suggests that even in a down economy Kois may be able to raise the funds to make his plan a reality.

The musem reported that four new works are being installed in DeCordova’s sculpture park this summer: a sculpture by Douglas Kornfeld; a never-before realized iteration in Sol LeWitt’s concrete block sculpture series which will be constructed in July; an environmentally responsive site-specific work by Steven Siegel that will make use of an antique barn foundation in the park; and a “research station” built by the artist team of Bartow + Metzgar, who will begin a year-long residency interacting with park visitors that will culminate in a 2010 gallery installation.

Pictured: Jane South’s “Knickers,” 1998, on the DeCordova Sculpture Park’s East Lawn.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

RISD cutting staff, to close museum for August

Rhode Island School of Design plans to cut staff by 15 to 20 and close its museum for the month of August because of a significant decline in the Providence school’s endowment, according to the school.

RISD reports that the endowment lost a third of its value since its peak of $347 million in December 2007.

Layoffs will reduce RISD’s staff of some 555 people by about 3 percent, the school says. Two open positions will not be filled. A voluntary retirement program offered to staff since March helped reduce job cuts “by more than 50 percent,” RISD spokeswoman Jaime Marland tells me.

“RISD is not implementing an official hiring freeze, but rather looking at each position on a case-by-case basis and selectively hiring based on overall strategic and operational needs of the College,” the school reports.

The budget for the school’s next fiscal year, which begins July 1, calls for spending to remain level at $124 million and for no wage increases for the upcoming year. To help students affected by the global financial crisis, RISD says it will increase the amount of financial aid it offers to students by $1.2 million next year and slow the rate of tuition increases (a 4.9 percent increase to $36,371 for next year; compared to a 5.5 percent increase this school year).

Jasper joins NEJAR

The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research welcomes our new executive director Jasper. He joined us on May 13, and is now firmly in command of NEJAR’s new world headquarters in Malden, Massachusetts.

RI arts council seeks comment on strategic plan

The Rhode Island State Council on the Arts yesterday released for public comment a draft version of its latest strategic plan. Read it and comment here. The council said that the plan “outlines the role the state arts council will play in helping to strengthen and support the arts in Rhode Island, estimated by economists to contribute over $750 million annually to the state's economy.”

"Artists and arts organizations are suffering in this economic climate," arts council executive director Randy Rosenbaum said in a prepared statement. "Now, more than ever, we need to recognize how important the arts are to our economy, to the education of our young, and to our quality of life." Planning helps to "maximize the state's return on its investment in the arts."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Senate votes $9.7M for MA arts council

The Massachusetts state Senate voted Tuesday to fund the Massachusetts Cultural Council at $9.7 million for the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1. That’s down 23 percent from the current year’s MCC budget of $12.65 million – and roughly $2 million less than what the state House of Representatives approved last month – but not the 57 percent cut that the Senate Ways and Means Committee threatened last week. The two chambers must now reconcile their spending plans in a conference committee before sending a final budget to Governor Deval Patrick for approval.

MCC could face 10 percent budget cut.

Rose collection treasures

Some of the treasures from Brandeis’s Rose Art Museum that could be sold by Brandeis leaders. (Pardon the lousy reproductions, they’re all from the Twit-scape.)

Andy Warhol, “Saturday Disaster,” 1964. Two stacked black and white screenprinted images of a fatal car crash from Warhol’s haunting “Disaster” series. If Brandeis leaders are looking for quick cash, this is the most likely painting to go. Christie’s auctioned off a similar 1963 Warhol crash painting for a record price of $71.7 million in 2007.

Roy Lichtenstein, “Forget It! Forget Me!” 1962. A romance comic writ large by a master of Pop.

Ellsworth Kelly, “Blue White,” 1962. Two rounded blue forms kiss atop a white ground. A classic of crisp minimalist abstraction by a Boston Museum School alum.

Jasper Johns, “Drawer,” 1957. Gloomy gray painting with a faux drawer in the middle, part of Johns’s early exploration of the painting as object.

Hyman Bloom, “Corpse of a Man,” 1944-45. A bloated, rotting corpse as if painted by Bonnard. One of the best of the Bostonian’s early, chunky explorations of local morgues.

Roberto Matta, untitled, 1956. A tour de force 20-foot-wide 1956 abstract painting resembling floating space stations.

Bruce Connor, “Light Shower,” 1963. An assemblage resembling a cracked-up bedroom wall by a Bay Area master rarely seen on the East Coast.

Williem de Kooning, untitled, 1961. A big loose brushy action painting made as his compositions were opening up in the ‘60s.

Elizabeth Murray, “Duck Foot,” 1983. A bright red and yellow painting built around her signature abstracted cartoony forms on shaped canvases.

Florine Stettheimer, “Music,” c. 1920. An icy girly drawing-room dream painting by the Jazz Age salon queen.

Voices from the Rose

A number of people connected to Brandeis’s Rose Art Museum were kind enough to speak to me as part of my essay on the museum’s future. I was unable to include much from these interviews in my article, so here’s some more of what they told me.

Outgoing Rose Director Michael Rush: “As far as I’m concerned, the historical Rose Museum as we have known it closes May 17 because that’s the end of the curated exhibitions and public programs that we’ve had for the past 48 years. At the end of June is when the majority of the staff leaves.”

Jerry Samet, a Brandeis philosophy professor for nearly 25 years, who chairs the 11-member Future of the Rose Committee: “The university made a series of terrible blunders since January. I see that there’s almost universal agreement to that.”

Samet: “The Board of Trustees has authorized the administration to sell paintings if it absolutely comes to that to solve a liquidity crisis or close a budget gap. But I think, as we say in the report, that the administration has stepped back from the precipice which was the [Jan. 26] announcement that we will close the Rose and liquidate the art collection. … The Rose will stay open as far as we can tell as a museum and the collection will not be liquidated and will continue to be shown. … But the administration has behaved so badly in the past, and the breakdown of trust is such, that there are a lot of people who are unconvinced that this isn’t just some complicated set of maneuvers meant to deflect attention from some other plan. I don’t see it that way. I have no reason to be that suspicious of the administration. I think they just made horrible blunders as opposed having some venal purpose. I think they thought that this is like a patient that has a gangrenous limb. If you do it drip, drip, drip, drip it’s just going to extend the torture that the whole community can’t take. So let’s just do it all at once and get it over with. And that was completely tone-deaf misreading of the community-wide sentiment.”

Jonathan Lee, chairman of the Rose’s board of directors: “I feel that I must speak out to try to protect this art collection first and foremost. I feel this art collection was given by people and the university is the steward for future generations. It was given by people who thought they were giving to a museum that would behave as a museum and therefore hold it as a steward for future generations of students and the general public. Because that’s what museums do. So I feel that I have to speak up to try to preserve this collection in New England, first and foremost.”

Roy Dawes, the Rose’s assistant director of operations for six years and a member of the Future of the Rose Committee, will become the new leader of the Rose as director of museum operations after other staff depart at the end of June: “It was a jaw-dropping moment when he [Michael Rush] said the university has decided to close the museum and sell the collection. Of course that isn’t the case anymore. And I think anybody in the administration would be the first to say it was a mistake to come out with that kind of announcement.”

Lee: “On Jan. 26, Jehuda Reinharz, the school president, said to me: ‘Jon I can sell the art or I have to fire 200 out of the 360 faculty. What would you do?’ He said to another overseer, ‘I can save the art museum but I will have to close the university.’”

Samet on Brandeis: “We’re not facing a life or death situation.”

Rush: “The thrust of the decision, which was to get money from the sale of key artworks, I think remains the same. I don’t think much is going to change that.”

Charles Giuliano, Brandeis class of 1963, who went on to become a Boston-area art critic, teacher and curator, on how Sam Hunter built the Rose’s core collection: “They did that through courage and imagination and through risk taking. That was the Brandeis lesson: risk taking.”

Giuliano: “Jehuda Reinharz is the heart and soul of Brandeis today. … I will never set foot on that campus again.”

Rush: “I think this decision, which is about the sale of artwork, is connected to the sorry exaggerated monetizing of art that has gone on since the 1980s. I would say that this is part and parcel of the intensely inflated market and concern about money which has gone to the core of the art world. In terms of the current economic moment in the world I think it goes to how panic is a part of the response that people are having. I think this decision was made in panic. I think it was thought that is was sort of clever and smart, look what we’re doing to help save Brandeis. But I think it was a panic-based decision. It was totally unthought out. The process of making the decision was utterly disastrous.”

Rush: “They want the money. This whole story is about money. … This is perceived as the university’s solution to their budget problems. So if they’re saying now that they may only sell a couple works, well all they have to do is sell two works to get about 100 million bucks. Even in the current environment they could probably get close to $100 million with a couple of artworks. Probably. And then you have totally compromised the mission, destroyed it, forever. Because you can never get them back. And the greatness of the collection is based precisely on those key, key works, largely from mid 20th century American art, like the Andy Warhol, the Lichtenstein, de Kooning.”

Dawes on the threatened sale of Rose art: “I don’t think we’re going to know about that for at least a year. It’s still a possibility. I hope in my heart of hearts that it doesn’t happen at all. If it does happen it going to be a very, very small number of pieces. And it will only happen if this economy continues to decline and the endowments continue to decline.”

Dawes: “The threat of that [sale] changes anything. The term we’ve been using in the committee is the museum would be off the grid. Via the AAMD [Association of Art Museum Directors], we would not be able to borrow [art] and we would not be able to lend, which is huge. But I can tell you that the university still wants to have a museum that’s open to the public .. that will remain no matter if there’s a sale or not.”

Dawes: “I’m right in the middle of this in a number of ways. I’m in a position where I have to believe that they’re [Brandeis administrators] being genuine in their desire to have this museum open to the public beginning on July 22 and going forward. That’s my plan. And that’s my charge. So that’s what I’m doing.”

Samet: “We have suffered a public relations nightmare. It’s not clear what effect it will have on the bottom-line aspects of the university. In the end I’d be surprised if our donations were be more down than other universities. We have the general economic crisis, the Rose crisis, the Madoff crisis which affects more of our donors than perhaps other university donors. So who knows which of these factors is really the operative one.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Liz Collins

From my review of Liz Collins's "Veins/New Life" exhibit at AS220 in Providence:
Liz Collins's "Doll Cave" at AS220's Project Space drapes the gallery with loosely-knit walls that look like spider webs or giant white granny shawls. Some dangle from the ceiling like soft stalactites. Hidden inside the see-through veils and revealed by peek-a-boo vents are eerie plastic baby dolls. Most are suspended in the air by netting, as if snared by a spider and left to be devoured later.
Read the rest here.

Liz Collins, "Veins/New Life," AS220 Project Space, 93 Mathewson Street, Providence, May 3 to 23, 2009.

Pictured from top to bottom: Liz Collins, "Doll Cave" and "Vein Dress." Photos by The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Magaly Ponce

From The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research archives, our review of Magaly Ponce's now closed February show at 5 Traverse in Providence:
On view at 5 Traverse are photos and videos by Magaly Ponce of Providence. She prints close-up photos of little light bulbs or wiring on rice paper scrolls. The gallery says that Ponce is from Chile, whose chief export is copper, and these works are ruminations on how copper fuels the economy, is used to wire bombs, has been used in torture, and so on. None of this comes through in the work, which seems to be more about beautiful little observations.

That sense of careful observation plays out in a more interesting way in Ponce's video triptych, "Hair, Matches, Bugs." On a small monitor at left, someone twists wire around their finger. On the right monitor, a pair of cicadas link butt to butt, making out, as they scurry across concrete. On the center screen, two matches stand balancing against each other atop a matchbook. When they're set alight, the heads of the two matches remain kissing as the foot of the left one lifts into the air, then settles back down again. It's a tiny magical dance. It doesn't exactly stick to the ribs, but it's delightful in its way.
Magaly Ponce, "From Remains," 5 Traverse Gallery, 5 Traverse St., Providence, Feb. 13 to March 14, 2009.