The Latest in the New Museum Controversy

by Art Fag City on November 17, 2009 · 24 comments Newswire

POST BY PADDY JOHNSON

New Museum front entrance, Image via: Improv Everywhere. Photo credit: Dean Kaufman

  • Jerry Saltz pens his third piece on the New Museum debate in the space of seven days. He addresses the problems the museum currently faces and takes blogger Tyler Green, in particular, to task for writing in a hysterical tone. Green gets his lawyer-on and asks for a litany of corrections in the comment section of the blog.
  • http://jesseedwards.net Jesse Edwards

    Great !!

  • http://jesseedwards.net Jesse Edwards

    Great !!

  • http://www.unutterable.org Giovanni

    I feel that Jerry Saltz was out of line with that last piece. To call people’s concerns about the ethics of the New Museum’s Joannou Collection exhibition a “witch-hunt” doesn’t answer any questions, it just dismisses the whole issue offhand. And to say that the show will be interesting is neither here nor there. For one thing, who says it will be interesting?

    I don’t always agree with Tyler Green – like many others, I often find him self-righteous and rigid. I disagreed with his attacks on Christian Viveros-Faune, who ended up being fired not for doing anything wrong, but for the fear that he could, and it meant the loss of an interesting critic. But in the case of the New Museum I think Tyler is right and Jerry is wrong.

  • http://www.unutterable.org Giovanni

    I feel that Jerry Saltz was out of line with that last piece. To call people’s concerns about the ethics of the New Museum’s Joannou Collection exhibition a “witch-hunt” doesn’t answer any questions, it just dismisses the whole issue offhand. And to say that the show will be interesting is neither here nor there. For one thing, who says it will be interesting?

    I don’t always agree with Tyler Green – like many others, I often find him self-righteous and rigid. I disagreed with his attacks on Christian Viveros-Faune, who ended up being fired not for doing anything wrong, but for the fear that he could, and it meant the loss of an interesting critic. But in the case of the New Museum I think Tyler is right and Jerry is wrong.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    I think there’s some legitimacy to the point that the argument has gotten out of hand. What’s unfortunate about this story is that it’s now inextricably linked to Tyler Green’s online presence, which for all the good he does (which I do think is a lot), comes with a few caveats. All and all, it’s a distraction from the real issues, which I still believe are significant.

    On the subject of the Christian Viveros-Faune dispute, I do think that was a legitimate conflict of interest and I felt Green handled the case as well as he could have while maintaining his own beliefs. He expressed regret that the issue arose at all. It’s not Green’s fault that the art world doesn’t compensate critics fairly, and I don’t think the appropriate response is to allow conflict of interest to pass in particularly meritorious cases because we know the system is flawed. Why not fix the system? (I realize this is a rather idealistic stance, but I hold it regardless).

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    I think there’s some legitimacy to the point that the argument has gotten out of hand. What’s unfortunate about this story is that it’s now inextricably linked to Tyler Green’s online presence, which for all the good he does (which I do think is a lot), comes with a few caveats. All and all, it’s a distraction from the real issues, which I still believe are significant.

    On the subject of the Christian Viveros-Faune dispute, I do think that was a legitimate conflict of interest and I felt Green handled the case as well as he could have while maintaining his own beliefs. He expressed regret that the issue arose at all. It’s not Green’s fault that the art world doesn’t compensate critics fairly, and I don’t think the appropriate response is to allow conflict of interest to pass in particularly meritorious cases because we know the system is flawed. Why not fix the system? (I realize this is a rather idealistic stance, but I hold it regardless).

  • http://www.contemporaryartdaily.com Forrest

    There are two things I don’t like about this show. First, I’m not sure Joannou is a very interesting collector. Let’s turn the New Museum over to Andy Stillpass instead. Second of all, it takes away from the incentive for someone like Joannou to build his own museums. If he wants a public presence in New York, he should build a permanent space and make his collection more public instead of taking up an existing one.

    Conflict of interest considerations are important, but it’s also true that collecting and collectors (and dealers) are underrepresented in the academic sides of contemporary art. I like the idea of institutions showing private collections, but only if they are interesting as collections rather than just impressively valuable. Collecting is a lot like curating. I think the reason this situation is so frustrating is that the museum isn’t getting much in the way of interest in return for leveraging its credibility for Mr. Joannou’s net worth, in other words that he isn’t a very good curator.

    If we could use the financial incentives at stake here to compel collectors to make better choices, rather than just be extravagant and buy what’s already canonized, that would be helpful, I think.

  • http://www.contemporaryartdaily.com Forrest

    There are two things I don’t like about this show. First, I’m not sure Joannou is a very interesting collector. Let’s turn the New Museum over to Andy Stillpass instead. Second of all, it takes away from the incentive for someone like Joannou to build his own museums. If he wants a public presence in New York, he should build a permanent space and make his collection more public instead of taking up an existing one.

    Conflict of interest considerations are important, but it’s also true that collecting and collectors (and dealers) are underrepresented in the academic sides of contemporary art. I like the idea of institutions showing private collections, but only if they are interesting as collections rather than just impressively valuable. Collecting is a lot like curating. I think the reason this situation is so frustrating is that the museum isn’t getting much in the way of interest in return for leveraging its credibility for Mr. Joannou’s net worth, in other words that he isn’t a very good curator.

    If we could use the financial incentives at stake here to compel collectors to make better choices, rather than just be extravagant and buy what’s already canonized, that would be helpful, I think.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    I think Andy Stillpass is an excellent example of someone who’s collection I’d really like to see.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    I think Andy Stillpass is an excellent example of someone who’s collection I’d really like to see.

  • Tyler Green

    Jerry said a lot of… interesting things. But I don’t think he said I wrote “hysterically.”

    Also, to be clear, I didn’t get my lawyer on in any way that suggested legal action. There remain numerous factual inaccuracies in Jerry’s Vulture post. I mean, if I was Grace Glueck I’d be not-too-thrilled with Jerry right now.

  • Tyler Green

    Jerry said a lot of… interesting things. But I don’t think he said I wrote “hysterically.”

    Also, to be clear, I didn’t get my lawyer on in any way that suggested legal action. There remain numerous factual inaccuracies in Jerry’s Vulture post. I mean, if I was Grace Glueck I’d be not-too-thrilled with Jerry right now.

  • Andrew

    I Agree with Giovanni above. Saltz is basically doing some Liberterian-style take on the art world to defend what the New Museum is doing, and from the tone of his last article he has an ax to grind with Green and has decided to fight fire with fire. Bad idea. Green has a much stronger case in this instance than previously IMO.

    I just want to reiterate the point I made in a previous post; why would anyone defend curating a show exclusively based on Jannou’s collection? It is totally unnecessary. It’s not like his collection is made of unique old master paintings for which there is no substitute; it is made up of editions and work by younger contemporary artists that is not particularly recognized as being the pinnacle example of the artists work. The New Museum can get the same or substantially comparable material elsewhere. Why defend getting it from Jannou when the only good that does is to promote Jannou or at the very least raise the specter of conflicts?

    I know a lot of the people at the NewMu, trustees and staff, I think they just did not consider the implications here and accidentally got into a pickle. Unfortunately now they also can’t back down and lose face even though they should. But this is why Green is right; this should be an issue addressed by accrediting associations so that it can be avoided in the future. With many trustees now over invested in contemporary art and low on liquidity I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more problems like this for years to come as they try to figure out how to leverage their art assets. Jannou is a businessman, he knows what he is doing.

  • Andrew

    I Agree with Giovanni above. Saltz is basically doing some Liberterian-style take on the art world to defend what the New Museum is doing, and from the tone of his last article he has an ax to grind with Green and has decided to fight fire with fire. Bad idea. Green has a much stronger case in this instance than previously IMO.

    I just want to reiterate the point I made in a previous post; why would anyone defend curating a show exclusively based on Jannou’s collection? It is totally unnecessary. It’s not like his collection is made of unique old master paintings for which there is no substitute; it is made up of editions and work by younger contemporary artists that is not particularly recognized as being the pinnacle example of the artists work. The New Museum can get the same or substantially comparable material elsewhere. Why defend getting it from Jannou when the only good that does is to promote Jannou or at the very least raise the specter of conflicts?

    I know a lot of the people at the NewMu, trustees and staff, I think they just did not consider the implications here and accidentally got into a pickle. Unfortunately now they also can’t back down and lose face even though they should. But this is why Green is right; this should be an issue addressed by accrediting associations so that it can be avoided in the future. With many trustees now over invested in contemporary art and low on liquidity I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more problems like this for years to come as they try to figure out how to leverage their art assets. Jannou is a businessman, he knows what he is doing.

  • Tyler Green

    Andrew raises a good point regarding accrediting institutions. When the NYT ran its story on this issue, it quoted Association of American Museums staffer Erik Ledbetter. AAM is the American ‘accrediter.’ (On MAN I ran responses from the Association of Art Museum Directors and the Association of Art Museum Curators.)

  • Tyler Green

    Andrew raises a good point regarding accrediting institutions. When the NYT ran its story on this issue, it quoted Association of American Museums staffer Erik Ledbetter. AAM is the American ‘accrediter.’ (On MAN I ran responses from the Association of Art Museum Directors and the Association of Art Museum Curators.)

  • http://www.collinlafleche.com clafleche

    I think everyone is getting very specific about all of these issues and it feels unnecessary. The whole tax-break thing with trustees, whether or not Joannou’s collection is really ‘interesting’ enough… none of that really matters. It could have been any trustee, the same (or a very similar) conversation would be happening.

    The issue is with the fact that many people, myself included, expect the New Museum to live up to the first word in its own name, and this sort of flies in the face of that. Jeff Koons /= New. Joannou /= New.

    New Art New Ideas just sounds like a joke to me at this point.

    I think the conversation has become vindictive and aggressive and a ‘witch-hunt’ because this sort of show, the Joannou one, is indicative of the fact that there really is so little New work being shown right now, and when even a place called the New Museum can’t go against that, where else do we have to turn for good, new work? People have seized on this just because it’s happening right now, not because it’s particularly inflammatory.

  • http://www.collinlafleche.com clafleche

    I think everyone is getting very specific about all of these issues and it feels unnecessary. The whole tax-break thing with trustees, whether or not Joannou’s collection is really ‘interesting’ enough… none of that really matters. It could have been any trustee, the same (or a very similar) conversation would be happening.

    The issue is with the fact that many people, myself included, expect the New Museum to live up to the first word in its own name, and this sort of flies in the face of that. Jeff Koons /= New. Joannou /= New.

    New Art New Ideas just sounds like a joke to me at this point.

    I think the conversation has become vindictive and aggressive and a ‘witch-hunt’ because this sort of show, the Joannou one, is indicative of the fact that there really is so little New work being shown right now, and when even a place called the New Museum can’t go against that, where else do we have to turn for good, new work? People have seized on this just because it’s happening right now, not because it’s particularly inflammatory.

  • http://www.collinlafleche.com clafleche

    I forgot to add two things:

    1) I don’t doubt that the Joannou show will have interesting work, will be decently-curated, and will be relatively enjoyable to see. But when you’re working on the scale of billions of dollars, that isn’t particularly difficult. The fact is that the New Museum isn’t trying hard enough.

    2) Jerry Saltz seems to be wavering on this. Specifically, he reversed almost entirely on how he feels about Koons as curator. From Nov 11th:

    “I like that the art world isn’t regulated. I have seen Joannou’s collection and it is incredible. Still, when you add in Koons as the curator here the whole thing just breaks down.”

    And from Nov 15th:

    “I like that the art world isn’t regulated. I have seen Joannou’s collection, and it is incredible. […] And Koons, frankly, is an interesting choice as curator.”

    Maybe he just thought about it more, or maybe he felt some backlash from his friends at the New Museum, but either way, he seems hesitant to really pick a side here.

  • http://www.collinlafleche.com clafleche

    I forgot to add two things:

    1) I don’t doubt that the Joannou show will have interesting work, will be decently-curated, and will be relatively enjoyable to see. But when you’re working on the scale of billions of dollars, that isn’t particularly difficult. The fact is that the New Museum isn’t trying hard enough.

    2) Jerry Saltz seems to be wavering on this. Specifically, he reversed almost entirely on how he feels about Koons as curator. From Nov 11th:

    “I like that the art world isn’t regulated. I have seen Joannou’s collection and it is incredible. Still, when you add in Koons as the curator here the whole thing just breaks down.”

    And from Nov 15th:

    “I like that the art world isn’t regulated. I have seen Joannou’s collection, and it is incredible. […] And Koons, frankly, is an interesting choice as curator.”

    Maybe he just thought about it more, or maybe he felt some backlash from his friends at the New Museum, but either way, he seems hesitant to really pick a side here.

  • http://newmuseum.org DPI

    Everything that has been said over this is dated.

    Should we put an end to this? The fact is this..

    None of you work there or (have) worked there. Should I just post the employee handbook, page for page. Which CLEARLY STATES the fact about ethics.

    Or should we just keep reading what critics ARE getting paid to write…

  • http://newmuseum.org DPI

    Everything that has been said over this is dated.

    Should we put an end to this? The fact is this..

    None of you work there or (have) worked there. Should I just post the employee handbook, page for page. Which CLEARLY STATES the fact about ethics.

    Or should we just keep reading what critics ARE getting paid to write…

  • http://alifeasart.blogspot.com/ Adam

    To the poster above: How about we just leave it up to the viewers to make the final conclusion? Simply putting an end to this concludes nothing until everything comes into perspective.

    If you want Mr. Saltz and his followers to stop their attack then prove the critics wrong! However in the end it isn’t the job of a museum to make “critically acclaimed” shows. A museum’s job is to create exhibitions for the public that will broaden their knowledge and appreciation of the artwork. Secondly a contemporary art museum must stay contemporary and represent an expansive range of topics and themes that represent our current condition as a society. If there are any other vested interests then the whole thing should be re-evaluated! Art is for everybody!

    That said I really look forward to this exhibition and I hope that Saltz and the proponents (including myself) are made to eat crow.

  • http://alifeasart.blogspot.com/ Adam

    To the poster above: How about we just leave it up to the viewers to make the final conclusion? Simply putting an end to this concludes nothing until everything comes into perspective.

    If you want Mr. Saltz and his followers to stop their attack then prove the critics wrong! However in the end it isn’t the job of a museum to make “critically acclaimed” shows. A museum’s job is to create exhibitions for the public that will broaden their knowledge and appreciation of the artwork. Secondly a contemporary art museum must stay contemporary and represent an expansive range of topics and themes that represent our current condition as a society. If there are any other vested interests then the whole thing should be re-evaluated! Art is for everybody!

    That said I really look forward to this exhibition and I hope that Saltz and the proponents (including myself) are made to eat crow.

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