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Behind the Scenes of MoMA’s de Kooning Retrospective

September 13, 2011

Excavation, 1950, from the MoMA exhibition. ©2011 The Willem de Kooning Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/Art Institute of Chicago

This month, for the first time since its 2004 redesign, the Museum of Modern Art will turn over its entire sixth floor to a single artist. The one so honored is Willem de Kooning, the reluctant Abstract Expressionist whose career was a lightning rod and whose late-period legacy has been the subject of intense debate and competition for more than two decades. The retrospective, opening September 18, will include almost 200 works and will be accompanied by a 500-page catalogue with some 700 images.

The first retrospective since de Kooning’s death in 1997, it will give us our first opportunity to experience the artist from start to almost-finish, beginning with academic paintings made in Holland in 1916–17 and ending in 1987, the year de Kooning’s longtime dealer Xavier Fourcade died and three years before de Kooning, who suffered from Alzheimer’s during the last decade of his life, put down his paintbrush for the last time. It will trace the artist’s evolution from the figurative and black-and-white paintings of the 1940s through the “Woman” series of 1950–53 to the large gestural abstractions of the ’70s and the ’80s, as he transformed painting by compulsively articulating his process and contorting pictorial space.

“In many periods de Kooning wanted to create difficulties in order to be inventive,” says John Elderfield, the museum’s chief curator emeritus of painting and sculpture, who organized the retrospective. “Right from the start of his career, it’s not something as passive as chance. It’s not Duchamp dropping a thread. It’s extraordinary work where the discipline is relaxed right at the last moment. De Kooning was so well trained, such an obsessive technician, and yet he was willing to let go of it.”

A number of agents, aside from the artist, are involved in making and maintaining an artist’s career: dealer, curator, collector, lawyer, and (perhaps increasingly less so) critic. With a deceased artist, there are also heirs. These people are motivated by different (and sometimes conflicting) considerations, among them the desire for recognition, power, control, and remuneration.

De Kooning was declared unfit to handle his affairs 22 years ago, shortly after the death of his wife, Elaine. From that time, information ceased to be available about artworks in his possession, including those still being worked on. His oeuvre was controlled primarily by Lisa de Kooning, his only child and heir; attorney John Eastman, the son of de Kooning’s longtime attorney Lee Eastman; and John Silberman, an attorney who represented Lisa and Eastman in their court application to be appointed as de Kooning’s conservators and later represented his estate. Lisa, Eastman, and Silberman largely determined how the artist’s works were cared for, exhibited, and sold during the last eight years of his life and after his death at the age of 92.

De Kooning’s life was full of intrigue and struggle—from his incessant artistic manipulations to his scandalous love affairs, bouts with alcoholism, and continuing efforts to paint in his later years despite his dementia. Equally contentious was the management of his career after he was declared mentally incompetent and of his legacy after his death—particularly the sale of the works he created, aided to varying degrees by his assistants, while he suffered from Alzheimer’s.

After de Kooning’s death, Lisa and Eastman became co-executors of his estate, and, in an effort to protect the market for his work, they won a court order to seal details about the estate’s contents. They directed the dispersal of works in de Kooning’s possession at the time of his death and created the Willem de Kooning Foundation, which was established in 2001 and received a portion of the collection not sold or kept by Lisa.

After decades of determining how best to create museum exposure and market demand for de Kooning’s late works (many of which were still in the artist’s studio after his death), to provide Lisa with financial security, and to promote and protect de Kooning’s legacy, the MoMA retrospective is a personal victory for the individuals charged with de Kooning’s care 22 years ago.

 Continue reading my ARTnews article  . . .

Rob Pruitt: Getting to Love You

April 2, 2010
enamel paint and glitter on canvas

Rob Pruitt's Keeping Warm, 2001 (via

Rob Pruitt has been driving around for the past several weeks with a large stuffed panda in the back seat of his white Toyota Prius. The panda has seen better days — Pruitt found it on the side of the road five years ago on the way to his house in Montauk, where he has spent summers and many weekends since 2004 with his partner, the artist Jonathan Horowitz. Four toy panda cubs are in a box in the trunk. “I’ve been taking pictures of them in different poses,” Pruitt says.

He has been transporting the pandas to different locations, including Montauk and his studio in Brooklyn, on an industrial street near the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. On a Sunday in January, Pruitt sits crossed-legged on the floor of his studio.

He’s trying to prop the ear of a small panda under the nose of the larger one so that they stay balanced long enough for him to snap some photos with his iPhone.

Pruitt himself is oddly adorable. He is softly silly in his mannerisms — every once in a while he twirls strands of his salt-and-pepper hair or pulls a chunk of bangs down over his right eye. Over dinner at a Japanese restaurant in downtown Manhattan near his longtime gallery, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, he suggests ordering dishes to share and refuses the larger or last piece of anything. He shows up for a studio visit with oatmeal cookies and coffee for two. His work is similarly rooted in gestures of intimacy and sharing. He has made art out of anything and everything: pictures of pandas, old blue jeans, images of Paris Hilton, Marimekko prints, glitter, iPhotos — with which he has plastered Gavin Brown’s gallery, both inside and out — even real estate. He infuses quotidian objects and concepts with a seductive sense of community spiked with irreverence and humor. In his actions and words, he comes across as conscientious and generous (Max Brown, Gavin’s son and Pruitt’s godson, compares his voice to a monk’s), but his narrow dark-brown eyes reveal a poignant reticence.

For nearly 20 years Pruitt has traversed the rocky terrain of taste, perception, and criticism and emerged a beloved underdog. For seven of those years, he lived in self-imposed exile after the debacle of “Red, Black, Green, Red, White, and Blue,” the 1992 blacksploitation show he mounted with his then partner, Jack Early, at the Leo Castelli Gallery. It was “probably the most reviled, the most embarrassing, and the most disastrous exhibition in the history of the downtown art world,” states Jeffrey Deitch, the New York dealer recently appointed director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, in Pop Touched Me: The Art of Rob Pruitt, the artist’s monograph, released last month by Abrams. Continue reading . . .

Olaf Breuning: Seriously Funny

February 6, 2010


The 91 stairs to Olaf Breuning's Tribeca studio via


The 91 stairs up to Olaf Breuning’s fifth–floor studio in Tribeca are not only formidable, they are ridiculous. Steep and slathered in gray paint, they look like something Breuning might have concocted himself if they hadn’t already been there when he moved in. Breuning has lived and worked here since 2008, when he left his previous studio, a former massage parlor below a seafood bar in SoHo.

“I think he saw that staircase and bought the apartment without seeing it,” says his longtime collaborator and best friend, Brian Kerstetter, who plays the main character—a bumbling, feckless drifter/hoodlum/tourist—in Breuning’s Home films. “He likes to make you jump through hoops and make you work a little bit.”

The stairs are featured in the series of photographs that welcome visitors to Breuning’s scavenger–hunt–like Web site ( “It used to be even worse,” says Kerstetter of Breuning’s “click here” online antics. “You used to have to type in long URLs. I told him, ‘I can’t sit here and do this all day.'”

The artist is known for his absurdist sense of humor (a scene in his 2004 film Home 1 follows a crowd of golf–club–wielding bungling mayhem–makers who tackle an “Amish” man, strip him naked, and force him to wear an E. T. mask). But Breuning, 40, who has dark, lush hair and brown eyes, is surprisingly tame in person. “He is very Swiss and very polite,” says Whitney Museum curator Shamim Momin. “But there is something not quite right. You get the sense that he might be messing with you. His bluntness makes you suspicious and unsure of what position to take.”

Artist Ruby Sky Stiler, Breuning’s studio assistant, attributes this in part to his “unusual sense of the English language, and the way he relates to words in a formal, instinctual way. Often he thinks things mean something entirely different than they do, and he has a few commonly used phrases. Like, when he means to ask how one is doing, he often says, ‘It comes good?'”

Continue reading my profile of Olaf Breuning for ARTnews here.

Olaf Breuning's Mammoth, 2008

Thought Made Visible

December 23, 2009

The cover of Judith Goldman's 1985 monograph

A surefire way to irritate me beyond reasonable measure is to not understand my (perhaps unreasonable) attachment to books. I love their weight and feel and their sense of occupancy, their reason for being–to attempt to communicate something beyond time and distance. I particularly love my art books. James Rosenquist by Judith Goldman is one of my favorites. The cover alone is irresistible (reminds me rather unsurprisingly of a great album cover) but her text is equally swoon worthy:

December 1983: “I’ve got an idea for a real zinger–women, flowers, and dead fish.” James Rosenquist has just returned from a meeting at New York’s Four Seasons Restaurant, where he discussed the mural they had recently commissioned from him. He is excited, physically animated. “Maybe the fish won’t be dead,” he continues, “but they’re going to have real slippery eyes. Slippery fish and beautiful women.”

“Did they understand it?” What I had meant to ask was if they liked it.

Rosenquist finds the question beside the point and not wanting to be impolite, steers the conversation in another direction. “Did I ever tell you about the time I was down in Florida visiting Bob Rauschenberg? We’d had dinner and a lot to drink. We were pretty swacked, and after dinner Bob showed me his new work. I looked for a while and told him I liked it, but I wasn’t sure I understood it. Bob started to laugh and laugh and was still laughing when he said, “Do you think I understand it?”

Another favorite is Mel Bochner: Thought Made Visible 1966–73, a catalogue published in conjunction with an exhibition at Yale University Art Gallery in 1995. I love this one primarily because I believe it changed my life. Really. I was 25 when I was introduced to Mel Bochner. I was working as a features reporter for a daily newspaper in Connecticut and by default had been assigned to provide arts coverage for the Sunday paper. I would drive around the state in a dying Mazda (it seemed to require oil replenishment every sixty miles) and write about artists, gallerists, and writers in the area (Cleve Gray, Robert Natkin, Rosamond Bernier, Jacques Kaplan) as well as regional exhibitions. Here is some of what I wrote about the Bochner exhibition:

Black-and-white, pen and ink, Bochner’s art includes everything from rough diagrams and preliminary sketches to typed letters and stamped envelopes. He defines art as measuring tape on a wall, floored newspaper painted blue, even stones placed on pieces of white paper. Rarely are Bochner’s works straight-forward. They require translation. They rely on finding a common language which is, of course, the trickiest art of all.

“Language is what keeps people apart and ideas from being understood,” says Bochner, a tall, slender man of model proportion with a sweep of thick, silver hair, and a tendency to wink frequently and smile occasionally. He is gentle and patient in the fluid, graceful way he moves his hands–more like a dancer, less like a salesman–when he speaks. “I’ve always been interested in the hidden conventions that govern life and art.”

I studied that catalogue like mad, trying to pin down his mental teasers. It was invigorating. His art made everything and anything possible–all forms of communication and miscommunication. It suddenly wasn’t something that I was failing to understand (and by it I mean those “hidden conventions” that had flummoxed me since at least adolescence); it was something that no one (not to be presumptuous or idealistic) completely understood  even if they thought they did. Ultimately, the exercise of translation (and not just a single translation but repeated and often increasingly contorted translations) that Bochner’s art required opened an entire world of learning for me. I was no longer intimidated by not knowing; I was completely enthralled by it. Everything became about translation–from art and physics to mathematics and relationships. The world of knowing became one glorious invention of systems and practices that veiled the amazing and thrilling comfort of not knowing and perhaps, maybe and fleetingly, understanding just a little. Seriously and simply beautiful.

Bochner wins me over with lines like the "dead ends and vicious circles of language."

Olaf Breuning: Mega Good Stuff

December 1, 2009

My photos are blurry but the exhibition is awesome. Go see “Small Brain, Big Stomach” at Metro Pictures, through Saturday.

$1 Billion Down: Art Loves Money Retrospective (May 2007- September 2008)

May 15, 2009




Baroque Egg with Bow by Jeff Koons, a sculpture from the artist's Celebration series, fetched $5.4 million from Larry Gagosian at Sotheby's on Tuesday night. In November 2007, Gagosian paid the auction house a then-record $23.6 million for Koons's Hanging Heart from the the same series.

Baroque Egg with Bow by Jeff Koons, a sculpture from the artist's Celebration series, fetched $5.4 million from Larry Gagosian at Sotheby's on Tuesday night. In November 2007, Gagosian paid the auction house a then-record $23.6 million for Koons's Hanging Heart from the the same series.


With the major New York auctions down about $1 billion this spring over a year ago, it seems like a good time to post my collection of Art Loves Money blogs, which happened to coincide with the peak of the art market, for the defunct Men’s Vogue. (Apologies for the imageless formatting, the posts are no longer available online). If you’re happy not to know another thing about the art market and the incredible boom that collapsed last fall, don’t read on.

Read more…

The Market for Love ‘Em/Hate ‘Em Celebrity Photos

May 3, 2009

Brad Pitt by Steven Klein

Blurring the lines between voyeurism, nostalgia and commodity, photographs of celebrities are easy on the eyes—and the brain. But their prices that rival midtier Old Master paintings demand consideration. Photography itself struggled for respect throughout the 20th century, and its various genres have hit museum walls at different paces. The latest to ascend has been fashion photography—and its shady roommate, the ubiquitous celeb shot, has been gaining ground.

Continue reading my market analysis of celebrity photos for WSJ Magazine here.

Larry Salander: Masterpiece Theater

March 26, 2009


Amid rampant speculation and $100 million price tags, the dramatic fall of one of the art market’s highest fliers.

“It’s much better than I thought it would be, and it still stinks,” Lawrence Salander says. “I don’t understand where it’s art.” He’s at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, scoffing at Damien Hirst’s tank-encased shark, on loan from hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohen and estimated to be worth more than $50 million. The proprietor of the palatial Salander-O’Reilly Galleries on the Upper East Side of Manhattan has the careless look of an artist when I meet him at the Met’s information desk on a March afternoon. Big, bald, and unshaven, he’s wearing an untucked T-shirt, hoodie, and paint-splattered corduroys. Three hours earlier he had failed to show. “I am so sorry,” he says, claiming never to have stood up anyone before. His wife and lawyer tracked him down and now here we are, two strangers meeting as if set up on a date — only, one of us is in trouble with the law.

This meeting, the first interview Salander has given since his gallery was closed by court order last October, was arranged after a month of talks with his lawyer, John Moscow, a gruff former Manhattan assistant district attorney who is representing the gallerist in a bankruptcy case brought on by an avalanche of accusations. Among them: that he sold artworks he had no right to sell; that he sold the same works to multiple people; and that he never handed over the proceeds. Moscow was wary of Salander being interviewed — there have been many salacious accounts of his client’s fall from the pinnacle of the art world to a Poughkeepsie courtroom — but I finally got a phone call. “Hey Kelly, it’s Larry Salander, wanna meet at the Met and walk around the galleries and see some art? I’ll be the bald guy who looks like a killer,” he said, hanging up just as I tried to ask for his phone number. Read more of my Men’s Vogue article here.

De Kooning's Hidden Legacy

January 16, 2009

Behind the curtain of secrecy that descended over Willem de Kooning’s tragic last years, his estate has been settled, his art holdings partially liquidated, and market demand created for his controversial late works.


Like many great artists of his generation, Willem de Kooning led an exalted life that ended in tragedy. An alcoholic who struggled with binges and blackouts, the Dutch-born de Kooning left Manhattan in 1963 for Long Island, where he lived in increasing isolation until his death in 1997, at age 92. He picked up a paintbrush for the last time in 1990. For the last seven years of his life, he was completely debilitated by symptoms attributed to Alzheimer’s disease.

In 1989 de Kooning’s sole heir and only child, Lisa de Kooning, and John Eastman, the son of the artist’s longtime lawyer, Lee V. Eastman, were appointed his conservators by a state supreme court judge who found de Kooning unfit to handle his affairs. They filed a petition to have him declared incompetent ten days after the death of his wife, Elaine, who had overseen his care since the late 1970s. As the court proceedings made public de Kooning’s failing mental health, critics, art historians, and dealers began to question whether the hundreds of artworks he had created during the 1980s could be attributed entirely to him, or whether his assistants had intervened in their creation.

De Kooning’s dealer, Xavier Fourcade, died of AIDS in 1987. Many of the late works were still in the artist’s possession when he was declared incompetent two years later. Lisa and Eastman were faced with the problem of how to handle both a controversial body of work and a legendary artist who was uncommunicative and required round-the-clock care.

So began an epic endeavor to partially liquidate a dying master’s art holdings, create market demand for his final works, and provide Lisa with financial security. Three years ago, de Kooning’s estate was successfully closed. The taxes on it were paid, and the artworks in de Kooning’s possession when he died were divided between Lisa and a foundation established in the artist’s name.

But while de Kooning’s affairs were being handled, the public was largely left in the dark. Over the years, a sense of secrecy–beginning when de Kooning first showed Alzheimer’s disease in the 1980s––has pervaded the handling of his estate, as well as the purpose and art holdings of his foundation. Continue reading . . .

The Lauder Brothers

December 30, 2008

I profiled brothers Ronald and Leonard Lauder in 2002 as two of the world’s top collectors, patrons, philanthropists, and chairmen of major New York museums. They talk every day and buy art almost as often.


For the first five minutes or so, Ronald Lauder is able to sit still. But then he is a man in motion. He stretches, he squirms, he leans over and back in his chair. He reaches with a lackadaisical arm to roll a therapeutic exercise ball with his fingertips. Austere, gray, yet handsome, the ball fits precisely into the room. “It could be a Joseph Beuys,” says the chaiman of the Museum of Modern Art with a low, rolling chuckle.

Ronald Lauder’s office, 42 floors above New York City in the General Motors Building, near Central Park, is an idiosyncratic melange of art and architecture, both tactile and arresting. The sensibility bears more than a passing resemblance to that of the Neue Galerie New York, the museum of German and Austrian art that he founded. It opened last year in a 1914 brick-and-limestone mansion almost directly across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

leonard-lauderNot far below, on the G.M. building’s 40th floor, is the headquarters of the Estee Lauder Companies, the cosmetics company founded by his mother, Estee Lauder, and now run by his brother, Leonard. The waiting room for the executive offices is swathed in shades of blue, the company’s signature color, and is decorated with an Old World sense of feminine zeal––flowered porcelain bowls, crystal light fixtures, antique gilt furniture, and Oriental carpets laid over blue carpeting. 

Leonard Lauder’s office on the 40th floor, by contrast, is a showcase of 20th-century American works by Agnes Martin, Claes Oldenburg, Joseph Cornell, Robert Rauschenberg, and Kenneth Noland. In private, he is a leading collector of Cubist work; in public, he is the chairman of the Whitney Museum of American Art who recently led a donation to the museum of some $200 million worth of postwar art.  

Download the entire ARTnews article here.

The Most Wanted Works of Art

December 29, 2008

lhooqIf a piece is “truly, truly to die for” and is still in private hands, it is no doubt on someone else’s wish list. Like that $100 million Cézanne.

The Museum of Modern Art has one. So does Los Angeles collector Eli Broad. They can be predictable or idiosyncratic, practical or fantastical. But most wish lists are very, very private. “That’s really personal stuff,” a top New York collector chuckled when asked to name his most wanted artworks still in private hands.

Yearning—the more discreet the better—makes the art world go ’round. Dealers and auction specialists at the top of their game know where the most wanted artworks are at any given moment and what price might wrest a coveted object from its owner. Museum curators keep track of the same information to court loans and gifts. Collectors, meanwhile, no matter how desired the works in their own collections, always have an eye on something else.

“We all have our wish lists but we don’t go around talking about them. It gets in the way of our getting the work,” says Miami art collector Donald Rubell. “We hope that when our friends die, their children won’t like their art. Those are our silent wishes.”

Continue reading my ARTnews article here or download the pdf.

Listen to me talk about the article on NPR.

Read about it in the New York Times’ Week in Review section.

Damien Hirst’s Damien Hirst

December 23, 2008


My interview with Damien Hirst (ARTnews, May 2005) long before he covered a skull with diamonds and sold it for $100 million, becoming the most expensive living artist (we think):

On a morning prior to the opening of Damien Hirst’s first all-paintings exhibition at Gagosian Gallery in New York last March, one of his assistants, a young girl in a red apron, lay on her stomach finishing off a pink pill in a pharmaceutical painting. Another assistant painted a black asterisk on a canvas, reproducing the logo of the antianxiety drug Ativan. Open Heineken bottles––one sporting a white glove puppet––sat on a worktable next to an unopened carton of orange juice. Hirst, the most famous of the Young British Artists, who will turn 40 next month,was nowhere to be found. His publicist had lost track of him.

Download the article here.

Louise Bourgeois at her Sunday Salon

December 23, 2008

Layout 1A few minutes before 3:30, Jerry Gorovoy lets them in. Those who showed up early had been asked to wait outside. It is a mild, bright afternoon. Children are skateboarding on the sidewalk halfway down the block from the four-story brownstone in Chelsea where Louise Bourgeois lives, works, and has hosted a salon every Sunday for more than 30 years. 

The artists file in, carrying notebooks, bags, and cardboard boxes, through the dark hallway and past a wooden staircase to a room at the back of the house where a blue couch, metal stools, and old wood school chairs are assembled in a circle. Pouran Esrafily, who attended her first salon in 1994 and is making a documentary film about the sessions, is busy depositing plastic cups and bottles of liquor and soft drinks on a small table in the center of the room. 

The wooden floors creak. Stuff is everywhere. Crammed on a table in the corner are a large bottle of aspirin, a shiny red heart, a can of Lysol, two lamps, rubbing alcohol, paper towels, and a bulky calculator. Filing cabinets and bookshelves line the room. A bulletin board that runs the length of one wall is layered with old museum and gallery posters, articles, and a bumper sticker that reads “Honk If You Hate Fission.”  Continue reading . . .

Authenticating Andy Warhol

December 23, 2008

Seventeen years after Andy Warhol’s death, controversies surrounding the Warhol Art Authentication Board and the catalogue raisonne of his work reflect confusion about his intent, his working methods and his legacy. (ARTnews, September 2004)


Andy Warhol was the most successful and famous American artist of the 20th century. His signature images––the Jackies, Elvises, and Marilyns––are as familiar to us as the Mona Lisa. His pictures sell for millions, and he is represented in virtually every public and private collection of contemporary art in the world. Everyone knows what an “Andy Warhol” looks like.

Or do they? The coeditors of the second volume of The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonne, published by Phaidon, would dispute that statement. Warhol himself, write Neil Printz and Georg Frei, didn’t make it easy. Not only did he “deflect those who would attempt to know his work or to discern his hand in it, he disputed the role of the artist as the author of a work of art.” He made hundreds of virtually identical paintings. He overturned traditional notions of rarity and uniqueness. He even suggested that he didn’t care if people couldn’t see “whether my picture was mine or somebody else’s.”

“There are so many Andy Warhols,” says Printz. “Everyone has their own Andy. We wanted to look at the Warhol we can see.”

Download the ARTnews article here.

The Surreal Legacy of Man Ray

December 23, 2008

Four brothers of Man Ray’s widow ended up running his estate out of a Long Island auto shop. Meanwhile, there is confusion bordering on chaos in the market over posthumous prints, misstamped works, and the question of who is doing what without permission. (ARTnews, June 2002)


In a low-rise auto shop and factor in a town on central Long Island, just past a showroom of floor mats and seat covers, there is a door with a sign that reads “Eric Browner Leave Me Alone I’m Retired.” Behind the door there is an office decorated with works by Man Ray, the celebrated Surrealist. A large poster of Glass Tears, an image of a woman weeping glass teardrops, hangs on one wall. An 8-by-10-inch reproduction of Violon d’Ingres, a famous photo of the model Kiki de Monparnasse, is propped on top of a filing cabinet. But the centerpiece of the room is a huge synthetic bloodshot eye with a cushiony top, a 1971 enlargement of Man Ray’s 1941 object The Witness, which used to serve as a seat for people visiting Man Ray’s widow, the late Juliet Man Ray, in her Paris apartment.

The owner of the auto shop, Eric Browner, 76, tall, tan, bearded, bald, and bespectacled, is frowning behind a desk. “I should be golfing,” he says, before asking his son Roger to get him some orange juice. He is in town for a few days from Florida, where he lives most of the year, for a board meeting of the Man Ray Trust, and the April chill in the Long Island air is bothering him . . .

Download the ARTnews article here.

Tom Krens, Peter Lewis & the Guggenheim

December 20, 2008


Back in 2003 when Tom Krens and Peter Lewis were engaged in a titanic struggle over who was in charge of the Guggenheim, I profiled the state of the institution along with their very public spat. Now that both of them have more or less left the museum (one resigned; the other kinda-sorta got the boot or maybe both of them did), Whitney and Carnegie alum Richard Armstrong has stepped in as director.

Thomas Krens enters the large white room layered in grays and greens. His pants, the collar of his shirt, and his lightweight, midlength jacket are a monochromatic, earthy shade. A tall man with an oblong face, light beard, and glasses, Krens sits down at a glass conference table on the second floor of the former site of the Guggenheim Museum’s SoHo branch. The director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and its museums does not remove his outdoorsy-looking jacket, meant to protect against the elements.

It is the 12th day of December, and a brutal year for the Guggenheim Museum in New York is coming to a close. Its staff was slashed nearly in half, its hours were reduced, major exhibitions were postponed, and there was a last-minute rush to pay its bills. Earlier this month, Krens had handed over to the institution’s board of trustees his 80-page operating plan for turning the financially starved museum around. The week before, he had shown his first draft to Peter Lewis, chair of the Progressive Corporation, the nation’s fourth largest automobile-insurance company, and the chairman of the Guggenheim Foundation board since 1998. But it failed to placate Lewis, also the museum’s largest benefactor, who said he would not bail the museum out unless Krens came up with a detailed break-even plan for the upcoming year. And then Lewis followed up with a threat to fire Krens if he wasn’t up to the task.

Download the ARTnews article here.

J. M. W. Turner: Original Art Star

December 17, 2008


“Not since V-J Day in Times Square has there been an equal tumult,” The New York Times crowed during the last major American retrospective of J. M. W. Turner. The 1966 exhibition drew record crowds to the Museum of Modern Art, which presented the 19th-century British master of landscape painting, dead for more than a century, as a hero of the avant-garde.

Last year, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., staged the largest and most comprehensive Turner retrospective ever presented in the U.S. (It traveled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art last fall.) The exhibition included 85 paintings on loan from Tate Britain and arrived in America after it was postponed for two years owing to indemnity issues that involved its $1 billion-plus value. Read my Men’s Vogue article about it here.

Sex Symbols

December 17, 2008


The interpretation of sexual symbols in art is everywhere. But what we view as erotic often tells us less about the artists than it does about our own sensibilities. 

More than 30 years ago, critic Leo Steinberg wrote in Other Criteria: Confrontations with Twentieth-Century Art about an unidentified major American art historian who had asserted: “Michelangelo’s sex life is, quite frankly, none of our business. We can’t treat him, try him or confess him. His physical pleasures, whatever they may have been, have no importance for his art.” What was astonishing about the historian’s words, observed Steinberg, was a “modern scholar’s assurance that a great artist’s sexual life could be so divorced from his personality as to remain irrelevant to his art and therefore to us.”

How things have changed. Today, says John Elderfield, chief curator of painting and sculpture at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, “one could argue the climate has moved way to the other side.” Paul Schimmel, chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, agrees: “There has been a sea change in terms of there being a willingness to read iconography, which in the heyday of formalism you had to ignore.”

Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings. Robert Rauschenberg’s stuffed goat encircled by a tire. Jeff Koons’s appliances. In today’s hypersexual art world, one hardly needs graphic images to stimulate sexual interpretations.

With this critical shift has come the freedom—for both artist and viewer—to conflate the iconographical with the autobiographical. Sometimes artists add erotic elements, but just as often viewers do. As Richard Shiff, a professor of art history at the University of Texas at Austin, notes: “Some artists play with sexuality. They can’t resist sticking something in. They know most people won’t recognize it. And they can laugh about it with their friends later.” But other times a viewer can perceive eroticism an artist never intended. “That which obsesses you, you will see everywhere,” says Michael Findlay, a director of Acquavella Galleries in New York. “If it’s there to take out, maybe you put it in.”

Read more of my ARTnews article here.

How Jeff Koons Became a Superstar

December 12, 2008


He made banality blue chip, pornography avant-garde, and tchotchkes into trophy art. How Jeff Koons, with the support of a small circle of dealers and collectors, masterminded his fame and fortune. Read an edited version of my ARTnews article here or download the full article as a PDF.

Named one of the top ten ARTnews stories (105th Anniversary Issue)

Christenberry vs. Eggleston

December 10, 2008


If the much-hyped William Eggleston (bottom), with his current retrospective at the Whitney Museum, is color photography’s shining star, William Christenberry (top) is its somewhat overlooked founding father.

Consider this: Christenberry’s record at auction for a single photograph is $5,975. A sole print by Eggleston can set you back a quarter of a million dollars. A set of 16 Christenberry images fetched $26,400 at auction two years ago—tripling expectations—which looks like a bargain compared with the $1 million-plus paid for Eggleston’s “Los Alamos” portfolio at Christie’s in October. “Christenberry’s market is very much in the shadow of Eggleston’s,” says Joshua Holdeman, head of photography at Christie’s. That Christenberry’s prints still sell for four and five figures makes him a market rarity: a top-end artist with emerging prices. Read more of my WSJ. article here.

The Symmetry of Footsteps

July 13, 2010

Muenster Walk, 1997, by Janet Cardiff

I’ve always liked the idea of symmetry between art and life. Mathematicians look for it in equations. Physicists look for it in nature. Ever since I was introduced to the work of Janet Cardiff, I’ve listened for it in moments. I am always grateful for artists who are capable of making me associate and disassociate–sometimes miraculously at the same time. Cardiff has made me hear life in unexpected moments. Once, I returned from an interview to discover that I had accidentally recorded my movements afterward–the sound of my footsteps, my passage down a hall, my greeting to someone I didn’t know very well, my pouring of water, opening a door, walking up stairs. In these brilliantly connected yet isolated moments, common activities become otherwordly–the sound of a dishwasher, a flushing toilet, a clanking utensil, a drawer closing, a light changing, paper moving, a dish set. Mostly, though, Cardiff has made me love the feeling of hearing the symmetry of footsteps.

Turns out there is a blog and new book dedicated to visual moments like this–two bicoastal friends finding symmetry between everyday images and artworks. Love the idea. Check it out. [Huffington Post and Interview]

Rob Pruitt . . .

April 2, 2010

. . . is 6’1″; wears a size 11 1/2 shoe; can’t decide what he wants to tell you; thinks there are so many truths; is 95 percent vegan; made his “Paris Hilton” paintings wearing plastic 3 1/2-inch heels; has always had this idea that you should go for what you want and not settle, set your sights high and you probably will get it; thinks all of this sounds like a plan but it happened much more organically, it was all very simple; almost exhibited blown-up silkscreen versions of telephone doodles left by famous artists at Sonnabend rather than “Red, Black, Green, Red, White, and Blue”; thinks his father was a bit more like Archie Bunker than he probably imagined; liked high school; thinks Cocaine Buffet was a bit of a tacky plan; thinks he never really learns from his mistakes; says it never occurred to him that it could backfire; believes you piece together the truths of your origins; has a natural tendency toward self-sabotage; has tried organizing a committee of people he trusts to tell Rob Pruitt what he should do next, but he can never take any of their ideas because he prefers his own; believes a lot of his stuff looks so crappy because its important that he make it himself; wears basically the same outfit, including a black pleather studded belt, nearly every day; might have painted Ileana Sonnabend’s bathroom door; believes he’s been most influenced by Minimalism; is never sure that what he is saying is 100 percent true; is glad there is only one (brilliant) Jeff Koons; loves miso soup; knows he’s not lazy; can’t tell you the whole truth about everything because it would sound so clinical; thinks of the Art Awards as a group show determined by a very democratic process; wants to make a big series of paintings about Woody Allen some day; doesn’t walk around thinking he’s the best but doesn’t think anyone’s the best; has never asked the hard questions of his parents; thinks it would be cuter if dollar bills looked like chocolate-chip cookes (everyone loves cookies); thinks cheating can be a way of picking and choosing what you want to learn for the future; smokes Marlboro Lights; wants to know who your favorite contemporary artist is; wants to know how much you’re getting paid; likes to look at the pictures people post on eBay; is not going to stop until people think he’s better than Maurizio Cattelan.

from my Art+Auction profile, available here

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