Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Art Institute is Selling Out its Legacy

The Art Institute is Selling out its legacy

according to
this letter
to the editor
of the Chicago Sun Times
from one Hugh Ulrich of Pilsen

Sur l'impériale traversant la Seine
Picasso, 1901
(sold for $7,800,744)

"The Art Institute’s announcement that it will sell an early Picasso oil painting in New York this week is just the latest example of the museum selling off important objects and thinning out its famous collections in order to raise cash.
While all major museums sell art from time to time, The Art Institute’s sales, and its lack of important acquisitions to replace them, has gradually moved the museum down in the rankings of major encyclopedic museums in the U.S. over the last 75 years"

Perhaps the writer
was unaware
that the funds
would immediately be put
towards the purchase
of this
highly respected artifact
of modern art history.

But he would need to have read
The Wall Street Journal
to learn about that connection.
(Chicago newspapers did not cover the story)

The W.S.J. headline read:

"How many paintings does an American museum have to sell to raise funds for a single canvas by Russian modern painter Kazimir Malevich?"

And over at
The New York Times

Soren Melikan declared that it:

"has an Expressionist quality and an explosive vigor in mood and brushwork that sets it apart from anything else in the master’s early oeuvre."

"How the Art Institute of Chicago, to which it was bequeathed in 1933 by Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn, could discard the rare masterpiece defies comprehension."

And I remember this canvas
quite vividly as well.

This was not a piece that was
kept in the basement.

It was up in a gallery
where it could be compared
to other post-Impressionists
and early Picasso's.

A comparison which visitors to the museum
will never make again.

Verre et pipe
Picasso, 1919 (sold for $695,800)

Here's the other Picasso
that got sold,
and this is one that
I do not remember.

It only entered the collection,
as a gift in 1989,
so perhaps it was never shown at all,
but turned into cash
when needed.

Femme au fauteuil
Matisse, 1919
(sold for $1,271,390)

I have no clear recollection
of ever seeing this painting, either.

It was probably on display,
but it just didn't grab me.

A bit too generic.

Nature morte à la guitare
(rideaux rouge)
Matisse, 1938
(sold for $6,361,768)

But this is another painting
that I remember quite well,
it was one of my favorites
in the modern gallery.

Very sensual and musical.

I probably should have noticed its absence,
but pieces are always coming down
from the walls
to get cleaned or loaned.

How was I to know
that it was in line
to get de-accessioned ?

These images
are all taken off
the Christies website,
and one may also note
how much bigger they are
than what the museum
typically shows
on its own.

(i.e., the only reason to
show a really good image
is when a piece is getting sold)

Sand was used
to add some texture,
and I enjoy that feeling.

By the way,
above is the painting
that has apparently replaced it,
another large 1938 Braque
given to the museum in 1988.

Which one would you have sold
to raise money for the Malevich?


I do not share Mr. Ulrich's concern that the museum:

"has dropped from being arguably the best (for Impressionists) outside Paris in the 1930s to only the second or third most important in the U.S. today."

I don't care if:

"As recently as the 1970s, the Art Institute boasted that it had the best collection of modern art of any general museum in the world. That assertion would be laughable today."

Nor do I care whether:

"The Art Institute has become a second-tier American art museum over the last 75 years"

Because that's thinking about the art museum
as if it were a baseball, hockey, or football team.

But I can say
that the museum
has replaced some things I liked
to see periodically
with something that
I was only interested
in having seen once.

And I wish the museum
were a bit less secretive
about its operations.

As The Chicago Tribune reported:

"The paintings at hand ... have been considered for deaccession several times over the past several years, Art Institute spokeswoman Erin Hogan said"

So how about telling us
what other paintings or sculptures
have been (and still are)
under consideration for deaccession?


Though actually,
I'm not sure
that what the museum buys, keeps, or sells
is all that important.

What's really important is what it shows,
and since the wealthy benefactors
of the Art Institute
recently chipped in to
increase its display space by 50%,
I think they're doing their bit
for art in Chicago.

The rest of us
can make our contribution
by giving the museum
some feedback
concerning what it chooses to display.

Because we're the only ones
to whom these particular gallery walls
really matter.

Each and every museum curator and administrator
would be gone in a New York minute
when or if they were offered
a better job elsewhere.


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