For the second time in a month, Robin Pogrebin points her keyboard at the ‘crisis’ afflicting the Metropolitan Museum, and misses the central fact her sources are desperate to hide from her (and from us). The broad outlines of the situation are that the Met is going broke, bleeding money from reckless initiatives and programming it can’t afford (and, presumably, fundraising that’s falling short of hopes).Â The sums involved seem quite large, a $40m deficit and a $600m new modern art wing it can’t afford to build.Â But you would never know from Pogrebin’s reporting, and certainly not from any official Met information, that the museum owns a collection worth at least $40b, of which it shows or can ever expect to show only a tiny fraction.Â Sell, say, 2% of that off the bottom and out of musty storage (much more than 2% of the objects by count, of course), and there’s the new wing with money to spare, or an endowment that will cover the deficit forever, and the best 98% of the collection still in hand.
Better yet, the sold works would almost certainly go to buyers who will show them, like smaller museums outside NY, or even private collectors. Why can a serious reporter like Pogrebin skate right by relevant facts like this? Because museum administrators have conspired (literally, in writing themselves a code of ethics that forbids selling anything except to acquire more work) to hide that wealth from view (museums simply omit their collections from their balance sheets), and pretend that redistributing it to where it could actually provide some art engagement is some sort of moral offense against art.
It’s a wonder of the world that trustees, many of whom are tough-minded business people, go completely soft in the head when they sit in museum board meetings. If accosted by a homeless beggar saying “please help me! I’m hungry, and completely penniless. Well, except for the million-dollar art collection Dad left me, but you wouldn’t want me to sell any of that, would you?”Â I do not think Mr. Gotrocks would pony up, but he and the missus are happy to watch their museum cut programs, go on collecting art it has no space to show and no money to conserve, and run deficits, on exactly the same absurd proposition.
The film Moonlight is one of the best films Iâ€™ve seen about a young man coming of age, the roots of youth violence, and what’s behind the hard mask of so many minority youth, including those who become enmeshed in the criminal justice system. A hunger for human connection, compassion, and empathy often hides behind the hardness these young men project, underneath the Raidersâ€™ jacket, the forbidding tattoos and intimidating muscles.
One incident in Moonlight was eerily reminiscent of an episode I witnessed at age 15 as a Boy Scout. There was more than a little bullying in Boy Scouts. That was often directed at vulnerable or perceived-to-be soft or effeminate boys. For reasons that were never clear to me, I was not victimized, even though I was a tiny kid and the troopâ€™s only Jew.
The lead bully, whom I will call Steve, regularly tormented another boy, whom I will call Tim. Steve was older and larger. There realistically wasnâ€™t much Tim could do. The adults never did much to help, either. I suspect they expected Tim to stick up for himself.
One day he did. On one cold camp-out, deep in woods, Steve made some cutting comment in Timâ€™s direction. Tim suddenly grabbed a small sled and smashing it over Steveâ€™s head. Steveâ€™s blood poured from a gaping head wound onto the snow, as adults ran from all directions to staunch the bleeding.
This being late-1970s white suburbia, no one was arrested or locked up. Thatâ€™s probably for the best. I don’t know what happened to either boy in later years. Throw an off-the-shelf handgun into the mix, and this would resemble any number of Chicago homicides. It might even be labelled gang-related.
That was my first brush with potentially lethal violence perpetrated by a cornered young man defending his honor and masculinity. Every day, in my morning newspaper, I see more.
A terrible thing has happened to us. It may have just begun. After reflection, I have decided last night was the worst night of my life so far. I am not facing a personal nightmare: I have a secure job and a family, a house, financial security, and (at least for the nonce) most of my wits. But I will probably not live long enough to see things turn around, nor is it certain that they will. My daughters and my studentsÂ are at real risk, as are millions of people I don’t know but who I know are out there. Billions, actually; all the passengers on our warming spaceship. All in all, I have definitely learned how the Trump voters who sense “their world having been taken away from them” feel. Not that they are going to get that world back now; the most ill-used and vulnerable of them are going to pay a terrible price for their day of rage as they learn the iron law of Trump’s deals: his promises mean nothing to anyone including himself, and that goes extra for his promises to them.
Others have had much worse nights, including others’ last night, and they have something to tell us, about both despair and hope. We must not wallow in despair, but we must look it in the eye and recognize it. Here is a gallery of borrowed insights, more enduring and tested than a blog post. Â First, theÂ picture I cannot get out of my head, Goya’sÂ Saturn devouring his children.Â Now you too will have it forever. Â Look at Saturn’s eyes: he is not angry, or vengeful, or cruel; he is terrified. The election of 2016 was all about fear.
Next, Yeats’ anticipation of World War I (“The Second Coming”). It’s a poem; read it out loud.
When life’s fierce orbit encompassed me,
Have you kindled my heart to warm love,
And charmed me into a better world!Oft has a sigh, issuing from your harp,
A sweet, blessed chord of yours,
Thrown open the heaven of better times;
O gracious Art, for that I thank you!
It’s unfortunate that the various election news diverts attention from news stories that can actually help you in everyday life. For example, here is @WSJ piece titled: “Horse Lovers Pony Up for Equestrian-Friendly Communities.”
I hope that these top-1% real estate porn stories subsidize some of the Journal‘s excellent journalism. I am half-convinced the Journal‘s Mansion section, and its New York Times‘ equivalents are agitprop operations staffed by undercover operatives from the Roosevelt Institute or Jacobin, trying to raise support for the estate tax.
There is one redeeming feature. Alexia Fodere took outstanding photographs. Continue Reading…
Intrepid WaPo reporter David Fahrenthold can’t find an image of the giant portrait of Donald Trump that the Trump Foundation bought for $20,000. It isn’t this:
Judging by this and other portraits Fahrenthold has located, Trump is overpayingÂ for hackwork.Â They really won’t do for the Gold House (as it will be renamed after the do-over). Here are my tips for real class. Continue Reading…
Chicago’sÂ Field Museum has a great exhibit, Women of Vision, with pictures by the women photographers of National Geographic. It’s possible that I would have to raise my photography game to match their efforts.
These two heartbreaking pictures by Stephanie SinclairÂ show girls forced into marriage.
We sometimes hear the argument: Who are you outsiders to criticize someone else’s culture? One answer can be seen in the picture below. The womenÂ most intimately affected often object.
The crying bride in the picture, Surita Shreshta Balami, is only sixteen. She is howling in protest at what she is being made to do.
The picture below of two married couples speaks for itself.
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art reopened last week after a couple of years expanding the building, to what is now the largest modern art museum in North America. SFMOMA has beenÂ decades behind the big money and cultural insecurity that built top-rank arts institutions in Los Angeles, and further behind the establishment and collecting of the major east coast museums. Though its photography collection is grade A, it seemed impossible to stock up with a world-class all-media collection until recently, especially in the face of the current bubble in art prices and one-percenters socking so much of it away for speculation.Â Happily, after a complicated dance with the Fisher family to acquire their collection on a 100-yr loan (whatever that really means in practice) and a $600m fundraising binge, it has come out not only with an excellent physical plant, but also a collection that at least covers the last 30 years with international scope and depth.
The question now is, what will they make of all that in terms of human engagement with art?Â Getting a lot more on the walls, and more people in the door, is good, but what happens when people are actually standing in front of the objects? My strong view is that there’s a lot more to proper stewardship of the plastic arts patrimony than display by the usual museum conventions, and here the prospects are promising but mixed.Â On the up side, the building has all sorts of spaces for events and innovative kinds of presentation. It even has an wonderfully titled Assistant Curator for Public Dialogue, whom I know to be all about exactly that, pushing back boundaries of habit, enlivening art engagement, and making actual artists integral to the enterprise. They were nice enough to put on a preview event for higher education faculty and seem to be genuinely anxious to make the museum a resource, in more ways than one, for us chalk-dusted wretches and our students. And it’s easily accessible by public transportation, right downtown in the middle of a very large daytime population. Continue Reading…
Sam Wang gives Hillary Clinton a poll-based 70% probability of becoming US President, if the election were held tomorrow, and not after another six months of public exhibition of the ignorance, bigotry, vulgarity and vanity of Donald Trump. Ban Ki-Moon has picked Christina Figueres’ successor to lead the next round of UN climate negotiations: the even tougher Patricia Espinosa of Mexico. The Monstrous Regiment of Women is doing pretty well in many places.
Not everywhere, and especially not in the Vatican. Here is a sobering tale from the Sistine Chapel. Continue Reading…