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A Powerful Pair Holds the Fate of Museums

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

Two of the most powerful people in the museum world right now are not museum directors, or curators, or wealthy donors. They didn't even major in art history. Still, Sarah James and Laurie Nash, two principals at the executive search firm Phillips Oppenheim, are playing a crucial role in two decisions that will shape the New York art world for years to come: the selection of the future directors of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation.

Virtually all museum boards today, when faced with the task of replacing a director, hire a search firm. The firm will generally begin by interviewing people at all levels of the museum to get their feelings about what is needed in the new leader. After making sure the board's search committee knows what it is looking for, the headhunters, drawing on their large network of connections and a good deal of additional research, will offer a list of names. They schedule the interviews, prep the candidates, and remind the board to stay focused on its criteria, in order to make the best possible match between a museum and a director.

There are only a handful of individuals and firms who are major players in the museum world. Malcolm MacKay, at Russell Reynolds Associates, has placed some of the most prominent directors, including James Cuno at the Art Institute of Chicago, Anne Poulet at the Frick Collection, and Lisa Phillips at the New Museum of Contemporary Art. Nancy Nichols, at the firm Heidrick & Struggles, was also at the top of the field, when she became ill and died in 2002 of Lou Gehrig's disease.

Phillips Oppenheim, which was founded in 1976, is much smaller than these firms and works exclusively with not-for-profits. Before the Guggenheim hired Ms. James and Ms. Nash last summer — at that point, to conduct a search for a director of the New York museum, who would serve under the Guggenheim Foundation director, Thomas Krens — the highest profile search they had conducted was for the Indianapolis Museum of Art, where in 2006 they placed Maxwell Anderson, a former director of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Now that they are running both the Met's search and the Guggenheim's — which became much bigger after the announcement last week that Mr. Krens would resign — Ms. James and Ms. Nash have gone from being relative underdogs to being at the head of the pack.

"I think the [Met's] search committee was probably surprised to find themselves seeing the value of a small firm," an individual in the museum world who asked not to be named said. The choice, he suggested, "speaks to the Met's interest in turning a page and thinking freshly about their leadership challenge."

Ms. James and Ms. Nash, who are both in their early 40s, were described by people who have worked with them as having complementary personalities, which enable them to connect with a wide range of people. (Ms. James and Ms. Nash declined to comment for this article. ) Ms. James, who is from California, attended the University of California at Berkeley, and served in the Peace Corps in Mauritania, is the effusive "front woman," while Ms. Nash, who is from the East Coast, attended Yale, and coached sports at secondary schools, is more detailed and methodical.

"Sarah was more the high-profile personality type. Laurie was very concrete, very thorough," a vice chairman of the board of the Parrish Art Museum, which worked with Phillips Oppenheim to find a new director, Susan Griffin, said. "They bounce off each other very well."

People who have worked with them as job candidates described them as honest and supportive about the search process, and sincerely interested in finding the right fit for both parties.

"I felt like I was talking to somebody who genuinely cared about me, and was really working with me to envision my future," the director designate at the Parrish, Terrie Sultan, said. "At the end of every conversation, [Laurie] would say, 'What else do you need from me?'"

The director of arts at the Smithsonian Institution, Susan Talbott, whom the pair recently placed as the new director of the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Conn., said that Ms. James was very forthcoming "about the positives and the negatives of the institution. She wasn't painting an unrealistic picture." Ms. James also gave her helpful advice about how to present herself to the board, she said.

From the other side, trustees said that Ms. James and Ms. Nash forced them to spend a significant amount of time, before they saw any candidates or résumés, articulating what the institution needed in a director.

That discussion could be frustrating, one of the co-chairmen of the Wadsworth Atheneum search, Susan Rottner, acknowledged. "The committee would say, 'Just give us the names.' And they said: 'We have names, but if you haven't convinced yourselves of what are the key competencies you're looking for, then it's going to be hard to evaluate the people we bring to you.'"

The process of deciding what the institution needs will be critical for the Met's board members, many of whom probably can't imagine the museum without its director of 30 years, Philippe de Montebello. In the case of the Guggenheim, the museum-world insider who didn't want to be named said it was probably the headhunters' candid advice about the difficulty of finding someone for a no. 2 job that convinced the board to let Mr. Krens go.

"Most headhunters are always thinking about their next job, so they're loath to come across to a normally very powerful and self-regarding group of trustees as telling them how the world should be," the insider said. "Sarah in particular is very blunt about the competitive environment, the other searches that are going on, and the reservations candidates might have based on an institution's past experience with directors."

That straight-shooting style is reassuring to both trustees and candidates, he said. With many headhunters, he explained, "there's a degree of calculation in each discussion, a kind of minuet. With Sarah you always feel like you're getting the straight stuff."

By Kate Taylor
For The New York Sun

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Esko Mannikko Wins Deutsche Boerse Photography Prize

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

Finnish photographer Esko Mannikko has been awarded the 2008 Deutsche Boerse Photography Prize. Mannikko won the prize for his retrospective "Cocktails 1990–2007," which ran at Millesgarden gallery in Stockholm, Sweden, from September 1 to November 4, 2007. Other shortlisted photographers were John Davies, Jacob Holdt, and Fazal Sheikh.

The prize honors a contemporary photographer who has made the most significant tangible contribution, defined as either an exhibition or publication, to the medium in Europe in the past year. Originally created in 1996 by the Photographers' Gallery in London, it has been sponsored by the Deutsche Boerse since 2005. The winner receives £30,000 (U.S. $60,000).

The exhibition in tandem with the prize can be viewed at the Photographers' Gallery until April 6, after which it will travel to the photography forum C/O Berlin and the Deutsche Boerse Group headquarters in Frankfurt.

By Artinfo

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Photo London Cancelled

Posted By Administration, Thursday, March 6, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

Valérie Fougeirol, director of Paris Photo and its London edition, has left the company "by mutual consent", forcing the cancellation of Photo London, scheduled for this May.

The London fair has been dogged with misfortune even before Reed Expositions (the organisers of Paris Photo) took over at the end of 2006. Dealers had complained about the cramped conditions of its Burlington Gardens venue since 2004, but the first revamped edition in Old Billingsgate market last May saw a poor turnout (despite eye-catching posters) as it was thought to be too close to other events including the Venice Biennale and Art Basel.

The organisers say that the event will return to London in 2009, but that "a full review of the challenges of the international photography market needs to be addressed." The Paris edition, which takes place in November, is still scheduled to go ahead.

By Melanie Gerlis
For The Art Newspaper

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The Arts of the Campaign Trail

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

When it comes to campaign themes, the arts can't compete with healthcare reform, national security, the sluggish economy -- just about anything you might name.

But this presidential primary season, people who work at the crossroads of politics and culture say the arts have attained a higher profile than usual -- and the push for an arts agenda has established a foothold in the campaign landscape.

Linda Frye Burnham, well known in Los Angeles arts circles for starting High Performance magazine and co-founding Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica, began hearing in January about Barack Obama's support for the arts.

Along with thousands of other arts figures, she received an e-mail detailing how Obama would increase support for the National Endowment for the Arts, embrace arts education, strengthen cultural diplomacy, advocate an artist-friendly tax law and propose an Artist Corps to send young artists to teach in low-income areas.

In Ohio, meanwhile, Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign worked to arrange a gathering at which her advisors hoped to win arts-interested voters with her commitment to the same ideas. Mike Huckabee has promised that should he be elected, he'd follow through on his devotion to arts education, especially. And last March, John McCain answered a New Hampshire theater manager who said he hoped the senator would support the arts by sending the man a personal check for $500.

The statements and promises, as it turns out, reflect an initiative called ArtsVote2008 mounted by the political arm of a group called Americans for the Arts, or AFTA.

In advance of the Iowa caucuses, ArtsVote gave all the candidates then running a 10-point plan for the arts in public life. No. 1 stresses NEA grants to the sorts of local arts agencies and groups that AFTA represents. No. 6 urges candidates to enhance healthcare coverage for arts groups and artists. (The complete text is available at ArtsVote then urged the candidates to address these points in public.

Such political pressure "is pretty common among other advocacy centers, but for the arts it is somewhat new," says Rindy O'Brien, director of the American Arts Alliance, which represents opera, ballet and orchestra groups in Washington. "I come out of the environmental realm, and they would do a lot of that electoral work -- and Planned Parenthood does -- but, for the arts, you haven't seen it."

One reason it's visible now is a matter of resources. In 2002, AFTA received a $127-million gift from Ruth Lilly, heiress to the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical fortune.

The money, given in annual installments and spread across the group's political, educational and service activities, lifted its yearly budget to $14 million from about $8 million. And those extra millions helped give clout to ArtsVote, a part of AFTA's political arm, the Arts Action Fund.

With its 10-point plan in place, ArtsVote tracked candidates' responses by giving a $40,000 grant to a group called New Hampshire Citizens for the Arts so it could hire Suzanne Delle Harrison, who runs a theater in the state. She, in turn, put candidates and their staffs on the record by asking them about their views before the state's primaries. On the ArtsVote website are both the campaigns' arts statements and a diary of Harrison's lobbying adventure:

The diary alludes, for example, to a lecture Huckabee gave ArtsVote volunteers that Harrison described in an interview as a "fascinating" evangelistic interpretation of human creativity as a conduit for the creative role of God.

Beyond his $500 gift, McCain doesn't appear in the log. His silence, arts advocates say, is already framing a clear difference on public financing for the arts between whichever Democrat runs and the Republican front-runner. "It would be a stark contrast, especially since Sen. McCain hasn't responded in any way about supporting the arts," says Narric Rome, director of federal affairs for the Arts Action Fund.

An issue of particular interest on the ArtsVote agenda is arts education, which, arts advocates say, became a casualty of the test-driven No Child Left Behind Act.

Obama, Clinton and Huckabee all extol exposing students to the arts. Speaking before the Virginia primary, Obama declared: "I want our students learning art and music and science and poetry and all the things that make education worthwhile."

Pollsters have not attempted to measure the power of a national arts vote, and it's hard to know how such stands will sway the public.

But the Arts Education Partnership, a coalition of 140 organizations, recently commissioned a poll of 1,000 likely voters from Lake Research, a Democratic polling firm. It showed that 57% of the respondents would more likely vote for a candidate who supported the development of the imagination in schools.

The poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, also found that 57% of voters would be less likely to pick a candidate who voted to cut funding for arts education.

Current and former Clinton and Obama campaign staffers speak of the candidates' self-driven support for the arts. But they also credit former Americans for the Arts officials and members of other arts organizations for helping AFTA develop its 10-point plan. O'Brien of the American Arts Alliance says it was consulted. And Rachel Lyons, the Clinton campaign's deputy political director in New Hampshire, is a former director of the American Arts Alliance, which ArtsVote's Harrison believes won her a particularly "open and knowledgeable" hearing with the campaign.

Last spring, a key Arts Action Fund official gave an extensive briefing calling for more funding for arts education and its other priorities to the Obama campaign's Arts Policy Committee, a growing volunteer group of arts professionals, researchers and artists that both considers arts policy and works politically.

In addition, novelist Michael Chabon has written a statement of principles for the campaign called "Thoughts on the Importance of the Arts to Our Society".

Clinton advisors, for their part, speak of the ArtsVote proposals as one of several influences. The Clinton campaign exchanged e-mails with Rome about arranging the arts gathering in Ohio.

According to Clinton officials, the campaign has no arts policy committee but instead has opted for what domestic policy advisor Catherine Brown calls "a more organic approach" of reaching out to "Hillary Clinton's many friends who know about her passion for the arts."

Overall, the Democrats' formal responses to ArtsVote are similar in how they parallel the ArtsVote priorities.

The Clinton campaign has outlined nothing comparable to Obama's Artist Corps, but it has proposed a Putting Arts in Reach initiative, which would "offset the cost of musical instruments, art supplies, drama equipment, and other things used in arts education for children from low-income communities."

Will such words actually produce programs?

Says Burnham: "I've lived long enough to know that platforms mean relatively little when people get in there and find out what is going on. They give a sense of whether the candidate gets it or not -- the value of the arts to the American public. I know that Americans for the Arts will keep rattling their cage for change, whether it is Obama or Hillary.

"What I wonder is what would happen if McCain got in and Huckabee were vice president. What would happen to the arts then? I think about that a lot."

By Allan M. Jalon
For The Los Angeles Times

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Inflated Art Appraisals Cost U.S. Government Untold Millions

Posted By Administration, Sunday, March 2, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

The IRS audits few artwork donations claimed on tax returns that yield $1 billion in write-offs a year. Data suggest overvaluation is rampant.

An alleged tax-fraud scheme involving donations of overvalued art to four local museums is part of a larger, unchecked problem with inflated art appraisals that has cost the federal government untold millions, a Times analysis has found.

Each year, the Internal Revenue Service audits donations claimed on only a handful of the 100,000 or more tax returns that allow art donors to reap nearly $1 billion in tax write-offs. Half of the donations checked over the last 20 years had been appraised at nearly double their actual value.

LACMA: An article in Sunday's Section A about allegedly inflated appraisals of art said that 10,750 objects had been seized by federal authorities from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and 12 other locations in California and Chicago. No objects were seized from LACMA. Museum officials say about 60 objects are being investigated as part of a probe into alleged import violations and tax fraud. Authorities involved would not specify how many objects had been seized from the other locations. The article also said that in 1982 two senior LACMA officials had accepted objects with inflated values and signed backdated donation forms. LACMA says that it does not consider one of the officials involved, a registrar, to be a senior official. —

These IRS reviews caught $183 million in exaggerated claims over the last two decades. But that probably represents a small fraction of the total problem, according to a more detailed 2006 study by the agency's inspector general.

In recent years, the IRS has reduced even further the number of appraisals it checks, part of a broader decline in the number of tax returns audited. If that smaller sample is any indication, overvaluations appear to be getting worse.

In 2004, for instance, the IRS' appraisers checked only seven of the 108,554 tax returns with donations of art. They found that more than a third of the 184 objects claimed on those returns were overvalued -- on average more than three times their true worth.

"It totally blows me away," said Ralph Lerner, a tax attorney in New York who represents many art donors. "I didn't know there was that much abuse."

The issue was highlighted in January, when federal agents raided four Southern California museums while investigating an alleged tax fraud scheme involving the donation of overvalued Asian and Native American artifacts.

Since the raids, federal agents have seized more than 10,750 objects from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana, the Mingei International Museum in San Diego and nine other locations in California and Chicago, authorities say.

It is appraisers, not museums, who determine the value of art for donors. But the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles is investigating whether museum officials furthered the scheme by knowingly accepting donations of overvalued art from suspect dealers and collectors over a decade, according to affidavits filed in January.

The allegations mirror past tax fraud scandals in which museums such as LACMA, the Smithsonian Institution and the J. Paul Getty Museum accepted donations of art whose value was inflated.

The federal government has long sought to balance incentives for art donors with the risks of tax fraud. Some lawmakers are now saying that balance should be reconsidered in light of possibly widespread fraud.

"It may be that some donors submit inflated appraisals because they know they probably won't get caught," said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, which is considering legislation that would require additional scrutiny of appraisals.

Other critics are suggesting more fundamental reforms. Robert Reich, an economist and former secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, recently argued that charitable donations that do not directly benefit the poor, such as art, should be eligible for only half their value in tax benefits.

"We've created a giant loophole right now through which the rich reduce their taxes by supporting culture palaces frequented primarily by themselves," Reich said in an interview. "This is not the way the tax code was intended to be used."

Museum officials warn, however, that changes to the current system could have serious consequences. For more than a century, tax write-offs have been the economic engine that has built public art collections across the country. More than 80% of acquisitions now come through donations, according to the Assn. of Art Museum Directors. "If something were to happen to the deductibility of art, it would be disastrous," said Anita Difanis, a lobbyist for the association.

The tax fraud scheme alleged in the recent Los Angeles-area investigation appears petty in scale, but its resemblance to past cases suggests that questionable practices remain pervasive.

Authorities allege in affidavits that Robert Olson imported shipping containers full of recently excavated Thai antiquities into Los Angeles and sold them to collectors and art dealers with the promise that he could arrange appraisals that would boost their value by four or five times.

In one case, Olson is alleged to have sold an undercover agent $6,000 worth of artifacts that an appraiser later valued at $18,775, citing Olson as an authority on the value, according to the affidavits.

Olson has acknowledged importing recently excavated antiquities but says he did not violate U.S. law.

What has shocked many about the case is the relatively small benefit the scheme probably yielded. A donor in the highest tax bracket of 35% would have received a tax benefit of just $6,571 from the transaction, just a few hundred dollars more than the cost of the art.

Many other donations of items imported by Olson were valued at just under $5,000 -- the threshold at which the IRS requires a formal appraisal. The affidavits suggest that the donors may have used the scheme several times a year over a decade.

"It doesn't make financial sense to me unless the perception was it was easy to get away with and the service wasn't going to come after them," said Sheryl Gillett, a senior member of the American Society of Appraisers.

She said the case shines a light on the lack of government regulation of the appraisal industry. The appraisers society has pushed in recent years for such regulation.

A 2006 law tightened standards and increased penalties on bad appraisals. For donors, it lowered the threshold on what the law considers a bloated appraisal, from 200% overvalue to 150%. It also increased oversight of and fines for appraisers. But because the IRS checks so few appraisals, some believe that overvaluations will continue.

"The government has looked the other way for many, many years," Gillett said. "I think we've reached a point where they can no longer do that."

A long history

Olson's alleged scheme was nothing new.

From 1973 to 1985, the Getty Museum accepted at least $14 million in donated Greek and Roman antiquities from a network of wealthy "collectors," according to news reports, Getty records and interviews with participants in the scheme. Most of the objects had been recently excavated and imported into the United States, where the Getty's first antiquities curator, Jiri Frel, would inflate their value in forged appraisals, records and interviews show.

Many of the donors never saw, much less owned, the objects they gave, but lent their names to the transactions in return for generous tax write-offs, said Bruce McNall, who admits participating in the Getty scheme.

The donations helped the Getty build its well-known antiquities study collection -- objects not important enough to go on display, but of archaeological interest to researchers.

The scheme was discovered by Frel's deputy, Arthur Houghton, who raised the alarm internally just as the IRS began questioning some of the appraisals. By the time the controversy was exposed publicly in 1987 by the now-defunct Connoisseur magazine, Frel was on paid leave in Europe and the IRS investigators had moved on, records and interviews show. Frel died in May 2006, and no one at the Getty was ever prosecuted in the case.

"Taking advantage of the whole tax system -- that's how museums get things," said McNall, who went on to buy the Los Angeles Kings and produce movies before spending four years in federal prison for his role in a $236-million bank fraud.

Similar schemes have arisen elsewhere.

In 1982, two undercover IRS agents made donations of overvalued Egyptian antiquities to LACMA and UC Santa Barbara.

Senior LACMA officials accepted objects with inflated values and signed backdated donation forms for the agents, who posed as wealthy donors, IRS officials said at the time.The LACMA officials later told The Times it was an "honest mistake" and a "favor" for the donor, and promised to "tighten up procedures."

LACMA officials said no action was taken against the museum or its staff.

In 1983, the IRS found that gems donated to the Smithsonian Institution had been appraised at five times their true value. The museum pledged to tighten its procedures. But five years later, the museum accepted four Stradivari instruments valued at $50 million. Documents obtained by the Senate Finance Committee showed that the instruments had been appraised a decade earlier at a tenth of that value.

A hamstrung watchdog

The Smithsonian said it was not responsible for the new appraisal, which one expert called "preposterous." The donor later went to prison for an unrelated tax fraud.

Rampant overvaluations in the 1960s led the IRS to create a panel of art experts to evaluate the accuracy of appraisals.

The Art Advisory Panel -- a group of volunteer curators, dealers and appraisers -- travels to Washington twice a year to assess donations valued at over $20,000 that are found during routine audits. The IRS does not disclose the reasons for its audits.

As scrutiny has declined, the frequency and amount of inflation appear to have grown, figures show.

The panel's sample is so small that it is hard to draw broad conclusions. But that bigger picture was hinted at in a 2006 study by the IRS' watchdog, the treasury inspector general for tax administration, whose office looked at a statistical sample of all tax returns with donated art in 2002.

The study suggests that there were at least 200 inflated appraisals that year. The panel found only four. But the study concluded that creating a new program to check more art donations would not be cost-effective because they made up just under 4% of all charitable contributions.

Grassley, who requested the study, is considering new legislation that would require all art donations of a certain value to be checked by the panel.

By Jason Felch and Doug Smith
For The Los Angeles Times

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Photographers, on the Other Side of the Lens

Posted By Administration, Sunday, March 2, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

"MY passion has never been for photography itself," Henri Cartier-Bresson says in the documentary "Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Impassioned Eye," by Heinz Butler. The passion he describes instead is for "the possibility of forgetting yourself" while taking pictures, and "of capturing in the fraction of a second the emotion of a subject and the beauty of form."

Photographers — how they work, what they shoot, and their sources of inspiration — are the subject of a weeklong documentary series that begins Monday night on the Sundance Channel. The documentaries, made over the last decade by 10 independent filmmakers and assembled for the series, feature a broad range of photographers including William Eggleston, Tina Barney, Helmut Newton, and Robert Mapplethorpe and his mentor Sam Wagstaff, among other lesser-known artists.

The series doesn't aim to be comprehensive, but by providing a casual introduction to a number of notable photographers with snippets of insight about who they are and how they take pictures, "the onion is peeled just a little more about their muses, their influences and their collaborations," said Laura Michalchyshyn, executive vice president for programming and marketing at the Sundance Channel, who helped select the documentaries for the series.

While the challenge for each filmmaker was to document the creative process of their subjects, the photographers' approach to their work varies considerably, and so each film reflects the essence of its subject. In "Tina Barney: Social Studies," the filmmaker Jaci Judelson draws specific parallels between Ms. Barney's upper-class background and the world she photographs, underscoring the vital connection between her life and her work. In "William Eggleston and the Real World," Michael Almereyda used a hand-held camera to capture and transmit the furtive manner in which Mr. Eggleston walks down the street and in and out of stores, taking pictures of everyday objects that would typically escape our notice.

"It's innately weird," Mr. Almereyda once told a reporter when asked about the process of filming a photographer. "But after a while it was like following someone on a safari. There's this ongoing suspense — when and what is he going to shoot?"

As photography has become an increasingly sought-after commodity in the art market, turning many photographers into celebrities, the film series diffuses the mystique somewhat by showing the everyday working methods that vary from one photographer to another. Some take pictures of the world as it is, relying on the spontaneity of the moment; others construct the pictures they take by scouting locations, setting up elaborate equipment and arranging their models. Only the use of the camera and the final object — a photographic print — seems to unite the profiled photographers.

And as the films show, it is impossible to separate the photographers from the pictures they take. Known primarily for large-scale color photographs of her extended upper-class American family that she took in the 1980s, Ms. Barney is shown in the film talking with her sister about the Balenciagas they wore to their respective debutante balls in the 1950s; the family's first crossing to Europe on the ocean liner Liberté; and the guests, including Truman Capote and Rex Harrison, who would visit them on weekends at their summer home on Long Island.

Then the film follows Ms. Barney from Manhattan to Newport, R.I., to Europe, where she arranges and takes a series of portraits of European aristocrats. "I start phoning people and say, 'I'm Tina Barney,' " she says in the film. " 'So-and-so gave me your name. Can we meet?' " At the end of one phone call in which she arranges to meet a potential subject, Ms. Barney asks, "Do I call you Princess?"

The resulting photos might be likened to salon paintings — formally composed portraits in settings rich in the details and fabrics of the subjects' high social position.

For his part Mr. Eggleston is portrayed as eccentric and somewhat obsessive. In one sequence he is shown driving to his home in Memphis when he pulls over to photograph a dilapidated house. Taking pictures both inside and outside the house, he appears to be shooting at random, but because the filmmaker inserts finished prints of the shots he is taking into the film, the logic of Mr. Eggleston's choices become clear.

Helmut Newton, the notorious photographer of high fashion and elegant kink, is the focus of "Helmut Newton: My Life," by Gero von Boehm. The film presents the stylishness of Mr. Newton's life, which wafts among Los Angeles, Berlin, Monte Carlo and Paris. At the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles Mr. von Boehm films Mr. Newton in the hotel's laundry room explaining why he photographed nude models leaning against large stainless steel washing machines. In Monte Carlo Mr. Newton directs an elaborate fashion shoot on the waterfront. "Keep your bottom in the air," he shouts to one model from behind his camera.

Mr. von Boehm, to his credit, includes footage of Mr. Newton, who grew up in Berlin, discussing his flight from Nazi Germany as a young Jew, and cites the connection between the bold graphics of Nazi imagery, which fascinated the photographer visually as a boy, and the graphic look of his own controversial photographs.

There is so much photographic imagery in our daily lives that you might say we scarcely even notice. But one interview in the Cartier-Bresson documentary points out both the historic value of photography and the emotional effect of a single photograph. Arthur Miller responds to a Cartier-Bresson picture of Marilyn Monroe taken on the set of "The Misfits," in 1961. She's wearing a simple black dress; her hair is pulled back under a smart little hat with netting; and she stares pensively away from the camera. "Beautiful," says Miller, who was married to her when the picture was taken. "This was the first day of shooting. She is not simply posing for a picture. She is preoccupied with something. And so she is very alive in the picture. Her basic intelligence is in that picture. It's a very introspective picture. It's her. It's the way she was."

By Philip Gefter
For The New York Times

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Director's Brief Stay at Dia Is Over

Posted By Administration, Saturday, March 1, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

Only nine months after taking over, Jeffrey Weiss has resigned as director of the Dia Art Foundation, saying he had realized he was not cut out for the job.

Mr. Weiss, 49, had been recruited to get the foundation back on track after a series of reversals, including an aborted effort to open an exhibition space in the meatpacking district of Manhattan.

But in a telephone interview on Friday, he said he had decided that he was ill suited to the administrative burdens of the director's post.

"It took me too far away from curatorial and scholarly work," Mr. Weiss said. "I had an idea that being director of Dia would be different because it is such a small place." Leaving, he added, "is best for Dia as well as for me."

The news is yet another setback for this troubled institution. Only two years ago its previous director, the charismatic Michael Govan, left to become director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. That prompted the departure of Dia's board chairman and biggest benefactor, Leonard Riggio.

Nathalie de Gunzburg, the current chairwoman of Dia's board, said Mr. Weiss's departure was a mutual decision. "I'm disappointed," she said. "Jeffrey is so well regarded, and it was nice working with him."

Nonetheless, his exit will not come as a surprise to many in the art world. Some thought Dia and Mr. Weiss were a mismatch from the start.

Mr. Weiss had never run a museum, and his background lay mainly in organizing exhibitions rather than charting an institution's future. He had previously been a top curator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

When Ms. de Gunzburg announced his appointment a year ago, she emphasized that Dia's biggest priority was to find an exhibition space in New York City and to develop a program there. So far that goal has not been accomplished. "To find a new building in New York is not easy," she said on Friday.

Nor was Mr. Weiss known for organizing the kind of risk-taking exhibitions that are Dia's trademark. In his 13-year tenure at the National Gallery, where he was most recently in charge of the Modern and contemporary art department, Mr. Weiss was known for more conventional scholarly exhibitions, like "Jasper Johns: An Allegory of Painting, 1955-1965," which was on view there a year ago.

Ms. de Gunzburg said the board did not plan to start a search immediately. "We want to go slowly and carefully," she said.

"We interviewed some good candidates before," she added, referring to the search that resulted in Mr. Weiss's hiring in 2007. We're not in a hurry."

Founded in 1974, Dia is known for supporting ambitious public art projects, some of them site-specific, that might not draw backing from more conventional institutions. In the late 1980s it was also among the first to open an exhibition space in Chelsea, now a booming gallery district.

But it is perhaps best known for the light-drenched space it opened in 2003 under Mr. Govan's stewardship on the site of a former Nabisco box factory in Beacon, N.Y. That space is devoted to work from the 1960s to the present, much of it vast in scale.

Dia oversees three permanent installations in Manhattan: Max Neuhaus's "Times Square," a sound work that can be heard at the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue, at 46th Street, and two projects in SoHo by Walter De Maria, "The New York Earth Room" and "The Broken Kilometer."

But it has no exhibition space in the city. In 2004 it moved out of its two Chelsea buildings, one of which has been sold and the other leased, saying neither was suited for its growing number of visitors.

In May 2005 Dia announced an ambitious plan to open a site on Washington Street in the meatpacking district, near the entrance to the High Line, an abandoned elevated railway line that is being transformed into a park. But by October 2006, after Mr. Riggio stepped down as chairman of Dia's board, it had scrapped the idea. The Whitney Museum of American Art now plans to build a downtown satellite museum at that site.

In May Dia entered into a four-year collaboration with the Hispanic Society of America, presenting a series of projects by contemporary artists to be installed in the society's Beaux-Arts home at Audubon Terrace, on Broadway and 155th Street in Washington Heights. The first show, an installation of the artist Francis Alÿs's collection of portraits of St. Fabiola, opened in September.

Known for its pioneering spirit, Dia has always done things differently from other art institutions. It was founded by the German art dealer Heiner Friedrich; his wife, the Houston arts patron Philippa de Menil; and Helen Winkler, a Houston art historian. They started out simply buying works they loved, by artists like Andy Warhol, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Walter De Maria, Joseph Beuys, Cy Twombly, John Chamberlain and Fred Sandback.

Over the years it focused on specific artists who rose to prominence in the 1960s and '70s, adding major sculptures by Mr. Judd, Richard Serra and Michael Heizer to its collections. It also commissioned a series of paintings by Agnes Martin.

Most of this collection is housed at Dia:Beacon, about 60 miles north of Manhattan on the Hudson.

Asked what his next step would be, Mr. Weiss said he had no immediate plans. "My hope is to return to curatorial and scholarly work," he said. "But right now I'm taking a breath."

By Carol Vogel
For The New York Times

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A Biennial Bustin' Out of the Whitney

Posted By Administration, Friday, February 29, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

Old mattresses springs
Crates of Ping Pong balls
Gallons of Gatorade
Boxes of twigs
Fragments of sidewalk grating
A Brooks Brothers suit
Artificial hair
Rolls of colored ribbon
A white cotton tent
Nine cots

This is not a shopping list for a Boy Scout adventure but a small sampling of materials that will turn up at the 2008 Whitney Biennial when it opens on Thursday.

This 74th incarnation promises to be more than the usual love-it-or-hate-it survey of contemporary art. Occupying all but one floor of the Whitney Museum of American Art's Madison Avenue home, the show will also spill over into the Park Avenue Armory on 67th Street for several weeks.

From Thursday through March 23 a steady schedule of performances will unfold in the armory's cavernous drill shed, and free exhibitions and activities will take over its historic period rooms, many opening to the public for the first time since a recent renovation.

Visitors to the armory can also be participants: joining in a 24-hour dance marathon (a performance about endurance) or sleeping over in a second-floor room filled with ambient sound compositions and a performance by the artist and musician DJ Olive.

On some nights, visitors may go for drinks in the armory's former Field and Staff Room, a richly wood-paneled interior decorated with taxidermy moose heads, bobcats and squirrels. The Los Angeles-born artist Eduardo Sarabia has designed a ceramic bar for the room and bar stools in the shape of elephant feet. He has also made the tequila and the bottles it comes in. The first 100 people to register on the Whitney's Web site ( or at the armory receive a 15-minute portrait session with the British-born artist Ellen Harvey, part of her performance piece "100 Visitors to the Biennial Immortalized." The sitters get to keep their portraits — after they're displayed at the armory — and critique Ms. Harvey's work.

For those who feel needy, the Miami artist Bert Rodriguez will be holding therapy sessions inside a white box he has created: a portrayal of the artist as healer.

Previous Biennials have extended beyond the Whitney's walls, in 2004 a panoply of projects took place in Central Park for example. But at a time when performance and interactive art are so prominent, the Park Avenue Armory gives curators a variety of spaces in which to explore many art forms.

Rather than organizing the Biennial in a conventional linear path, the curators have organized it so the visitor picks where to begin: any room on any floor in either building.

"It's a choose your own adventure," said Shamim M. Momin, an associate curator at the Whitney.

She and Henriette Huldisch, an assistant curator there, organized this year's Biennial with three advisers: Thelma Golden, a former Whitney curator and now director of the Studio Museum in Harlem; Bill Horrigan, director of the media arts department at the Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State University; and Linda Norden, an independent curator who has just been named director of the James Gallery at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. The nonprofit Art Production Fund collaborated on the Armory projects.

Starting in January 2007 Ms. Momin and Ms. Huldisch visited hundreds of artists' studios. "It was basically doing a full museum show in a year, which allows for the possibility of immediacy," Ms. Huldisch said.

These were not typical studio visits. Rather than plucking three paintings off a wall, the curators said, they spent considerable time hunched over laptops looking at performances.

"It's not new for the sake of new, but how artists are working," Ms. Huldisch said. "We looked at the idea of American art in its broadest sense."

In the end they chose 81 artists, fewer than have appeared in each of the last five Biennials. They didn't consider the armory and the museum building as separate entities, so 33 of the 37 artists whose work is in the armory also have projects in the museum. More than three-fourths of the works in this Biennial are site specific, and many were created specifically for this event.

As is always the case certain themes emerge. This year, the curators said, the ephemeral nature of art, time and memory are all being explored, as are architectural forms.

"Artists are engaged in notions of the postindustrial American landscape," Ms. Huldisch said, "including the legacy of modernism and of midcentury American architecture and design."

Phoebe Washburn, known for transforming large-scale installations into self-contained architectural environments, has created an ecosystem, planting paper-whites in brightly colored golf balls immersed in 60 gallons of circulating Gatorade.

The armory's rich history — its regiment volunteered for duty in the War of 1812 and was among the first militias to march to the defense of Washington in the Civil War — has also inspired some artists. In one of its period bathrooms Michael Queenland fashioned a large chandelier from Ping Pong balls, humble materials hanging in a historic setting. Matthew Brannon will record the sounds of the Armory at night and use them in a haunted house film; at the museum he is installing a setlike room in which heavy drapes surround a painted window looking out at a panorama of the New York City skyline, with everything somewhat off kilter.

The Norwegian-born Gardar Eide Einarsson has designed a flag for the armory's stairwell and encased a Brooks Brothers suit in one of the rooms, a comment on authority. Corey McCorkle's film documents the Knickerbocker Grays, the children's military organization, practicing in the armory; it will be shown daily in the museum.

In one period room the Canadian-born multimedia artist Bozidar Brazda has hung a metal chair upside down from the ceiling, so that it vaguely resembles a radio antenna. The recorded voices of people calling into a radio show can be heard, while a microphone picks up ambient sounds from visitors to the room.

Politically charged art often surfaces at the Biennial and this year, with war in Iraq and a presidential election, it would be natural to expect a lot of it. But the curators say that while some pieces have political messages, those messages are fairly subtle. An exception may be a video by Omer Fast, "The Casting," in which he interviewed Iraq veterans.

There are more lighthearted moments this year too, but some are easy to miss. The museum's sculpture court, for example, has been transformed into "Animal Estates," an installation by the California artist Fritz Haeg. A mini-zoo, it is made up of habitats for 12 animals, including a beaver lodge and houses for a duck and owls.

When asked if there will be live animals, Ms. Huldisch said only that "there might be."

One of the installation's details that could be easily overlooked is a giant bald eagle's nest perched, somewhat precariously, on the overhang of the Marcel Breuer-designed museum. Neighborhood birds have already discovered it, but visitors to the Biennial need to be sharp eyed.

That's part of the fun. "People like looking," Ms. Momin said. "And finding things."

By Carol Vogel
For The New York Times

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Dealer Gives Museums Bargain Rates

Posted By Administration, Thursday, February 28, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

A British art dealer said Wednesday that he has agreed to sell a major collection of modern art to national museums at a discount price.

A British art dealer said Wednesday that he has agreed to sell a major collection of modern art to national museums at a discount price.

London art dealer Anthony d'Offay, 68, has agreed to sell 725 works by artists including Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons at the price for which he bought them -- $53 million. That's just over a fifth of their current estimated value of $250 million. The money has come from the British and Scottish governments and from art funds.

The collection, which also includes work by Joseph Beuys, Ron Mueck, Robert Mapplethorpe, Diane Arbus and the duo Gilbert and George, will tour museums and galleries across Britain under the title "Artist Rooms." It will be owned and managed by the Tate Gallery and the National Galleries of Scotland, and grouped into a series of rooms representing individual artists.

Tate director Nicholas Serota said the gift was "an extraordinary act of philanthropy."

From The Associated Press
The Los Angeles Times

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Inequities in Art

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

The spanking new Broad Contemporary Art Museum is now open at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, featuring a yearlong display of mostly borrowed paintings, sculptures and photographs. Meanwhile, the Museum of Contemporary Art downtown has just opened "Collecting Collections: Highlights From the Permanent Collection," a show that fills the building until mid-May.

Is something a bit odd here?

Let's see if I've got this straight. One major L.A. museum is celebrating construction of plentiful new gallery space filled with art it doesn't own, and another is celebrating 250 works of art it does own but can install in its galleries only for a short time.

LACMA: Lots of museum space, very little museum art.

MOCA: Lots of museum art, very little museum space.

This is a puzzle worth parsing because buried deep inside is one possible solution to several vexing problems in the city's cultural life. So let's parse. BCAM's jubilant debut was marred by the eleventh-hour revelation that, contrary to previously published comments, L.A. super-collectors Eli and Edythe Broad would not donate any of their art to the eponymous building, for which they picked up the $56-million tab. Plans are instead afoot to fold their personal collection (about 400 works by Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, etc.) into their foundation collection (almost 1,600 works by nearly 200 artists). The Broad Art Foundation has successfully operated as an art lending library for more than 20 years, and LACMA will get dibs on up to 200 loans at a time.

This frustrating news generated a bizarre flurry of public feints, dodges and weird claims. It was said that art museums don't really need art collections, museum collecting is actually more trouble than it's worth and perpetual loans from private collectors could be a new museum paradigm. Editorials in the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, remarkable for their obsequious philistinism, effectively said, "Swell!"

When, exactly, did art collections turn into an insufferable burden for museums? When did the need for a new museum paradigm arise? When, in the wide-ranging cultural conversation about art museums today, did we lose our collective mind?

The answers to these questions, in order, are: never, never and last January.

Art collections are not a museum burden. They are the reason art museums exist.

Professional progress in museum management, such as putting art collection archives online or increasing public access, is helpful. But no new paradigm is needed.

And Jan. 8 is when the Broad bombshell dropped. The news that one of the world's great contemporary art collections would remain wholly uncommitted, except to itself, created shock waves. It caused otherwise sober people to hallucinate that, at the very least, rotating foundation loans would always be available.

"Always" is a long time, as Albert C. Barnes might say. Barnes, who died in 1951, was America's greatest, crankiest Modern art collector, who amassed a stupendous collection of Impressionist, Postimpressionist and African art. A rich Pennsylvania entrepreneur, he established an incomparable foundation to carry out in perpetuity his explicit artistic wishes. But lately Philadelphia's philanthropic establishment has banded together to wreck that legacy, dismantling what Barnes built. For the inimitable Barnes Foundation, "always" is turning out to be about 50 years.

The Barnes' cautionary tale is instructive. Fifty years of Broad Art Foundation loans would be nice, but 50 years of Broad Art Foundation gifts would be nicer. A fundamental difference distinguishes a private foundation from a public museum. One operates strictly according to the founder's wishes, as long as the founder is around to crack the whip; the other sustains its program, including collections, by virtue of institutional inertia.

Over at MOCA, the impressive show "Collecting Collections" is a marvelous pileup of 254 paintings, sculptures and other post-1939 art. Much of it was acquired from celebrated collections -- Panza, Lowen, Schreiber, Weisman, Lannan and more. One work, a sparkly 1999 painting of a shaman-like monkey by British artist Chris Ofili, was bought with funds from the Broad Art Foundation, which also helped underwrite the show.

Following the law of unintended consequences, however, the exhibition turns out to be less a noisy celebration than a quiet and wholly unexpected plea: MOCA is in desperate need of a bigger building.

Current gallery space is horribly inadequate. When MOCA opened in 1986, half the 25,000 square feet of galleries was pegged to permanent collection display. The allocation surely seemed brave for a fledgling museum with barely any collection, but today commercial galleries in Chelsea are bigger than that. (So is each of BCAM's three floors.) Given 5,000 collection works now, plus MOCA's hard-earned stature as the nation's most prominent contemporary art museum, the minuscule permanent collection space has become laughable.

The joke's on us. Take Mark Rothko (1903 to 1970), the great American artist who melded saturated color and compositional structure to create some of the 20th century's most powerful abstractions. MOCA owns one of the finest Rothko groups anywhere. At least six of the 11 works, which together tell a 27-year story, are among his best.

Three are included in "Collecting Collections." Looking at them I wondered: How did the curator choose which Rothko masterpieces to include and which to omit?

With the aforementioned puzzle now parsed a bit, let's turn to a possible solution. It has three parts.

First, the Broad Art Foundation should buy MOCA's building and move its art lending library there. The foundation has been looking to relocate from its cramped Santa Monica quarters, and MOCA's building already has the requisite art storage and maintenance functions. It's also adjacent to the proposed Grand Avenue redevelopment site, which Broad has guided, and near a subway stop. Long-term foundation installations could be mounted in the galleries and opened to the public.

Second, MOCA should use proceeds from the building sale as seed money for a serious capital campaign. The goal would be a new building with plenty of essential permanent collection space, preferably near the Geffen Contemporary warehouse, plus a decent operating endowment.

Finally, the Broad Art Foundation should invite LACMA and MOCA curators to make formal requests for specific gifts, complete with written rationales for why each particular work makes sense as part of the museum's permanent collection and restricted to the foundation's pre-1978 art. Make it an annual practice, with a rolling 30-year buffer. Museum gifts would yield a full generation of historical distance, and the foundation could continue to buy. Risk would shift away from the cash-strapped museums to the wealthy foundation, while leaving plenty of lending-library art.

The idea is a variation on a standard practice, such as the Ahmanson Foundation's long and magnanimous relationship with LACMA, in which the foundation has worked with curators to build an increasingly impressive European painting collection through annual gifts. A lending-plus-rolling-gift Broad initiative might not represent a whole new paradigm, but at least it's one that would make sense.

By Christopher Knight
For The Los Angeles Times

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