Exhibition Inquisition

The stuff you look at, but don't see.

Chapter 3 (Part 4): The Fishers & San Francisco

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“We don’t have a lot of choices about what to do with the art if you want someone to see it. You can’t make a deal with a museum to guarantee that the public sees it.”[i]Donald Fisher, 2007

Donald and Doris Fisher founded the retail giant the Gap in 1969 in San Francisco, California. The success of their company allowed the Fishers to amass a contemporary art collection of more than 1,000 works from more than 185 artists. The Fishers’ commitment to contemporary art was also philanthropic: both Donald and Doris sat on the board of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and the couple often lent large selections of their collection to the museum.

Despite the Fishers involvement at SFMOMA, and because of sentiments as in the above quotation, in 2007, the Fishers announced plans to build an independent museum venue in the city to house their collection. The Fishers desired to build a 100,000-square-foot museum in the historic Presidio area of San Francisco, which once served as a military base but is now a national park, and is home to some of the oldest buildings in the city.[ii] The estimated cost of the project was never given, but the Fishers planned on establishing a family trust, which would donate the funds for the construction of the building, and which in the future would be entrusted with operating the museum and conserving the collection. The museum was to be called the Contemporary Art Museum of the Presidio, or CAMP. “I want to have a little curatorial fun while I’m living,”[iii] said Donald Fisher, hoping the museum might open by 2010. The project was contingent on the approval of the board of the Presidio Trust, the organization which oversees the Presidio—a board that Donald Fisher had once sat on.

CAMP Rendering: We want more red tile!

CAMP Rendering: We want more red tile!

The public immediately disliked the project.[iv] The vocal historic preservationists of San Francisco were outraged, of course. The modern, glass-dominated architecture presented in renderings was criticized for being insensitive and out of touch with the existing structures of the Presidio. Some complained about the usage of public parklands being given over to private interest, some questioned if the museum project was even legal usage of national parkland. Still others brought up the most pertinent question: why would the Fishers (long-time supporters of SFMOMA) introduce a competitor institution to San Francisco, instead of donating the collection (or a portion of it) to the existing SFMOMA? The argument for CAMP made by few was that a culture capital like San Francisco could surely do with more venues for the arts and culture. Read the rest of this entry »

Chapter 3 (Part 3): Alice Walton & Crystal Bridges

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I’m Alice Walton, bitch.”[i] – Alice Walton, 2007

“There is a lot that horses and art share in common.” (Not sorry for the lack of context.)

“There is a lot that horses and art share in common.”

Alice Walton is the youngest daughter of Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart.  She was raised in Bentonville, Arkansas—also the location of the first Wal-Mart, and where Wal-Mart corporate headquarters is located.  In the past decade Walton has been on a shopping spree of American art, from colonial to contemporary.[ii]  The spree was fueled by her philanthropic project, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (she chose the name), also in Bentonville, a city with a population of 35,000.  The cost for the project is unknown, but art blogger Lee Rosenbaum (CultureGrrl) investigated the museum’s 990s and revealed that between 2005 and 2010, the museum spent $508.57 million in “expenses for charitable activities”[iii]—an intentionally vague category.  These activities most like are the acquisition of art but also the design and construction of the museum by architect Moshe Safdie.

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Chapter 3 (Part 2): Global Survey of Private Collector Museums

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“In China alone over 100 museums will be built over the next decade.”[i]

What follows is a global survey of private collector museums meant to illustrate the spread of the Bilbao Bug and the various ways these public-private museum projects operate.

Let’s begin in a dark corner of the world, Tasmania: it is there eccentric collector David Walsh built the Museum of Old and New Art to house his collections of antiquities and contemporary art.  MONA is the largest privately funded museum in Australia with an $8 million annual operating budget.  The funding comes from Walsh and from businesses that share the sprawling Morilla estate with the museum.  A winery, brewery, restaurant and sexy boutique hotel all benefit from a micro Bilbao Effect, which in turn supports MONA.  Walsh does not view MONA as a philanthropic endeavor,[ii] nor does he give a shit” about MONA’s economic impact.  How little shit he gives is revealed in the museum’s design: MONA is built into the side of a tidal river and will eventually crumble away due to erosion.  “In 50 years, there’s going to have to be a lot of money spent on Mona or it’s going to be underwater.”[iii]

So this is going to be washed away by the river in a few hundred years.

So this is going to be washed away by the river in a few hundred years.

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Chapter 3 (Part1): Collector-Created Cultural Capitals

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Los Angeles in my view is becoming the contemporary art capital of the world.”[i] – Eli Broad

LA, or certain people who write about the art scene in LA, or people who get quoted about the art scene in LA, seems to have an inferiority complex.  Everything that happens in the arts (a new exhibition, a new art fair, a new museum director…) is deemed the thing that will finally turn LA into an/the art capitol.  William Poundstone did a survey of this decades-long mentality[ii] this week inspired by an article in The Economist titled, “2014 may prove a turning point for art museums in Los Angeles.”[iii] But come on – LA, people who write about the art scene in LA, people who get quoted about the art scene in LA, and the people of LA have nothing to prove.  The Getty squashed that issue a few years ago, didn’t it?

Getty_Pacific Standard Time_PST_Street Banner_Palm Tree

Do you remember?

Back in 2011, the Getty’s ten-years-in-the-making endeavor, Pacific Standard Time (or PST as it has come to be known) opened.  Over 60 institutions across Southern California presented exhibitions focused on the region’s art scene between the years of 1945 and 1980.  The Getty’s goal was to record, preserve, and present the many contributions Southern Californian artists and arts organizations made to contemporary art during the time period.  Initial grants were given to arts organizations to catalogue archives from the period, followed by exhibition grants.  Some of these exhibitions traveled to other venues in the country and some traveled internationally.  Catalogues from these exhibitions were published and quickly integrated into university curriculums.  Besides this trove of scholarship, another goal of PST was to present Los Angeles as an artistic capital.

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The Art & Technology and Program

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LACMA

When I read the news this week that LACMA is bringing back its legendary Art and Technology Program, I basically freaked out.  But before I get into the new program I wanted to re-explore the original program.  (I knew this grad school paper would come in useful for something.) I gleefully just re-read the program’s catalogue: A Report on the Art and Technology program of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  Long title, amaaaaazing read.

Plug it in!

Plug it in!

ART AND TECHNOLOGY PROGRAM, 1967 – 1971

In 1967, the five-year-old Los Angeles County Museum of Art began a multi-year project called The Art & Technology Program.  The Program placed artists into residencies within technology companies with the intention that these corporations facilitate and/or fabricate the creation of new works, which would be shown in a culminating exhibition at the museum.  The Art and Technology Program was the brainchild of LACMA’s curator of Modern Art, Maurice Tuchman. Read the rest of this entry »

MOCA Leadership & Their Museums

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Still using the old/new logo on press releases.

Still using the old/new logo on press releases.

Jeffrey Deitch will bid adieu to the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Best Coast and head back to New York, where his genius is appreciated and where he is already curating a show. Poor Deitch, un-hip, philistine LA just didn’t get him. The biggest Deitch defender in the press has been Art in the Streets associate curator (non-MOCA curator) Aaron Rose: “We had something going in L.A., and it’s over now. Jeffrey’s resigning is really a statement about what the city is. All people in L.A. want is interior design. They want paintings to put over the couch.” Let’s leave generalizations about “people in L.A.” out of this Aaron Rose, and take a moment to remember that time New York Times Magazine did a spread on “Jeffrey’s Deitch’s Party House.” Let’s talk about that interior design Aaron Rose: Deitch may not have paintings over his couch, but he does have painted couches.

Now that’s some interior design.

Now that’s some interior design.

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Chapter 2 (Part 3): Venture Philanthropy & Other Styles of Giving

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“Andrew Carnegie said, ‘He who dies with wealth dies in shame.’ And someone once said, ‘He who gives while he lives also knows where it goes.’”[i]Eli Broad

Eli Broad’s power is tolerated because it remains remarkably unchallenged. This seemingly monopoly of philanthropic power led Christopher Knight to compare Broad to another infamous, Los Angeles art patron:

[Norton] Simon’s flirtations with giving [his] collection away (to at least seven institutions); distrust of traditional museum management; engineering of a bailout of an artistically adventuresome but financially faltering institution (the old Pasadena Museum for Simon, MOCA for Broad); later deciding to open his own museum, and more…[ii]

Another similarity to Broad: Before Norton Simon’s takeover of the Pasadena Art Museum, Simon had intended to establish his collection as a lending organization. Taking control of the Pasadena Art Museum proved irresistible to Simon, and today the Norton Simon Museum rarely loans works.  I seriously doubt unfounded rumors that Broad has some kind of evil master plan to takeover or somehow combine his collections with MOCA.

Walter De Maria's "The 2000 Sculpture" installed in the Resnick Pavilion.

Walter De Maria’s “The 2000 Sculpture” installed in the Resnick Pavilion.

Broad can also be measured to his contemporaries. Los Angeles is not actually a one-philanthropist town.  “Pomegranate QueenLynda Resnick is an easy comparison.  Like Broad, Resnick is a long-time donor and trustee of LACMA.  Like Broad, she and her husband provided funds ($54 million) for a Renzo-Piano-designed building at LACMA.  The Lynda and Stuart Resnick Pavilion was part of Phase 2 of LACMA’s Transformation and sits directly north of BCAM.  When the pavilion opened in October of 2010, one of three inaugural shows was gleaned from the Resnick’s private collection.

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