Archive for April, 2009

A Selected Chronicle of the Times: Museum Cuts, Shrinkage, and Expansions

April 30, 2009

  • The Akron Art Museum has cut staff and hours. The number of exhibitions will also be reduced by about one third.
  • The Bishop Museum in Honolulu has announced plans to cut both staff and hours, beginning May 1st.
  • The Boise Art Museum has laid-off an associate curator and plans additional staff cuts, reportedly hoping to staff some areas of the museum with volunteers instead.  The museum has a new director and is apparently struggling with accumulated debt.  
  • The Brooklyn Museum will put its entire staff on a one week furlough this summer and reduce the salaries of those making in excess of $60,000.  Some planned exhibitions have been cancelled as well.  The museum has lost about 32% of the aid that it previously received from the city of New York.
  • The Everson Museum has cut two full-time positions and is planning to outsource others to reduce costs.
  • The Getty Trust has announced that it will lay off about 14% of its workers, resulting in the elimination of about 97 positions and with future vacancies to remain unfilled.   The top 10 administrators at the Getty will be taking pay cuts as well.  It is also reported that present financial conditions will require some planned exhibitions to be cancelled and although entrance will remain free of charge, the cost of parking will increase–up to $15 per vehicle.
  • The Japanese American National Museum has reduced its hours as a result of financial issues.   It is now closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.
  • The Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, prior to its apparent rescue from the jaws of insolvency, announced plans to reduce its staff by 20%; a total of about 32 postions.
  • In March the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced 74 layoffs, adding to the 53 that already occurred.  The museum’s endownment has reportedly dropped by 28% in value.  (That’s a loss of about $800 million).
  • The Philadelphia Museum of Art has instituted cuts to salaries and exhibition plans.  Admission fees may rise as well.
  • The Walters Museum in Baltimore has eliminated some jobs, instituted a hiring freeze and furloughs.  Some planned exhibitions have been cancelled. 
  • And then there is the uncertain future of the Rose Art Museum.  It will remain open while its fate is decided by Brandeis University, which had previously announced plans to deaccession the museum’s entire collection.
  • The Las Vegas Art Museum has closed its doors, at least for the time being.  The fate of its collection is unknown.

The list goes on; these are but representations of the entire picture.  Economic conditions have hit nearly across the spectrum of art institutions.

Along with the losses attributed to the decline in value of endowments and debt, other factors may be involved, including the interconnected structure of the museum system itself.  In consideration of joint projects and traveling shows, the cancellation of exhibitions has a potential for producing a cascading effect.  That is, when a payment is involved and one institution cancels, the lending institution may not receive additional revenue it was counting on either.  Regardless, as a result the personnel at both museums involved in the logistics of such projects is not needed either.  Also, the combination of rising entry fees and a loss of personal income may, if not yet, contribute to a decline in attendance as well.

On the other hand, a few institutions are moving forward with plans to expand, despite mixed conditions.

  • The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum intends to continue with expansion plans despite a recent staffing cut.  A loss of value in the museum’s endowment was sited as the cause, but the expansion is presumably funded through separate fundraising efforts.
  • The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art recently announced that it intends to expand the museum’s space signficantly, although there no concrete plans as of yet.
  • The Saint Louis Art Museum has apparently revived its expansion plan and intends to begin construction later this year.
  • And, the Crocker Museum in Sacramento is in the midst of new construction that will triple the exhibition space.  Interestingly, it purchased some building materials left over from the Museum of Modern Art (NY) renovation. 



Supporting Native American Arts, a New Foundation

April 23, 2009

A first of its kind, the newly created Native Arts and Cultures Foundation will work to support Native American artists.  The Oregon based foundation hopes to  provide $4 million in grants and other support for native arts over the next 5 years, beginning in late 2009 or early 2010.  The foundation was established by an initial grant of $10 million from the Ford Foundation, which had conducted a study in 2006 revealing the absence of such support for indigenous arts.

The Native Arts and Cultures Foundation will support to artists who are members of diverse communities including Native Hawaiians and Alaskans, and American Indians.  Planning for the foundation began in 2007 and came to fruition, officially opening for business this week.  The foundation will support both traditional and contemporary arts, including visual and performing arts.

“It’s a testament to the tenacity of our people that we have any native cultures or religions left in the United States. We are seeing a remarkable cultural renaissance in the tribal communities. But the support of the arts has been almost nil. It’s been very difficult for Indian tribes to also support their own arts and cultures,” said Walter Echo-Hawk, as reported the NY Times.  Mr. Echo-Hawk is the Chairman and creator of the foundation.

The establishment of the foundation represents a significant step in preserving the cultural heritage of the indigenous people of North America.  Tara Lulani Arquette, President and Chief Executive says, “In a sense, it’s part of our quest for self-determination and restoring our sovereignty.”  (NY Times) 


New Group Is Formed to Sponsor Native Arts  (NYT) 

Foundation to Support Nation’s Tribal Arts (The Oregonian/Associated Press) 

French Court, Bodies: Indecent

April 21, 2009

Reuters reports that a French judge has ordered the closure of the “Bodies” exhibit in Paris, ruling that it is indecent under French law. The Bodies exhibit, which consists of plastinated and rearranged actual human remains is considered by many to be an art exhibition and by others, a science display.   The exhibition has been widely viewed in the United States and venues include New York City and Las Vegas.

The organizer of the Bodies exhibition in France, Pascal Bernardin, says that he intends to appeal the ruling. Bernadin specifically described the exhibition as not an art show, but rather, characterized it as educational.   The French title of the exhibition translates as “Our Body.”

One avenue of public concern over the Bodies exhibition is related to unsubstantiated rumors that the remains included in the show may be those of executed Chinese prisoners, for whom consent would appear to be unlikely. This has not been confirmed, and the French judge did not make a statement on this issue in the ruling.

Judge Louis-Marie Raingeard is quoted as saying that according to the law, “a [dead] body should be in a cemetery.”  As reflected in the judge’s statement, the law at issue may force French museums to remove all human body parts from display, including ancient mummified remains.


French court says body show indecent, closes it  

Bodies, the Exhibition, official website  

(Above right, image detail of the Bodies website)

Fairey Responds, Accuses AP of Misappropriation

April 17, 2009

Lawyers for the artist Shepard Fairey, who is engaged in a lawsuit over his unathorized use of an Associated Press photograph of Barack Obama, filed a response to A.P.’s countersuit.

In a fascinating tactic, Fairey has not only asserted his own fair-use defense, but also accused the A.P. of violating his copyright by reproducing images of the Hope poster.  The Hope image is based upon the  A.P. photograph that Fairey admittedly copied.  The use cited by Fairey is an article reporting the acquisition of the Hope image by the Smithsonian museum, which included a photograph of the Hope painting.  Fairey argues that the reproduction was merely a “literal reproduction” of Fairey’s image and that A.P. failed to obtain a license for the use.  Fairey alleges that AP has engaged in such reproductions of work by the artists Keith Haring, Banksy and Jeff Koons

BoingBoing reports that A.P. has issued a prelimary statement in response stating that , “…Mr. Fairey appears to have deliberately omitted from his filing information regarding the newsgathering context in which the various images were generated and in which they are used…” News reporting is generally accepted to be a fair-use of copyrighted material. The A.P.statement  also suggests hypocritical conduct on Mr. Fairey’s part, apparently in response to Fairey’s assertion of intellectual property rights upon A.P. despite his own broad fair-use stance.


Shepard Fairey Counterfiles, BoingBoing 

It’s Getting Uglier…LA Times  

Artist Responds to Associated Press Countersuit (briefly) NY Times  

Getty to Return Roman Fresco to Italy

April 10, 2009

 The J. Paul Getty Museum will be returning a 1st Century B.C. fresco wall fragment to Italy. The fresco, which depicts a scene of stylized classical buildings within window frames and columns, was originally received as a gift from Barbara and Lawrence Fleishman in 1996.

Under Italian law, all antiquities found on Italian soil are the property of the state and may not be privately owned. The Getty’s decision to return the fresco fragment was apparently made about a year ago. At that time the Italian Ministry of Culture had published an image of the Getty fresco in catalogue which suggested that the piece was part of a larger work, fragments of which had previously been returned to Italy.  Getty Director Michael Brand said that “Seeing these fragments together made it clear that the two were part of the same wall design and belonged together.”   One of the other fresco fragments cited in the catalogue had also been owned by the Fleishmans at one time. Another was owned by collector Shelby White.  The Getty fresco will return to Italy in May.

The original context of the fresco group remains unknown, perhaps underlining the type of historic and cultural information that is lost when such objects are removed without documentation or some type of official oversight, regardless of the legality or illegality of the act at the time. The Getty fresco has been described as a fantasy landscape and may have once been a part of an elaborately decorated room within a Roman villa such as those found within sites in Pompeii or Herculaneum. (Above, example of frescoed walls in context, Villa della Fontana Picola, Pompeii).

Getty to Return Fresco Fragment to Italy, LA Times 

The Getty Museum’s Statement


Rescued Frescoes (Domus Valeriorum, Rome), Archeology