Market Monday: Institutionalized
Recapping another week of lunacy, this time led by the museums and nonprofits...
San Francisco's de Young Museum is in danger of losing its 501(c)3 nonprofit status due to alleged financial impropriety. According to Michele Gutierrez, the museum's former CFO and financial director, philanthropist and board member Dede Wilsey authorized payment of $450,000 in museum funds to retired city worker Bill Huggins, the husband of the de Young's director of registration, who "has reportedly done significant personal favors for Wilsey over the years." My guess is that the rest of the board will somehow sacrifice Wilsey so that the institution at large can avoid the worst case scenario. However, I'd be very curious to see how a for-profit de Young would work. Given the absurd concentration of wealth in San Francisco, there's a chance that said "punishment" could actually unleash a beast. (Just ask Tom Krens.) [artnet News]
A trio of thieves stole 17 works from Verona's Castelvecchio Museum on Thursday night, including 11 paintings described by the director as "masterpieces... basically the most valuable works on display." If you're wondering how the thieves––or whomever hired them––actually hope to profit from such a high-profile heist, this 2013 New York Times feature captures the reality: A black market sale will generally only return 7-10 percent of a stolen work's auction value to even the most well-connected thieves, but pilfered pieces are now sometimes used as collateral between criminals in separate deals for, say, guns or drugs. But in this market, a connoisseur might just decide that paying three burglars and risking incarceration is the best bargain he'll ever find for a slate of masterpieces. So my guess is, wherever the paintings are now, they're staying put. [Corriere Della Serra]
Rachel Corbett reported that, since last year, exhibiting artists have quietly been donating works to The Drawing Center so that they can be sold to help cover exhibition costs. According to director Brett Littman, the Center has been forced to resort to such extreme tactics because "the philanthropic community has become less supportive of artists' shows." I certainly understand the decision––after all, how different is this from the ubiquitous benefit auctions held by arts nonprofits? But the strategy does add even more velocity to a vicious cycle that's been tearing through the museum world for years: Potential philanthropists preferring to buy market-driven works rather than donate to institutions showing more challenging material... and institutions responding by shifting toward market-driven works they can better sell (literally or figuratively) to potential philanthropists. In the immortal words of former New York Knick Michael Ray Richardson, "The ship be sinking." [The Art Newspaper]
And finally, Ellsworth Kelly's "White Form" (2012) will be installed at the main entrance of AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, in time to be featured on CBS's broadcast of the team's Thanksgiving Day game. Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones and his wife, Gene, expanded the team's surprisingly legit contemporary collection by winning the piece at a charity auction in October. Gene expressed excitement that Thursday's expected TV audience of 30M people will be exposed to Kelly's work because "not near that number of people go to museums." (Note: Attendance for the world's top five museums totaled 34.4M visitors in 2014, per The Art Newspaper.) Something tells me the nuance of Kelly's work may be lost on viewers tuning in to savor the US's answer to gladiator combat. But hey, better to have a post-commercials transition shot of "White Form" than of the stadium's concession stands whipping up nachos. [The New York Times]
That's all for this edition. Programming note: In a rare attempt to masquerade as a normal human being, I'm putting the blog (and newsletter) on a one-week hiatus for Thanksgiving. Both will be back in time to wrap up Art Basel Miami the following Sunday/Monday. Til then, do your best to stay out of the straitjacket.