Krens the Great
I couldn't help but think of the Macedonian emperor when I read the story in today's NYTimes about Guggenheim Director Thomas Krens' imperialist designs. Despite the growing criticism and high-profile resignations, Krens keeps pushing further into exotic territory (with plans for possible Guggenheim satellites in Singapore, Rio de Janeiro, Hong Kong, and Guadalajara) and bringing on board members who share his hunger for expansion:
Today's board is driven by leading members of New York's real estate world who share Mr. Krens's dreams of empire building. Besides [new chairman, William L. Mack, a real estate developer], one of five trustees who joined the board two years ago, they include Stephen M. Ross, founder and chief executive of the Related Companies, and Robert C. Baker, the chairman and chief executive of Purchase, a New York-based national realty and development corporation. [President, Jennifer Stockman] is president of Stockman & Associates, consultants specializing in technology.
Just like Alexander though, whose empire collapsed with a stunning expediency after his passing because he had too few true believers in key positions and had spread them too far apart, Krens is possibly building a global network of museums no one will be interested in defending after they're constructed (no true believers in Peggy's original vision, anyway).
But some board members - a defeated minority who decline to be quoted but say they believe the success of these satellites are exceptions - argue that the Guggenheim has no business trying to spread its name any further when there is so much work to be done at home.Unlike Alexander who was known to murder his critics, Krens will nonviolently argue why he thinks his are wrong:
Mr. Krens defends himself against accusations of overspending and neglecting acquisitions and programming. He will probably be forever haunted by the critical ridicule of shows like "The Art of the Motorcycle," in 1998, and "Giorgio Armani," in 2000, even though they drew enthusiastic crowds.
"These perceptions are hard to dislodge," Mr. Krens said one morning, sipping an espresso in the lobby of the Mercer hotel in SoHo. He rattled off several historic exhibitions that rank among the 10 best-attended shows in the Guggenheim's history: "Africa: The Art of a Continent," in 1996; "China: 5,000 Years," in 1998, "Brazil: Body & Soul," in 2001; and "The Aztec Empire," which closed in February. He named some major retrospectives: those of Claes Oldenburg, Mr. Rosenquist, Roy Lichtenstein, Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Rauschenberg, Roni Horn and Matthew Barney.
Of course, one could point to mistakes (but no one could ignore the accomplishments) of Alexander during his lifetime, too. He always found a way. He was unstoppable. The problem with Krens, as with the Macedonian, is that he's building an army of imperialists, not true believer philanthropists. It doesn't seem likely that once he is gone the empire will continue to serve Peggy's vision.