Thursday, May 29, 2008

The New Berensons?

Hmmmm..., I say...Hmmmmm

Two former museum chiefs are heading to New York—and to positions at high-profile contemporary-art galleries. David Ross, a former director of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, has become a partner in Albion with Michael Hue-Williams, while Robert Fitzpatrick, most recently director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, has been named international managing director of Haunch of Venison.

“I wanted to work more closely with artists, rather than patrons and trustees,” says Ross, explaining his transition to the commercial side of the industry. Fitzpatrick agrees, describing dealers as having a “passion for art, artists and helping their work become better known.”

Alright, Ed, get off say, what's all this hmmm'ing about?

Well, with all due respect to my friends in museums, whom I have the utmost respect for, I've always gotten this sense from many of them that the commercial gallery system is seen as somewhat, shall we say, tainted, in their circles. This notion is exemplified by nothing so much as the fact that it's widely believed to be harder for a commercial gallerist to become a major curator or director of a museum than it is for a camel to squeeze through the eye of needle. And yet, as we see, the constriction seems to apply in only one direction.

Don't get me wrong, I wish Misters Ross and Fitzpatrick only the best of success and happiness in their new endeavors, it's just that, after all these years of feeling somewhat like the arms dealer at a peace conference when discussing artists careers among curators or museum directors (and admittedly, that might be my own personal insecurity more so than any bias on the part of most of the museum folks I know), it is somewhat reassuring to see a former museum director acknowledging that "dealers [have] a 'passion for art, artists and helping their work become better known.'”

Will we see more migrations from the museum to the commercial side of things? Is this a sign of the times?

Of course, most of my sensibilities about this are perhaps outdated, stemming, as they do from my love of biographies of past art world luminaries. Indeed, the title of this post references one Bernard Berenson (1865 - 1959), the highly respected art historian and Renaissance expert, who had his reputation somewhat soiled by being seen as a bit too entangled with the doings of art dealer Joseph Duveen. To many people, Berenson's reputation never totally recovered, even after the two parted ways. Of course, perhaps Berenson's star got tarnished more because he worked with Duveen via a secret agreement that was exposed during his testimony in a high-profile trial that Duveen had to settle out of court (a collector sued Duveen for claiming, without seeing it, that the Da Vinci she wanted to sell, was in fact by someone else).

I actually think any gallery would be lucky to have former museum staff working for them. The education, standards, and best practices they'd bring would be a remarkable asset in the gallery's efforts to promote its artists. I just couldn't let it pass unhighlighted that a former museum director had justified such a move because "I wanted to work more closely with artists, rather than patrons and trustees." I'll hold my head just a little bit higher among my museum friends from now on. ;-P

Labels: art galleries, art museums


Blogger joy said...


I don't know anything about Fitz, but it does seem that David Ross has been game for the odd commercial venture whenever, wherever possible(Artist Pension Trust, MutualArt, etc.etc.), and not one to stand on supposed not-for-profit principle... he seems oh so cut out for the cool glamorous but tough-as-nails gallerist role. ;-)

5/29/2008 11:44:00 AM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

It is interesting to hear about this aspect of the art world hierarchy. If these two museum people could write and think as well as Bernhard Berenson did I might care about their career choices. As it is, I don't think they can hold a candle to Berenson.

5/29/2008 12:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Hmmm...They're both little known galleries from the UK (are they opening in New York?).

Haunch Of Venison: I'm not sure they even represent artists(?). It's kind of like Phillips De Pury, sort of outside the circle because they show auction stuff.

Albion: ambitious new gallery but still new gallery who hasn't made its name yet. The known artists are already represented by known gallerists, so I don't know how the deals work out.

Those are bizarre choices that can only be explained by the fact galleries now can offer a better pay than museums.

But museums have a harder time buying pieces now (some even sell them), so it goes that either the new best art will go in the hand of very rich people or companies, or that there will be a crisis in the market.

You can't just push up prices without expecting a crisis, but, you'll remark that everyone has been pushing prices up since the new millenary. Just take the metro card in New York which went from...what? 17 to 25 dollars in about 7 years? Museums that cost 20 bucks to get in? (The Met has pushed its suggestion from 12 to 20 in a matter of 3 years).

Something is going to come out wrong, and museums not having the money to keep their curators is just another symptom.

Cedric Caspesy

5/29/2008 02:28:00 PM  
Blogger onomato said...

What are best practices in buying wine for openings? I bet galleries could teach museums a thing or two about that and other stuff, i don;t know.

But I guess the synergy is the deal - Like being an ex president. You just know more, right?

yes, me and museum people could get along so awesomely.

5/29/2008 06:44:00 PM  
Blogger CAP said...

Haunch of Venison is blue chip (London and Zurich branches - many top line British and German artists) Looking to crack the NY scene? Calling in some leverage.

The Berenson rip-offs go on all the time anyway - self-serving history, attributions, private deals. The line between public museums and private collections/galleries gets dangerously blurred, especially in the US - the Broad takeover in LA frinstance.

About the only consolation that occurs to me is the vigorous competition in both spheres. Switching between them is just another power play, it doesn't always work though - depends what other teams are doing.

5/29/2008 07:50:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

I have a problem completely dismissing Berenson because of his shady dealings, because he left us with some really great books and his theory of 'tactile values' still gets some play in my mind.

5/29/2008 08:17:00 PM  
Blogger CAP said...

I agree, and it's not like he was the only one playing both sides of the street.

A lot of Renaissance scholarship has moved beyond 'tactile values' etc, but it's still a good general introduction. Mind you I still have time for Vasari as well.

There is another issue in here - unrelated to museum authority - and that's the the dealer/curator/collector that wants to 'work with artists'. This phrase always makes me grind my teeth.

In the old days this didn't go much beyond the dealer having a say about what was shown and how, then curator's pitching topics or themes and gradually 'directing' an artist's work. And it's up to the artist I suppose, but this always strikes me as dealers etc trying to become artists by the back door.

You know, they have the 'ideas' they know 'the scene' they're just looking for a willing vessel. I guess you either go along with this side of a dealer etc or not. In my experience I just found myself biting my tongue when it came to clear differences in perception or philosophy or whatever. I know Ed wisely advises that artists find a gallery and dealer that is in tune with your work, but often there's a lot of assumptions freighted in there that you don't really get to find out about until the relationship is well under way.

Like most relationships really!

5/29/2008 09:04:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

I fully support the notion that curators currently have way too much power.

5/29/2008 09:22:00 PM  
Anonymous powerful curator said...

i curate this discussion to end now.

5/29/2008 09:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedic Caspesyan said...

I love artist conferences when the curator-moderator ask most of the questions on stage and then there is only time at the end for 2 or 3 questions from the audience.

Cedric C

5/29/2008 10:34:00 PM  
Anonymous powerful curator said...

by curatorial decree i order the "c" of "cedric c" to henceforth stand for "curator".

5/29/2008 10:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I love group art shows when the thematic is coming right out the fancies of the curator and that each artist's purpose get diminushed or deviated by it.

Cedric Casp (having his Zipthwung day)

5/29/2008 10:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

curators have less power than they used to in establishing artists. so do critics. they say megacollectors are the real tastemakers now....
so maybe influencing collectors (as a gallerist) IS a way to get that power back....?

5/29/2008 10:40:00 PM  
Anonymous powerful curator said...

powerful curator is having no effect upon this discussion thread, therefore, this is not art.

5/29/2008 10:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Actually, in other places people have been referring to me as a double C which means C C which means sissy.

(unless they meant a double cunt)


Cedric C

5/29/2008 11:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I think I would curate a show of gigantic stainless steel sculptures so to tell people "you see? We have enoug of it. Find something else!".

I would stuck the nose of a Koons Puppy in a wall hole by Kapoor at the entrance.

Cedric C

5/29/2008 11:08:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

I practically lived in the old MoMA. The new MoMA pretty much sucks. It isn't the curators fault per se. They obviously are not controlling the museum Board's decisions. I loathe how pervasive the curatorial packaging of exhibitions has become, how visible and emphasized it is, notwithstanding the fact that more than a few interesting catalog essays have come down the pipe via this area of specialization. I do think that their obtrusiveness has had a negative impact on the art they are supposedly highlighting or celebrating or whatever. On any given day, I would take the passion and intellect of an Alfred J. Barr over anyone who has a Masters of Arts (M.A.) in Museum Studies. But people like Barr, and Berenson for that matter, are relics of a bygone era, even though their books are still worth reading.

5/30/2008 03:25:00 AM  
Anonymous powerful curator said...

my favorite berenson book is the "berenson bears and the cloudy day"... a deeply infused work, i've been forever impacted.

5/30/2008 07:49:00 AM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

Yup. That was exactly the title I was refering to.

5/30/2008 08:03:00 AM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

"[I]'ve been forever impacted."

"A fecal impaction is a solid, immobile bulk of stool that can develop in the rectum as a result of chronic constipation."

I would look into this Mr. Powerful Curator

5/30/2008 08:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Powerful Curator said...

i have seen the late-night informercials on this condition, but think i am okay.

5/30/2008 04:57:00 PM  
Blogger CAP said...

I sometimes wonder about Marisa Berenson"s views on the Quattrocento, and whether she ever committed them to print.

5/30/2008 05:54:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

The only book by an author named Marisa Berenson that I could locate was titled:

"Dressing Up: How to Look and Feel Absolutely Perfect for Any Social Occasion"

5/31/2008 06:28:00 PM  
Blogger CAP said...

Well that's probably it. Marisa always looked kind of Renaissance to me (in her Andy Warhol days).

6/03/2008 02:18:00 AM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

FYI for all you readers out there: is the best book location service out there. It is very thorough and it lists prices (including shipping) of new and used titles from all vendors.

6/03/2008 09:52:00 AM  

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