Where in the World is Ducan Phyfe? $170 Million… Is it Enough for Troubled Museums?

From yesterday’s New York Times, I have learned that the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior has approved a bill that sets the annual budget for the National Endowment for the Arts at $170 million for fiscal year 2010, a $15 million increase from the current year and even higher than what President Obama had requested ($161 million). 

Pygmalion and Galatea (c. 1890) by Jean-Léon Gérôme at Metropolitan Museum of Art
Pygmalion and Galatea (c. 1890) by Jean-Léon Gérôme at Metropolitan Museum of Art

Representative Norm Dicks, Democrat from Washington, the chairman of the house subcommittee, commented that more money should be given out to help the many art institutions around the country which are struggling for survival. The bill is waiting to be approved by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior before it goes through the vote of the full House and Senate and then the President.

Museums are operated on both short-term (annual) and long-term planning. Under strenuous fiscal shortfalls, a variety of measures have been taken aimed at cutting the cost, ranging from deaccessioning artworks, layoffs or unpaid furloughs to closing entire museums. One hidden corner behind the budget cutting measures is the cancelation of exhibitions. Quite often, temporary exhibitions take years to prepare and organize. Exhibitions still at initial planning stages would probably not get approved by the board; however, more strikingly some important shows, which have undergone preparation, research and documentation, are either canceled or postponed to an indefinite future date.

This is the case where the short-term budget allocation conflicts with the long-term planning. Although the cancelation may balance the budget sheet of the next fiscal year because of the dropped cost of crating & shipping, insurance, installation, security and other loan-related fee, the accumulated efforts of researching, cataloguing and negotiating are totally lost. When theses institutions are having trouble covering payrolls, probably  the National Endowment for the Arts should not dictate how museums should allocate the funds. But it would be nice to at least save some of the near-mature exhibitions.

Here is an incomplete list from the Art News paper.  (Note: Cancelation of temporary shows happens in both US and Europe, especially one partner quitting the touring exhibition may force other participating museums to absorb bigger cost and thus creating an avalanche effect. But only US cases are listed here.)

Among the list of the canceled or postponed shows, LACMA was hit hard with the most canceled exhibitions. I really wish the exhibition of Jean-Léon Gérôme at the Walter’s Art Museum could have been saved. (Walter’s director Gary Vikan commented the show would have caused a net loss of $300,000, although he didn’t give the amount of money which had been spent on the preparation.) Another case is “Duncan Phyfe: America’s Legendary Cabinetmaker” at Met, which, based on the report, has been postponed. However, a quick search on Met’s website shows that it is moved from December 2009 to January 2010. For an exhibition long-due (the last exhibition of Duncan Phyfe at Met was 1922), I can wait one more month. 

Shows cancelled or postponed

•Baltimore, Walters Art Museum, “Jean-Léon Gérôme”, February-May 2010, cancelled.

•Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, “Subversion of the Images: Surrealism and Photography”, spring 2010, cancelled.

•Chicago, Field Museum, “Lucy’s Legacy: the Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia”, planned for 2009-10, dropped.

•Denver, Denver Art Museum, “Imperial Mughal Albums from the Chester Beatty Library”, July-September 2009, cancelled.

•Honolulu, Contemporary Art Museum, “Japan Fantastic” (11 contemporary artists), December 2009-March 2010, cancelled.

•Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, “Cildo Meireles”, June-September 2009, cancelled.

•Kansas City, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, “Rafael Lozano-Hemmer”, February-May 2009, cancelled.

•Los Angeles, Getty Museum, “Franz Messerschmidt”, September 2009-January 2010, postponed.

•Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, “Heavy Light: Recent Photography and Video from Japan”, August-November 2009, cancelled.

•Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, “Cildo Meireles”, November 2009-February 2010, cancelled.

•Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, “Arshile Gorky: a Retrospective”, June-September 2010, cancelled.

•Minneapolis, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, “Surreal Things: Surrealism and Design”, February-May 2010, cancelled.

•New York, Brooklyn Museum, “Donald Saff and the Art of Collaboration”, September 2009-January 2010, cancelled.

•New York, Metropolitan Museum, “Duncan Phyfe: America’s Legendary Cabinetmaker”, January-April 2010, postponed.

•Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, “The Kingdom of Aragon” (15th-century Spanish painting), spring 2010, postponed to 2011.

About Hui

Wang Hui lived from 1632 - 1717 and followed in the footprints of his great grandfathers, grandfather, father and uncles and learned painting at a very early age. He was later taught by two contemporary masters, Zhang Ke and Wang Shimin, who taught him to work in the tradition of copying famous Chinese paintings. This is most likely the reason why critics claim that his work is conservative and reflects the Yuan and Song traditions. One critic claimed that "his landscape paintings reflect his nostalgic attachment to classical Chinese aesthetics. Along with the other Wangs, Wang Hui helped to perpetuate the tradition of copying the ancient masters rather than creating original work.

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