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Protecting Treasures on a Shaky Planet

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

Jerry Podany knows the kind of damage earthquakes can wreak. But he has concerns beyond collapsed buildings, cracked roads and fallen bridges.

As head of antiquities conservation at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Mr. Podany worries about the effects of an earthquake on art. He has certainly seen the worst: marble busts sheared off their pedestals, a bronze snapped at its base, vases crushed by collapsing display cases.


He knows that artworks like these could have been spared with protective measures, the kind he would like to see in museums around the world.

"There are endless numbers of methods that are inexpensive and simple," he said. "And then you move on to more sophisticated things."

Since the early 1980s, Mr. Podany and his colleagues at the Getty have been at the forefront of a new and growing field, known as seismic mitigation for museum collections — an effort that focuses on protecting the objects inside a museum, instead of the building itself.

In 1985, working with a local engineering firm, the Getty developed the first base isolator for art objects, a specially designed mount that protects the pieces from the shaking of an earthquake. Since then, the museum's conservators have traveled around the world, giving lectures and workshops on emergency response plans and damage prevention.

"The Getty was thinking about this issue when many others weren't," said Charles A. Kircher, a seismic engineer in Palo Alto, Calif., who was a consultant on the design for the building isolation system beneath the de Young Museum in San Francisco, which reopened in a new building in 2005.

Paul Somerville, a seismologist who works for the URS Corporation in Pasadena, Calif., called the Getty a model for all museums. "They know they are in a seismically active area, and they have taken a very proactive approach to designing for those hazards," he said.

Most recently, Mr. Podany has been trying to figure out how to get more museums and more countries involved. In 2006, at his instigation, the Getty entered into a partnership with four earthquake-prone countries — Turkey, Greece, Japan and India — to set up international symposiums that bring seismologists and engineers together with curators and conservators to discuss how both sides are handling these issues and what might be done in the future.

"The spirit of it is really to bring multiple disciplines together," Mr. Podany said, "and to raise awareness."

The Getty's pursuit of earthquake remedy methods is a logical outcome of its location, Mr. Podany said. The museum lies near three major faults: the Santa Monica, the Malibu and the San Andreas. It is also blessed with an exceptionally generous endowment.

"At the time, there was this overwhelming attitude of, Earthquakes happen, and it's terrible, but what can you do?" he said. "But our attitude was, What can we do?"

After commissioning seismic studies on the Getty's buildings and grounds, Mr. Podany and Bruce Metro, the head of exhibition preparation, began to address the building contents, developing and installing the protective systems that the museum has in place today.

"Our two modes of protection are very straightforward," Mr. Podany said. "The first is, tie the thing down to the building, or to the case or pedestal that's tied to the building, and allow it to ride with the building."

To do this, the museum's conservators and mount makers use a variety of metal or acrylic fasteners and contour mounts as well as nylon filament to support and strengthen each object.

The other major protective device is the base isolator, the first of which was developed by Jack Yaghoubian, a local engineering consultant, in collaboration with Mr. Podany. It effectively disengages an object from the rocking, rolling and vibrating that can result from a quake.

These days, the Getty uses a new base isolator it designed itself. It consists of a three-layer mechanical apparatus hidden in the base of a pedestal or vitrine. The bottom layer is bolted to the floor, and the upper layers move horizontally on ball bearings in different directions — east-west and north-south — while springs keep them from sliding too far. The object is bolted to the top layer, and the whole thing is secured by an electric lock that releases when a sensor detects movement.

The Getty has nine base isolators — eight at the Getty Villa in Malibu and one at the museum in Los Angeles — that are used for pieces that are especially fragile, unstable or on loan.

While the simpler protective approaches like fasteners and nylon filament are widely used in museums up and down the West Coast, base isolators are used less often, mostly because of their expense. All these measures guard against accidental damage, too.

"Seismic hazards aren't the only reason to protect the work in this way," said Brian Considine, the Getty's head of decorative arts and sculpture conservation. "Terrible damage can occur from a visitor tripping, falling over or accidentally turning around and swiping something with an elbow. The same is true in storage."

From early on, Mr. Podany shared these concepts on the workshop circuit. But he eventually grew frustrated, because too many times he would return to a museum the next year and find that nothing had changed. "They get enthused for a short period of time and any little resistance will decouple it," he said. "The director isn't there and he says, 'Well, why should I pay for this?' And that's the end of it. Or they can't find the material you told them to use."

So when Mr. Podany was asked to give a workshop in Istanbul in 1999, he decided to take a different approach, structuring it in a way that invited more grass-roots involvement. He proposed going to a small museum, drawing up a list of priorities and working with the staff to address at least two items on the list. He would then check back every other month to see how things were progressing, with the idea that the newly secured museum could be used as a national case study. To his surprise, the workshop organizers asked him to address protection methods at the Topkapi Palace and the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, the city's two most important museums. Two years later, when he returned, the Topkapi Palace had put many of the recommended measures in place.

The success of this project inspired Mr. Podany to conceive of the symposiums, the first of which was held at the Getty Villa in May 2006 — a century after the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. There, more than a dozen speakers presented a range of mitigation measures, from the supersophisticated mounts in use at the Getty to lower-tech methods, like dental wax holding objects in place.

"I didn't want the usual model of the expert parachuting in and telling people what they should do," Mr. Podany said. "What I wanted is interaction between the experts and the people who had immediate responsibility for the collection. I wanted to show them a range of possibilities."

When choosing participants, Mr. Podany selected countries that already had some damage mitigation efforts under way; each country must organize, host and secure financing for its own conference. Although the Getty Museum provides and finances a core group of speakers for these events, each symposium will have its own local spin.

Last year's conference, held in Istanbul, was organized by Mustafa Erdik, a professor of earthquake engineering at Bogazici University in Istanbul, who started the ball rolling in that city 10 years ago when he urged the director of the Topkapi Museum to think about securing its collections. Professor Erdik said in a telephone interview that earthquake mitigation in Turkey is not handled the same as it is in California: because strengthening the architecture is time-consuming and expensive, the objects are usually secured first. "We have so many museums and so many things on display," he said. "Not all the earthquakes are large ones. They may not break down the building, they just break down the displays."

Attendees at Professor Erdik's conference were taken to the Topkapi Palace and Sakip Sabanci Museum in Istanbul. Participants included an international group of conservators, engineers and academics as well as representatives from the International Council of Museums.

This May, the symposium in Athens will be organized by Vlasis Koumousis and Constantine Spyrakos, two civil engineering professors at the National Technical University of Athens. (Professor Koumousis is the designer of a base isolator system that is fitted into the floor beneath a statue of Hermes, the only surviving work of Praxiteles, at the newly renovated Olympia Archaeological Museum.) The 2009 meeting will be held in Tokyo and organized by Kimio Kawaguchi, the chief conservator at that city's National Museum of Western Art; it will likely include a visit to a test facility, so that participants can see various mitigation methods in action on a giant shake table, a device that simulates earthquakes.

In 2011, after a meeting in India, Mr. Podany hopes to hold another conference at the Getty, so the participants can sum up what they have learned and where they should go. His wish, he said, is for the core group to found its own independent association. "It's a personal issue," he said. "I don't see any other way that we can convince this global community of museums that they can do something."

By Carol Kino
For The New York Times




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Flying Avatars Admire the Artwork

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

At the Art Positions fair in Miami in December, the Chinese experimental artist Cao Fei sold a work to a private collector for $100,000.

It wasn't a painting or a sculpture or one of the short videos that Ms. Cao, 30, is known for. Rather, all that money bought a piece of virtual real estate in the online world Second Life.


Second Life has been an alternative reality for Internet users since 2003, allowing them to travel about and live virtual lives as avatars, owning land, building homes and buying and selling goods. It has been so popular — its creator, Linden Lab, says that more than 20 million user accounts have been registered — that companies are using it to hold virtual employment interviews, training sessions and sales meetings.

Museums and galleries have also moved in. More than 1,000 art galleries operate in Second Life, and in December the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, Calif., opened a replica of itself in the virtual world. Others are to follow, including the Newseum, an interactive museum of news in Washington. The New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York has also co-presented a Second Life show and has plans for future virtual events.

In Second Life, visitors don't just look at the art and read the labels. They can have fun with the exhibitions. It is more immersive, more social and often interactive, with avatars walking or flying about the space, talking with one another and sometimes moving about the artworks. The Tech Museum of Innovation even allows visitors to curate their own exhibitions in its Second Life gallery. They can also ride a giant slide guitar.

Ms. Cao is part of a wave of artists working in this new medium. She came upon the site early last year and was excited by its imaginative and transformative potential. "I was curious at first about this world," she said in an interview from her home in Beijing. "But I learned to navigate the space and then started to have fun teleporting about, before being attracted by a variety of residents, new types of community, entertainment facilities and business models. I then tried to live a life completely different from my real one."

The outcome of all this virtual exploration was "i.Mirror," a moody, impressionistic film centered on her Second Life avatar, China Tracy, a woman with glistening white-and-red body armor who travels the world observing people and places and eventually befriends a handsome young avatar (in real life, a retiree in his 60s living in California) with whom she falls in love.

"It is a sort of documentary," Ms. Cao said. "I captured video of the experience as it happened online, then edited it down to create a feature story. Nothing was scripted."

Ms. Cao began her career making short films and videos that combined aspects of fantasy and real-life documentary. Her anarchic "Rabid Dogs," a 2002 video, showed Burberry-clad office workers crawling on the floor and growling like dogs. Her 2004 video "Cosplayers" is even more surreal, following the escapades of Chinese teenagers dressed to resemble Japanese anime characters, wandering the streets of Guangzhou, a manufacturing hub in southern China that is her hometown.

Since then, she has become a fixture on the international art scene, showing her videos and photographs in more than 100 group exhibitions. Last summer, she presented "i.Mirror" at the Venice Biennale. The film is also screening as part of the Internet component of the New Museum of Contemporary Art's inaugural show, "Unmonumental: The Object in the 21st Century," organized by its media arts affiliate, Rhizome.

"She's been an art star in China for nearly 10 years," said Christopher Phillips, a curator at the International Center of Photography in New York. "As she's gained international experience, she's grown in confidence and ambition, zooming from project to project without missing a beat."

For her latest work, which made its debut in Miami in December, Ms. Cao has remained a resident of Second Life, where she is building a virtual city as an ironic look at the pace of construction and change in China. It is called RMB City, the title an abbreviation of renminbi, China's currency, also known as the yuan. It will be a condensed compilation of the characteristics of Chinese cities, combining new fantasy realms with virtual versions of famous Chinese buildings and landmarks, like the Forbidden City, the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square.

It is also, much like China, going to be a rough hybrid of communism, socialism and capitalism. To cover Web-design costs for the online building project, which is expected to take two years, the artist is selling off virtual real estate, with prices as high as $120,000 for a structure. Investors gain two years' "access" to the space, like a lease arrangement. After this period they will receive a commemorative artwork from Ms. Cao and documentation of all activities in their virtual property.

For RMB City's New York gallery debut, Ms. Cao has transformed Lombard-Freid Projects in Chelsea into a real estate office. Photographs of bits of prime virtual real estate surround the gallery walls. Nearby is a minimalist model of the city and copies of a prospectus for would-be investors, while a marketing video about RMB City and the development project plays in the corner. The artist also plans to open a real-life office in Beijing to help sell her virtual real estate.

By Benjamin Genocchio
For The New York Times

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To Keep or to Donate: Foundations Wrestle With the Question

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

Eli Broad's announcement that he is leaving his vast collection of contemporary art in one of his foundations rather than donating it to a museum has left the museum world virtually speechless.


Of 17 major museums around the country contacted for their views on Mr. Broad's decision, only two provided anyone to speak about its potential impact.

"They're like ostriches," said one adviser who works with major art donors and asked not to be identified because she did not want to jeopardize her relationship with her clients. "They believe that if they don't acknowledge what he did publicly, it won't happen to them."

Mr. Broad has said he hopes other collectors will follow his example, which he regards as being in the best interests of the public. "I think it's a new model that makes sense for other collections," he said in an interview with The New York Times when he announced his plan in January. "If it was up to me, I believe that museums ought to own works jointly."

Such sentiment borders on heresy among museums, which devote lavish attention to collectors like Mr. Broad in hopes of securing donations of art to enhance their collections and prestige. Artwork donations have become even more precious as art prices have soared, straining acquisitions budgets.

"The reason this is such an issue of concern that people are talking about, but not wanting to talk about publicly, is because it is a kind of precedent that does have serious implications for institutions," said Olga Viso, director of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. "What I worry about is that it will inspire a movement that will impact gifts to institutions over time."

James B. Cuno, director of the Art Institute of Chicago and editor of the book "Whose Muse? Art Museums and the Public Trust," said he was also concerned about the effect Mr. Broad's decision could have on cities like Chicago, where museums are part of the civic fabric.

"It won't achieve what the founders of our public museums achieved, which is building these great institutions that provide generations with access to works of art that is an integral part of life in the city," Mr. Cuno said. "Going to the Metropolitan Museum is part of the life of a second grader in New York, part of his or her civic experience."

But arts management experts view Mr. Broad's decision differently. "In a way, the story is, 'How do you get stuff out to the public and to broader places beyond the United States?' " said Alberta Arthurs, a consultant. "Broad has a very interesting idea about one way of making sure art is out and accessible to a variety of audiences."

The Broad Art Foundation, the organization that will keep the Broad collection, was founded in 1984 to increase public exposure to contemporary art without encumbering museums with the costs associated with owning it. It has lent more than 7,000 works to some 450 institutions, reaching more than 100 million people.

The fact that Mr. Broad already has a foundation helps explain his decision, and at the same it offers hope that it will not end up starting a trend, said Margaret J. Wyszomirski, director of the graduate arts policy and administration program at Ohio State University.

"Any decision to break up the collection or donate all or some of it to a specific museum could be seen as undermining the mission of the foundation," she said. "For that reason, the Broad case might be less of a general harbinger than an idiosyncratic instance."

These days, museums are leaning on patrons more and more to help them expand into new categories of art as well as complement existing collections, Ms. Wyszomirski said.

That was certainly the expectation of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which has a new entity, the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, named for Mr. Broad, long regarded as its most powerful board member.

"From this perspective, the Broad decision to keep his collection intact and merely loan the museum pieces might prompt other museums to worry that other collectors might follow suit and loan rather than donate their artworks," Ms. Wyszomirski said.

Glenn Fuhrman, a co-founder with Michael Dell of the investment firm MSD Capital, established the Flag Art Foundation in the last year, which lends works from Mr. Fuhrman's collections and others to museums. And Adam Sender, a young hedge fund manager, and Peter Brant, a publisher, are lending their collections in much the same way as Mr. Broad.

Arts management experts said Mr. Broad's decision, while striking, was really just another challenge to building museum collections over the last several years. Donors are more demanding, insisting on greater control over how their gifts are displayed, lighted and lent.

"We're seeing a more dynamic set of relationships between museum management and various outsiders that help museums pay for artworks and donate them," said Bill Ivey, director of the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University and author of an upcoming book, "Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights."

"Whether corporate donors that want exhibits and programs to tie into their corporate objectives, or individuals who care about how the artwork they are donating looks on the walls, we're seeing much more give-and-take than in the past," he said.

The spaces that exhibit art to the public are also increasing in number, with collectors like Ronald S. Lauder, the cosmetics heir, and Donald Fisher, the founder of the Gap, establishing their own museums.

Beyond that, artists are creating foundations instead of giving their works to museums, and museums themselves are increasingly circulating pieces from their own collections.

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville is an example of what Mr. Ivey described as "a minor trend" in this country. It has no collection per se, but instead acts as an exhibition space like a German Kunsthalle — literally "art hall."

"These places have more innovative programming because they are less beholden to and encumbered by a permanent collection," said Andras Szanto, a writer and consultant who teaches at Sotheby's Institute of Art.

The real issue underlying the debate over Mr. Broad's decision, Mr. Szanto said, is whether such moves are better for the public. "There may be sore feelings about it, but the possibility is that most of this art will be seen rather than warehoused, and that is a good thing."

Mr. Broad feels his decision has been mischaracterized as a betrayal of the Los Angeles County museum, said Karen Denne, a spokeswoman for him. "The museum establishment doesn't like any change in the status quo, but this is a change in the status quo that will benefit the public," she said.

"The benefit to the museums is that they do not have to pay for storage or curatorial care, and their insurance costs are significantly less than if they owned the works outright," she added.

But Ms. Viso of the Walker said she feared that other collectors who might follow Mr. Broad's lead did not understand that aspect of his decision. "There are a handful of people who have the kind of resources to endow an institution in the way Mr. Broad can, but many other collectors who don't," Ms. Viso said. "We have plenty of examples of individual collectors opening their own institutions, and over 10, 15, 20 years realizing how challenging it is to maintain, preserve, conserve, insure and lend works of art."

The Walker itself started out as a private gallery of the lumber baron T. B. Walker, who then turned it into a museum but failed to agree with the city on terms that would make it a public institution. Some 70 years later, his descendants took that step.

"I understand Eli's frustration, because I hear it from a lot of collectors, that they give works that then disappear into museums' storage rooms," Ms. Viso said. "I also understand the logic of making art more available to the public, but that's what museums do already."

By Stephanie Strom
For The New York Times

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Boot Camp for Curators Who Want the Top Job

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

Elizabeth W. Easton was asked at a Guggenheim Museum symposium in 2005 why there were so few ways for curators to advance. Specifically, why weren't more curators becoming directors?


Ms. Easton, who was the chairwoman of European painting and sculpture at the Brooklyn Museum of Art at the time and the president of the Association of Art Museum Curators, took the issue to heart. "I began asking questions about the field and my profession that were larger than my immediate circumstances," she said. "Out of that came a realization that there was a need for a program to help curators embrace leadership positions."

Leaving the Brooklyn Museum in 2006, Ms. Easton started the Center for Curatorial Leadership, a fellowship program meant to provide American curators with the management skills, fund-raising tips and administrative tools to become the next generation of museum directors. In January it began training 10 curators, drawn from 51 applicants, in the finer points of running cultural institutions. Among them were Gary Tinterow, the head curator of 19th-century, Modern and contemporary art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Colin B. Bailey, chief curator at the Frick Collection; and Elizabeth N. Armstrong, chief curator at the Orange County Museum of Art in California.

Curators have traditionally been recruited as museum directors — for years they were pretty much the only candidates. But in recent times, as museums have come under pressure to increase attendance, expand their buildings and compete with one another for donors, their trustees and boards have preferred to hire leaders with management or business acumen rather than art training.

Now curators are fighting back, eager to avoid seeing more businesspeople taking coveted directors' posts. "The principal job of a museum director is to sustain and advance the central mission of the institution — exhibiting, acquiring and displaying art, as well as engaging with the community," Ms. Easton said. "Curators, with their deep art training and a background in museums, are the best people to carry that out."

Agnes Gund, the art patron and president emeritus of the Museum of Modern Art, agrees. She is providing more than $500,000 a year to operate the leadership center. The money pays for a six-month fellowship that includes four weeks of intense instruction, a residency and a mentorship. Many of the top museum directors in the nation have signed on as mentors or agreed to provide residencies at their museums for the fellows.

"There was clearly a need for an organization to teach curators to embrace the growing administrative demands at museums," Ms. Gund said. "I have been on several selection committees for museum director jobs where the committee would not consider curators for the position because they had no management experience. They just didn't believe they had the skill set to do the job."

The center's arrival in the art world is timely given the number of vacancies for museum directors, as an older generation begins to retire. In the last six months, there have been openings at more than 25 museums, including the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the Phillips Collection in Washington. Now the Metropolitan Museum of Art is also looking for a new director.

The premise of the fellowship program is that it is easier to teach a passionate curator to be a leader than it is to teach a professional manager to be passionate about the presentation and display of great art, the assumption being that you need both to be a good director. To this end, the inaugural fellows were also given an intensive two-week training seminar in nonart issues relating to management, leadership, business and accounting.

Each morning, the fellows attended lectures from faculty in the executive education program at Columbia Business School. The subjects included decision-making, endowment management and negotiation and conflict resolution. In the afternoon, the group was introduced to art museum trustees and directors, public officials and foundation heads, all of whom were supportive of the program and its aims. Glenn D. Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art, served as the host of a luncheon for the fellows, as did Kate D. Levin, commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. The group also met an executive search firm specialist, the kind of person who might be able to help them get a job.

The program included a rigorous assessment of each fellow's leadership style. Known as a "360," it involved soliciting detailed reports on each person's strengths and weaknesses from those who work with them. "Its basic assumption is that you can't lead an organization unless you have an accurate assumption of how you are perceived by the people around you," said Raymond D. Horton, a professor at Columbia Business School and the architect of the academic component of the program.

He admitted that several fellows were taken aback by the process of being evaluated by their colleagues and peers. "People were terrified when they were given the results," Professor Horton said, but eventually, "everyone thought it was the most fantastic thing." He added: "I mean, it's so useful. It can be a real insight into your strengths and weaknesses."

Still, many fellows said they were impressed with the program over all. "It was a transformative two weeks," Mr. Tinterow said. "Coming in, I thought I would acquire some business school terminology. I have indeed acquired some new terminology, but I also have an appreciation that fundamentals of business management are not inconsistent with the purpose of a museum and in many ways can help further its mission."

Others said the program would have an immediate impact on them and the museums they worked for. "What I have learned I can immediately put into effect," said another fellow, Silvia Karman Cubiñá, a curator at the Moore Space in Miami, a nonprofit with three employees and an annual budget of $350,000. "Things like how you professionalize your operation, or how you implement a system of responsibilities and delegation of duties."

Mr. Bailey will do a weeklong residency with Henri Loyrette, president and director of the Louvre. He said he felt that the overall program gave fellows "a better opportunity to be part of the pool of candidates for future directors' jobs."

"There still has to be that magical fit between the candidate and the board that does the hiring," Mr. Bailey said. "Here, at least, we've got good training to help find that fit."

By Benjamin Genocchio
For The New York Times

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Killer Statue — Psyched About the Site!

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

The Indianapolis Museum of Art has its own video channel on YouTube. The Oakland Museum of California reaches out to online tastemakers to help push events. The Brooklyn Museum of Art has built its own application on the social networking site Facebook, allowing people to share images of museum artwork.


These and other museums have discovered social media in a big way. It's no longer enough for a museum to put up a Web site and hope that people find it. Many museums are discovering that the Web 2.0 world lets them advance their mission online to bring in new and often younger visitors and to educate a wider audience.

"We used to engage people through catalogs, but coffee tables aren't where people are engaging anymore," said James G. Leventhal, director of development and marketing at the Judah L. Magnes Museum in Berkeley, Calif., which is focused on Jewish life and culture. "Sincere social engagement happens on computers now."

The Magnes started a Facebook group last year, and within five weeks, more than 100 people joined. It uses the group to promote new shows, encourage visitors to post photos taken at the museum and comment on artwork.

"Museums face a number of challenges in trying to make their collections relevant and accessible to people, and a big one is the physical barrier — in order to see it, you have to go to the museum," said Jennifer Trant, a partner in Archives and Museums Informatics, a Toronto consulting firm. "If you can take the work out of its physical context and put it in a place where people can manipulate it, that helps the museum's mission."

Museums do not have to be large to use social networking technology. Much of it is free and relatively easy to use. "Certain tools level the playing field," Mr. Leventhal said. "We can do the same things as the big museums."

Adam R. Rozan, who wrote a master's thesis on social networking at Harvard Extension School and is now a marketing manager at the Oakland Museum of California, calls younger people "digital natives," saying they grew up with the technology and spend a lot of time online.

"It's about engagement," Mr. Rozan said. "Here's your audience. Here is where they are. Go meet them there."

The College Group at the Met, for instance, plans activities at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by advertising them online. On Flickr, you can see photos of college students vamping in togas at an evening in the Met's Greek and Roman galleries. Donna Williams, chief audience development officer at the Met, coordinates the College Group, which has 25 members from universities in the tristate area. Its mission is "to promote the museum's encyclopedic collection and programs to local students, increasing students' attendance and engagement with the Met and ultimately building interest in the visual arts among new generations," Ms. Williams said.

Dave Evans, a vice president at Digital Voodoo, a social-media consulting firm in Austin, Tex., said the online tools created ways for museums to let people share their experiences, thereby increasing attendance as well as distributing content at lower costs. Many museums are blogging and podcasting, and now they are allowing visitors to bring in cameras and hoping they will share their reactions online.

Such work often dovetails with a museum's mission. Unlike, say, a sports team, which wants to put people in seats, a museum often exists to educate or enlighten, a goal that can be accomplished offline or online.

Rather than discouraging museum admissions, putting works online can help attract visitors.

"The content is followed differently online," said Shelley Bernstein, manager of information systems for the Brooklyn Museum of Art. "The more you put out, the more likely people are to get interested and come in. I don't think it's seen as a replacement. It's seen as a way to get people interested."

The Brooklyn Museum wants to avoid the appearance that these online efforts are marketing, and it even gives away many images, Ms. Bernstein said. The technical staff developed an application, ArtShare, which Facebook members can use to put some images on their profile pages. The museum then made the application free, meaning Facebook members can use ArtShare to put pictures from participating museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the National Library of Australia, on their pages at no cost.

"We don't want to seem like we're trying to be overly viral or that we're marketing," Ms. Bernstein said. "We just want to be nice community members."

Judging from a Facebook group that follows museum participation, an estimated several dozen museums around the world are involved in social networking. Ms. Bernstein said that museums had tried MySpace and didn't like it, but that Facebook was gaining in acceptance.

Ms. Trant, the museum consultant, runs a conference called Museums and the Web; the next one, scheduled for April in Montreal, will feature social networking as a main theme.

"You can safely say most museums are interested," Ms. Trant said in an e-mail.

Not all the implications of putting art on the social Web are desirable. Ms. Bernstein said the museum had 10,000 "friends" on MySpace and shared its art there, but that it had wrestled with a huge volume of spam, too.

Museums have long contended with issues regarding copyright, inappropriate and even obscene use of their images and online discussions that have degenerated into disrespectful commentary. Museums have come up with many solutions, from establishing and trying to enforce copyright policies to forming an Art Museum Image Consortium, which allows educational use but cracks down on infringement. "In many cases, the value of having your collection known outweighs the worry about commercial use, particularly when the images being released on the public Web really aren't large enough to do that much with," Ms. Trant said in an e-mail.

The social-media world has a different language than more august institutions. In Flickr's Commons project, for instance, the site invites people to label or comment on the Library of Congress's photos and adds, "This is for the good of humanity, dude!!"

Flickr members have responded. Some photos, for instance, feature women working in factories during World War II. While the library classified them as "women — employment," Flickr members have tagged them "Rosie the Riveter."

The members' posts vary widely. More than 30 people have commented on a 1911 picture of the baseball player Germany Schaeffer holding an enormous camera, with one person identifying the camera, another offering biographical information on the player and another adding cheekily, "That camera is going on my Amazon wish list right now."

Flickr's Commons project harnesses an important aspect of social networking, Ms. Trant said, which is the "power of the crowd."

"Everybody tags a couple of photos, and they can accomplish something you never could do curatorially," she said. When it works well, the amateurs complement the professionals.

When Web dialogue gets out of hand, Ms. Trant said, "Museums have to have policy and procedures in place, so that they can act appropriately." She added: "Debate is good, derision is not. Behavior in a museum Web space should be no different than in a museum's other public spaces."

But she said that once a museum makes its works available on sites like Facebook, where users have their own pages, the institution can no longer demand control.

By Dan Frost
For The New York Times

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A Director With an Eye for the Fresh and the Local

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

Bonnie Clearwater recognized Miami's potential to become an important arts center as far back as 1990, on a visit from Los Angeles. At the time, South Beach was a somewhat desolate spot on the cusp of revitalization, and a local collector and developer enticed Ms. Clearwater to work her magic discovering new talent in Miami as she had done on the West Coast.


"Craig Robins, who was just starting to develop the area, encouraged me to move to Miami Beach with the idea that my husband and I would help be catalysts to develop an art scene here," said Ms. Clearwater, who with her husband, Jim Clearwater, had started the art-book publishing company Grassfield Press, which he still operates.

They made the move, and nearly two decades later, as the director and chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami, Ms. Clearwater continues to animate the scene in this eclectic area, capitalizing on a lively community of artists and collectors as well as the crowds that the Art Basel fair brings every December.

Her work at the museum has been recognized most recently by a $5 million grant from the Knight Foundation, which will be used to endow the exhibition program of emerging artists. The money is part of $60 million that the foundation, based in Miami, is investing in the local cultural community. The foundation hopes to build on the enthusiasm generated by Art Basel, which began in 2002 and attracts about 8,000 of the museum's 70,000 annual visitors as the international art world descends en masse on the city.

MOCA, as it is known, is also poised to break ground on an expansion with a concept design by Charles Gwathmey, the architect of the museum's first building.

"In my eyes, Bonnie's one of the prime movers in the community," said Martin Z. Margulies, who has one of Miami's foremost contemporary art collections that is open to the public. "She's built that museum from the ground up with a constituency and collection."

Ms. Clearwater has been a prominent member of the art world since she finished graduate school at Columbia in the late 1970s, where she studied both modern and medieval art. She was the personal curator for Leonard A. Lauder, the cosmetics magnate and chairman of the Whitney Museum of American Art, for six years while she also ran the Mark Rothko Foundation in New York. She moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1980s to direct the Lannan Foundation and then run the foundation of the collector Peter Norton. In both these jobs, she identified and supported emerging and underrecognized artists.

Originally from Rockland County, N.Y., Ms. Clearwater had found it eye-opening to be in Los Angeles during a pivotal time in the city's cultural development, and she and her husband were game to try another city with a fresh perspective.

In Miami, she found a vibrant community of artists invigorated by the influx of internationally recognized Cubans — including José Bedia, who moved to the city in the early 1990s — as well as a few of the top collectors in the world, including Mr. Margulies and Irma and Norman Braman, Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz and Paul and Estelle Berg.

What Miami did not have was a contemporary museum to galvanize the collectors and create connections.

MOCA originated in 1981 as a modest alternative space for local artists; Ms. Clearwater was hired as chief curator in 1994. Plans were already under way for a new building — Gwathmey's first design for a freestanding museum — and a mandate to become a collecting institution focused on local and international artists. The new building opened in 1996, and Ms. Clearwater became director the following year.

"I wanted to prove that you could do an institution in which everybody mixed at the same level, particularly with a population that is so culturally diverse and greatly itinerant as in Miami," Ms. Clearwater said. "One of my concerns about the art world is that, due to fund-raising needs, museums are offering people exclusivity to the point where donors and top members never intermix with artists anymore, let alone people from the neighborhood."

Ms. Clearwater said that her education in medieval studies has influenced her holistic approach to running the museum. "Medieval methodology is actually perfect for what I'm doing today with contemporary work, because it takes the position that art is interconnected with all aspects of life — society, beliefs, economics, politics," she said, pointing to a recent exhibition of Jorge Pardo's work, which embodies this approach. "It's not this rarefied object."

From the start, the museum has been a part of the City of North Miami, which paid $3.75 million for the 1996 building and continues to provide a third of its annual operating budget.

"The city sees the museum as the anchor of its downtown corridor that's being redeveloped as an arts and entertainment district," Ms. Clearwater said, adding that freedom from the financial burden of maintaining the museum had given her more agility with collecting and exhibitions.

The city will also pay for the $18 million expansion, due to be completed in 2010. In turn, residents of North Miami — predominantly Haitian, African-American, Hispanic and Anglo populations — receive the same privileges as members, including access to openings and Art Basel events. "The idea is to find ways for people to enter and engage at whatever level they're at in relationship to contemporary art," Ms. Clearwater said.

MOCA's expanding education programs, aimed mostly at teenagers, have helped involve the community. Teaching students skills they can use in school and their careers is a commitment of Ms. Clearwater. For instance, the junior docent after-school program trains teenagers how to give tours to their peers, and a summer journalism institute teaches them how to write about art.

An innovative outreach program called "Women on the Rise" uses the work of contemporary artists like Louise Bourgeois, Ana Mendieta and Kara Walker to help teenage girls at six juvenile centers in Miami-Dade County explore female sexuality, body image and ethnicity. It is the first time many of the participants of these programs, who come mostly from low-income families, have been to a museum.

Irma Braman, chairwoman of MOCA's board, said Ms. Clearwater's most excited calls to her would usually be "about a letter from a student that says, 'I'm teaching art now,' or 'I was just accepted at the University of Miami with a full scholarship and this never would have happened had I not wandered into the museum.' "

In January, MOCA announced a museum-studies partnership with the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, financed partly by a $10.4 million grant from the United States Department of Education. MOCA educators will train teachers to use objects and artifacts in their curriculums from kindergarten through the 12th grade. Students will also come to the museum for exposure to contemporary art and artists.

"It's a completely integrated approach," Ms. Clearwater said. "Seven thousand students will have this as part of their entire ongoing curriculum."

With MOCA about to more than double in size, Ms. Clearwater has been concentrating on how to retain this kind of open-door policy.

"There's been a trend nationally that as contemporary museums expand they find that their overhead is too enormous to sustain a program of emerging and underrecognized artists, because without name recognition it's hard to get the substantial funding you need," Ms. Clearwater said.

So when the Knight Foundation asked MOCA what the museum needed to ensure its longevity, Ms. Clearwater decided it could use an endowment devoted to showing experimental multimedia artists and new talent.

As chief curator, Ms. Clearwater has a record of giving solo museum debuts to artists who are now internationally recognized, including Matthew Ritchie, Inka Essenhigh and Roxy Paine, as well as artists from Florida like Teresita Fernández, Mark Handforth and Hernan Bas.

The Miami artist Daniel Arsham, who was part of an alternative space run by artists called the House, got his first museum exposure in 2001 at age 20, when Ms. Clearwater organized "The House at MOCA," showing him and 15 of his peers. "For a lot of the people involved in that exhibition who have since gone on to show in Miami and elsewhere, that was their first museum show," Mr. Arsham said. "She put all this faith into us, which seemed like a bold move at the time."

"When people would come to town, especially for the art fairs, she pushed them to go see work that was being made here and come to our openings," he added. "As an institution, MOCA has this dual purpose of showing our work and showing us the work of other younger artists from elsewhere."

As Ms. Clearwater said, "There is so much momentum now in Miami institutionally." Her current show, "Pivot Points," highlights important gifts to the museum from Miami collectors. "The community has embraced the arts, particularly contemporary art, and now with the aid from the Knight Foundation we have the opportunity to get to the next level."

By The New York Times




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Rising From Obscurity, Asian Art Reflects New York Success

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

Standing before a graduate art history class at New York University one February morning, Melissa Chiu recounted how little more than a decade ago as a doctoral student in Australia, a professor raised questions about her choice of specialty: Chinese contemporary art.


"She told me I was crazy, and that I should really consider subjects that had a greater degree of professional opportunities," Ms. Chiu said, her usual calm broken by a giggle. "She tried desperately to convince me otherwise. She told me I would never get a job."

Her concern proved unfounded. Ms. Chiu moved to Manhattan in 2001 when the Asia Society recruited her as its first curator of contemporary Asian and Asian-American Art — at the time, the only position of its kind in the United States.

In 2004, after curating exhibitions like "Paradise No! Contemporary Art From the Pacific" and "Cai Guo-Qiang, an Explosion Event: Light Cycle Over Central Park" and helping to found the Asian Contemporary Art Consortium, the society promoted her to museum director.

Last September, the museum announced a new acquisition program, built on a gift of 28 works of video and new-media art and an endowment goal of $10 million toward the care and conservation of the Asia Society Contemporary Art Collection.

More recently, she organized the show "Zhang Huan: Altered States," the artist's first museum retrospective, and Ms. Chiu is curating a historical overview of 30 years of contemporary Chinese arts for the American Federation of the Arts. She has become such a hot ticket on the lecture circuit that she decided to write a book, "7 Things You Need to Know About Chinese Contemporary Art," which is due out this month.

"The scene has reached a critical kind of tipping point," Ms. Chiu, 36, said in an interview in her corner office at the society, overlooking Park Avenue. (Her husband, Benjamin Gennochio, is a regular contributor to The New York Times.)

"I think it's a convergence of factors," she continued, citing China's rise as a global power and the rapid maturation of its art scene, spurred by the international market and frenetic interest from Europe and America. "And with the Chinese Olympics this summer, it feels like it's kind of our moment."

Though the society's attention-getting entry into contemporary Asian art began in 1998 with its "Inside Out: New Chinese Art" shows at the society and the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, Ms. Chiu dates the current boom to 2005, when Christie's folded Chinese contemporary art into its Asian art auctions in Hong Kong.

The next year, Sotheby's held its first contemporary Asian art auction in New York, where Zhang Xiaogang's "Bloodline Series: Comrade No. 120" sold for $979,200, more than double the estimate. Since then, Chinese artists, particularly painters, have entered mainstream auctions. In November, Mr. Zhang's "Family Portrait," also of the "Bloodline Series," brought $4.4 million.

Some major museums have broadened their contemporary Asian art efforts within existing departments. Others have established new departments, like at the Guggenheim, where Alexandra Munroe was hired as the first senior curator of Asian art two years ago.

"I don't think there's a boom so much as that the market has suddenly migrated for all sorts of obvious reasons to looking to China," said Glenn D. Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art. "You're looking at cultures that have had rich contemporary art practices. It's not that they just started making art, it's that we've suddenly started looking at them."

Ms. Munroe of the Guggenheim said: "It's a very interesting story of how a field gets born,. "These artists are coming from cultural and political realities that we cannot even fathom. I think the temptation too often is to focus on market trends and to miss the cultural and political and aesthetic system, and even the poetic system."

"I think people are finally waking up," she added. "This is brilliant, wonderful, innovative, exciting and important work. It's not just a phenomenon; it's the way the world is going."

That response erupted even earlier in Australia, Ms. Chiu said, when in the 1980s and '90s the country recognized that its economic future lay with Asia and invested heavily in the cultural sector. From 1996 to 2001, she worked as the founding director of the Asia-Australia Arts Center in Sydney, a contemporary art center that focused on the exchange between Asia and Australia through exhibitions, performances and film festivals.

She was well suited to the task, having a Chinese father and an Australian mother and reared as a child in Darwin.

"It was kind of a Crocodile Dundee existence," Ms. Chiu said, recalling her home, which faced the beach, and a crocodile that ambled down Main Street. "It's so far north that it's out on its own, and it has a really diverse Asian and indigenous population. In the early years in its history, it was a Chinese settlement."

In 2001, when she was recruited by the society, her first task was to figure out how to bring contemporary artists into the museum. One undertaking was to help create the Asian Contemporary Art Week, a citywide venture of museums, galleries and curators who came together "to look at how we could push the discussion," she said of the event. This year's gathering will be held March 15 through 24, with more than 100 artists presenting their works in 60 special events at 46 galleries and museums.

Her next step was to establish the acquisitions program, which will concentrate on new-media art, video and photography, fields, she said, where some of the most compelling works are being made nowadays. "Artists in Asia often feel like it's the medium that best suits the fast-paced changes in China, Korea, Tokyo and India," she said. "There's a kind of immediacy to it."

The effort has demanded perseverance. "Most museums don't undertake new collections today," Ms. Chiu said. "It required a lot of groundwork for us as an institution to decide to collect in contemporary art. I do think that when one thinks of art, immediately one thinks of painting. So for the museum to focus on new art and photography is kind of a bold statement."

She has also traveled with Harold and Ruth Newman, trustees whose gift helped establish the collecting initiative. "I asked Melissa, 'If you had your druthers, what would you want to do in terms of forming a contemporary art collection?' and she told me, and I said, 'You've got it,' " Mr. Newman recalled.

Because the museum is centered in the Asia Society, an institution that studies policy, history and contemporary life, it is well placed for art that bridges not only Asia and the United States but also the old and the new, Ms. Chiu said.

"I think one of the important elements of what we do at the Asia Society," she said, "is to connect the traditional and the contemporary — not to always look at the contemporary as a ruptured kind of tradition."

By Kathryn Shattuck
For The New York Times




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Man Ray Show in Paris

Posted By Administration, Saturday, March 8, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

Spanning seven decades and including many objects seldom seen in public, an exhibition devoted to Man Ray (1890-1976), the American-born artist who was a father of Dada and Surrealism, opened at the Pinacothèque de Paris museum, The Associated Press reported.


"The Workshop of Man Ray," running through June 1, includes portraits of Picasso and Ernest Hemingway as well as oddities like a life-size pair of golden lips and a blue baguette that adorns the cover of a book of lithographs.

By The New York Times

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Art Review | Whitney Biennial 2008 : Art's Economic Indicator

Posted By Administration, Friday, March 7, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

Advertisements for the 2008 Whitney Biennial promise a show that will tell us "where American art stands today," although we basically already know. A lot of new art stands in the booths of international art fairs, where styles change fast, and one high-polish item instantly replaces another. The turnover is great for business, but it has made time-lag surveys like the biennial irrelevant as news.


Maybe this is changing with the iffy economy. Several fairs, including Pulse in London, have recently suspended operation. And this year we have a Whitney show that takes lowered expectations — lessness, slowness, ephemerality, failure (in the words of its young curators, Henriette Huldisch and Shamim M. Momin) — as its theme.

A biennial for a recession-bound time? That's one impression it gives. With more than 80 artists, this is the smallest edition of the show in a while, and it feels that way, sparsely populated, even as it fills three floors and more of the museum and continues at the Park Avenue Armory, that moldering pile at 67th Street, with an ambitious program of performance art (through March 23).

Past biennials have had a festive, party-time air. The 2004 show was all bright, pop fizz; the one two years ago exuded a sexy, punk perfume. The 2008 edition is, by contrast, an unglamorous, even prosaic affair. The installation is plain and focused, with many artists given niches of their own. The catalog is modest in design, with a long, idea-filled essay by Ms. Momin, hard-working, but with hardly a stylistic grace note in sight. A lot of the art is like this too: uncharismatic surfaces, complicated back stories.

There are certainly dynamic elements. A saggy, elephantine black vinyl sculpture by the Los Angeles artist Rodney McMillian is one. Phoebe Washburn's floral ecosystem is another. Spike Lee's enthralling, appalling HBO film about Katrina-wrecked New Orleans is a third. In addition, certain armory performances — a 40-part vocal performance organized by Marina Rosenfeld; Kembra Pfahler and her group, the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black commandeering the Drill Hall — should make a splash.

But again, the overall tenor of the show is low-key, with work that seems to be in a transitional, questioning mode, art as conversation rather than as statement, testing this, trying that. Assemblage and collage are popular. Collaboration is common. So are down-market materials — plastic, plywood, plexiglass — and all kinds of found and recycled ingredients, otherwise known as trash.

Jedediah Caesar, one of the show's 29 West Coast artists, encases studio refuse — wood scraps, disposable coffee cups, old socks — in blocks of resin for display. Charles Long makes spidery, Giacometti-esque sculptures — the shapes are based on traces of bird droppings — from plaster-covered debris. Cheyney Thompson cannibalizes his own gallery shows to make new work. With thread and a box of nails Ry Rocklen transforms an abandoned box spring into a bejeweled thing, iridescent if the light is right.

Devotees of painting will be on a near-starvation diet, with the work of only Joe Bradley, Mary Heilmann, Karen Kilimnik, Olivier Mosset and (maybe) Mr. Thompson to sustain them. Hard-line believers in art as visual pleasure will have, poor things, a bitter slog. But if the show is heedless of traditional beauty, it is also firm in its faith in artists as thinkers and makers rather than production-line workers meeting market demands.

Not so long ago, Whitney biennials were little more than edited recaps of gallery seasons. Much of the art in them had already been exhibited in galleries and commercially preapproved. By contrast, the Whitney commissioned the bulk of what appears in the 2008 biennial expressly for the occasion. If some artists failed to meet curatorial hopes, others seized the chance to push in new directions. Whatever the outcome, the demonstration of institutional faith was important. It means that, for better or worse, the new art in this show is genuinely new.

And new comes out of old. Almost every biennial includes a contingent of influential elders. This one does. Ms. Heilmann is one. Her pop-inflected, rigorously casual abstraction is a natural reference point for Ms. Kilimnik's brushy historical fantasies, for Frances Stark's free-associative collages, and for a very Heilmann-esque Rachel Harrison piece that includes a harlequin-patterned sculpture and the film "Pirates of the Caribbean" projected on the gallery wall. (Work by Ms. Harrison is also in the New Museum's "Unmonumental: The Object in the 21st Century," a show that overlaps the biennial's sensibility.)

The California Conceptualist John Baldessari — born in 1931 and deeply networked into the art world — generates another, even wider sphere of influence. His hybrid forms — not painting, not sculpture, not photography, but some of each — offer a permissive model for a lot of new art, from Mr. Bradley's figure-shaped abstract paintings to Patrick Hill's tie-dyed sculptures to a multimedia installation by Mika Tajima who, with Howie Chen, goes by the collaborative moniker New Humans.

Mr. Baldessari's use of fragmented Hollywood film stills in his work has opened new paths for artists exploring narrative. And there's a wealth of narrative in this biennial, much of it in film.

The video called "Can't Swallow It, Can't Spit It Out" by Harry (Harriet) Dodge and Stanya Kahn, is a kind of lunatic's tour of an abject and empty Los Angeles. Amy Granat and Drew Heitzler turn Goethe's "Sorrows of Young Werther" into an Earth Art road trip. In a multichannel video piece called "Cheese," with an elaborate, barnlike setting, Mika Rottenberg updates a 19th-century story of seven sisters who turned their freakishly long hair to enterprising ends.

And there's a beautiful new film by Javier Téllez, produced by Creative Time, that dramatizes an old Indian parable about the uncertainties of perception. In the film the artist introduces six blind New Yorkers to a live elephant and records their impressions, derived through touch. The encounters take place in what looks like the open, empty plaza in front of a temple or church, though the building is actually the vacant Depression-era bathhouse of the McCarren Park swimming pool in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Architecture and design form a subcategory of motifs in the biennial, partly as a sendup of the luxe environments that much new art is destined to inhabit, but also in line with the show's concern with transience and ruin. Alice Könitz's faux-modernist furniture sculpture, Matthew Brannon's wraparound graphics display, and Amanda Ross-Ho's fiercely busy domestic ensembles all mine this critical vein.

But William Cordova's "House That Frank Lloyd Wright Built 4 Fred Hampton and Mark Clark" makes a specific historical reference. An openwork maze of wood risers, it may look unfinished, but it's as complete as it needs to be: its basic outline replicates the footprint of the Chicago apartment where two Black Panthers were ambushed and killed in a predawn police raid in 1969. Here the scene of a stealth attack is open for the world to see.

The passing of baldly political art from market fashion has been much noted during the past decade. But the 2008 Biennial is a political show, at least if you define politics, as Ms. Huldisch and Ms. Momin do, in terms of indirection, ambiguity; questions asked, not answered; truth that is and is not true.

An assemblage by Adler Guerrier impressionistically documents an explosion of racial violence that scarred Miami Beach, near his home, in 1968. While Mr. Guerrier attributes the piece to a fictional collective of African-American artists active around Miami at the time, the collective, like the piece itself, is entirely his invention.

Omer Fast weaves together sex, lies, and a civilian shooting in Iraq in a film-within-a-film based on actor-improvised memories. William E. Jones takes a very personal tack on the subject of civilian surveillance by recycling an old police video of illicit homosexual activity shot in an Ohio men's room. The video dates from 1962, the year the artist, who is gay, was born, and the police sting triggered a wave of antigay sentiment in the town where he grew up.

There's more: videos by Natalia Almada and Robert Fenz dramatize, in utterly different ways, the border politics of Mexican-United States immigration. One of the show's largest pieces, "Divine Violence," by Daniel Joseph Martinez, fills a substantial room with hundreds of gilded plaques carrying the names of what Mr. Martinez labels terrorist organizations, from Al Qaeda to tiny nationalist and religious groups.

Mr. Martinez, an extremely interesting artist, is making a return biennial appearance. He contributed metal museum-admission tags reading "I Can't Imagine Ever Wanting to Be White" to the famously political biennial in 1993. (One of that show's curators, Thelma Golden, now director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, is an adviser to the current exhibition, along with Bill Horrigan of the Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State University and Linda Norden, an independent curator.)

For a total immersion in the political and the personal, there's nothing quite like Mr. Lee's television film "When the Levees Broke," which is on continuous view in the show, though for me Coco Fusco's hourlong video "Operation Atropos" is almost as powerful. For this exercise in creative nonfiction, Ms. Fusco and six other women submitted to a "prisoner-of-war interrogation-resistance program" conducted by former United States military personnel. Technically, the whole program is a species of docudrama performance, a highly specialized endurance challenge. Even knowing that, the sight of men making women gradually break down under pressure is hair-raising, as is a follow-up scene of the women being briefed on how they can do the same to others.

The growing presence of women as military interrogators will be the subject of a live performance by Ms. Fusco at the armory, the ideal setting for it. And under the auspices of the nonprofit Art Production Fund, several other biennial artists have made site-specific works in the building's outsize, baronial, wood-paneled halls.

In one Olaf Breuning has mustered a cute army of teapots with lava-lamp heads. Mario Ybarra Jr.'s "Scarface Museum," composed entirely of memorabilia related to Brian De Palma's 1983 remake of that 1932 gangster film, is in another. In a third M K Guth, an artist from Portland, Ore., invites visitors to participate in therapeutic hair-braiding sessions, the hair being fake, the psychological benefits presumably not.

Ms. Guth's project has a sweet, New Agey expansiveness that is atypical for this year's hermetic, uningratiating show. Ms. Pfahler and the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, with their teased wigs, low-budget props and friends-of-friends underground roots are firmly in the 2008 picture. Ms. Pfahler's Biennial stint will include a seminar on an art movement she recently founded. Based on the idea of the attraction of abjection, it is called "Beautalism," and a fair amount of what is in the Whitney show qualifies for inclusion.

"Whitney Biennial 2008" runs through June 1 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Avenue, at 75th Street, and through March 23 at the Park Avenue Armory at 67th Street.

By Holland Cotter
For The New York Times

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An Ansel Adams Trove Is Scheduled for Auction

Posted By Administration, Friday, March 7, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

Of the hundreds of art photographs coming onto the market in April — at galleries; sales at Sotheby's, Christie's and Phillips; and the Association of International Photography Art Dealers fair in New York — one offering stands out.


On April 11 Christie's is scheduled to sell about 200 silver-gelatin Ansel Adams prints from a corporate collection in California. It is among the largest Adams collections in private hands.

Many of the photographs date from a period when Adams furnished images for the Fremont General Corporation, a financial services holding company. In 1969, just before the company moved into a new building in Santa Monica, James A. McIntyre, then chief executive officer, wrote Adams to tell him he wanted to use his photographs to decorate the headquarters. This began a close collaboration that lasted from 1970 to 1975.

"Adams went to the offices to inspect them and even wanted to dictate the colors for the walls," said Laura Paterson, a photography specialist at Christie's. "He involved himself with the framing, lighting, placement and spacing of his images.

"The collection includes every single significant piece in his career, including photos taken before Adams decided he was going to be a photographer. He was considering becoming a professional concert pianist until he photographed 'Monolith, the Face of Half-Dome' in 1927. The grandeur of nature had a real creative impact on him."

The portfolio from the 1920s entitled "Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras" and some of the other portfolios in the sale are vintage prints — that is, prints made fairly soon after the creation of the original negatives.

"A print made 20 years later is not a vintage print," said Robert Mann, the owner of a Manhattan photo gallery and an Adams specialist since 1977. "Vintage prints only come up for sale from time to time, and they often have more personality, because Ansel would have spent time on them getting the results he wanted. Today seasoned collectors want the earliest rendition of an image."

So-called later prints were created in multiples. The majority of prints at Christie's were printed between 1970 and 1975, specifically for the company.

"Most prints are later prints, which is not a problem," Mr. Mann said. "It is often the case, especially with enlargements or mural prints."

The sale at Christie's includes 23 mural-size prints of popular Adams works like "Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite Valley," "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico" and "Aspens, Northern New Mexico." In 2006 Pirkle Jones, a former assistant to Adams, consigned a "Moonrise" print from 1948 to Sotheby's; it sold for $609,600, a world auction record for Adams. The estimate was $150,000 to $250,000. (Coincidentally, on April 8 Sotheby's is selling two smaller prints of Adams's "Clearing," both made from a negative from around 1938.)

Ms. Paterson calls the mural print of "Clearing Winter Storm" "the jewel in the crown" in her sale. (The estimate is $250,000 to $350,000.) Measuring 40 by 54 inches, the image captures a storm as the weather begins to change, with the foreground clear of clouds.

Adams wrote about it in 1983 in his book "Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs": "It is a fairly strong negative and looks like one that would be easy to print. It is not. A certain amount of dodging and burning was required to achieve the tonal balance demanded by my visualization."

Ms. Paterson said the high definition of surface detail in such a large print was what made it remarkable. "There is very little of the fuzziness one might expect," she said. "It's sparkling and has texture." Mr. Mann, who has seen the work, was equivocal. "Mural prints are pretty rare," he said. "Those in good shape tend to do well. I found the 'Clearing' unusually grainy."

Andrew Smith, a dealer in Santa Fe, N.M., who has specialized in Adams prints for 33 years, said the graininess might have been intentional. "Ansel liked a variety of final outcomes," he said. "He could change the range of tones or pick a different exposure. He was a master technician."

The consigner in the Christie's sale is anonymous, but several dealers said it was Fremont General, which moved its offices to Brea, Calif., in February. A spokesman for the company would not comment on the provenance of the images.

Can the market absorb so many Adams prints at one time?

"Almost no museums have Adams collections as broad as this," Mr. Smith said. "This sale has 50 to 60 of the lesser-known images, which are not commonly collected."

Mr. Mann said, "Works by Adams are blue chip, and this collection will have a strong appeal to individual collectors because there is so much of it."

Estimates start at $8,000. The presale view begins April 4 and ends April 8.

Maastricht Fair

The 21st European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht, the Netherlands, runs from Friday through March 16. Many of the Americans among the approximately 70,000 annual visitors to the fair come because about 100 of the 227 exhibitors specialize in antiques and decorative arts, more than at any other international fair.

For example, this year George Laue of Munich has 45 German collectors' cabinets made in the 16th and 17th centuries. H. Blairman & Sons of London has a William Burges Gothic Revival cabinet with a portrait of Dante. Philippe Denys of Brussels has an Arne Jacobsen vintage leather Ox chair from Denmark. And the longtime British dealer Peter Finer has a dazzling set of finely embellished and polished steel field armor, dated 1549, from Brunswick, Germany.

"The Brunswick armor etchers of the mid-16th century were artists of the highest order," Mr. Finer said. "Their characteristically rich and busy style involved an unusual mixture of biblical, classical, sporting and heraldic subjects." An inscription on the breastplate, translated, reads: "What God gives, no envy can take away; what God does not give, no effort can gain."

"It's the best set of armor we've ever had," said Mr. Finer, who is asking "in the high six figures" for it.

By Wendy Moonan
For The New York Times

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