Monday, January 26, 2009

100th Post of Blog Addison

Nearly two years ago, on February 27, 2007, my colleague James Sousa posted the first entry of Blog Addison. Many topics have been covered since then: countless exhibitions opened and closed, the Laserdisc was retired, incalculable impressions were made on visitors of all ages, we mourned the loss of the monumental artist Sol LeWitt, our collection became accessible online, the outdoor sculptures were removed from our courtyard, and the Addison closed its doors for the renovation. The list seems never ending, which makes sense since there have been ninety-nine posts to date. Today’s post highlights unique elements of the museum and the sum equals 100 in honor of our one-hundredth post. Drum roll please...

48 photographs in Danny Lyon's The Bikeriders series
24 ship models made especially for the Addison’s collection in 1931
15 trucks + 1 day (16) to pour the concrete main floor of the new museum learning center
6 future traveling exhibitions currently being organized by the Addison Gallery
-Sheila Hicks: Fifty Years
-Whistler’s Bridge: Battersea Bridge in the Art of James McNeill Whistler
-Maverick Modernists: John Graham, Stuart Davis, Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, and Their Circle
-Late John Marin
-Mark Tobey (1890-19760: A Retrospective
-Alfred H. Maurer: At the Vanguard of Modernism
3 panels side by side in a triptych, for example in Maud Morgan’s work of 1949
2 volumes of Alexander Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War, 1862–67
1 Addison Gallery of American Art

Posted by Jaime DeSimone, Charles H. Sawyer Curatorial Fellow

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Missing the Addison?

We know that our friends out there are driving past the Addison construction site on Main Street in Andover and wishing, “if only there were a way we could still see some great works of art before Addison reopens in 2010!”

We are happy to say that we have devised a few opportunities to make your wish a reality.

All are welcome to join us in temporary quarters next Wednesday from 11– 12, for a special opportunity to revisit some of the Addison’s treasures pulled from the vaults.

Brian T. Allen, the Addison Gallery's Mary Stripp & R. Crosby Kemper Director, will be hosting:

Winslow Homer, Dog on a Log, 1889, watercolor and graphite on wove paper, bequest of Candace C. Stimson, Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, MACLOSE ENCOUNTERS
The Watercolors of Winslow Homer

Wednesday, January 14, 2009
11:00 A.M. to 12:00 P.M.
School Room (third floor), Abbot Hall
Abbot Campus
School Street, Andover, MA

Brian’s talk is the first of a three-part series of intimate visits with treasures from the collection hosted by the Addison’s curators. The next two parts will be:

Thursday, February 19th with Susan Faxon
Thursday, March 19th with Allison Kemmerer

If you are not familiar with the Phillips Academy campus and would like directions to Abbot Hall, please call 978-749-4023.

Looking forward to visiting with you!

PS: For our tech savvy Addison friends, we have a new Facebook page. Become a Fan of the Addison!

A Message from Brian Allen: The National Academy Museum

Today we hear from guest poster Brian T. Allen, the Addison Gallery's Mary Stripp & R. Crosby Kemper Director, regarding recent developments at the National Academy Museum in New York:

Many of our supporters have asked me about the National Academy Museum’s controversial attempt to regain financial solvency through selling art from its permanent collection. The Association of Art Museum Directors has censured the National Academy for this step and has asked member institutions to withdraw loans from the National Academy and to suspend all planned collaborations with the museum.

I think the art museum directors did the right thing. Unfortunately, its decision puts the Addison in a bind since we had planned to collaborate with the museum on a show called Maverick Modernists organized by the Addison and traveling also to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and the Amon Carter Museum. We have, at the request of the Association of Art Museum Directors, dropped the National Academy and are now working to replace it with another venue.

Why is this issue so important? It is a central feature of museum ethics that art from a collection can only be sold to buy more art. There are good reasons for this. When trustees and curators make the decision to accept a work of art in a museum’s collection, they agree to hold it in trust for the education and enjoyment of the general public. Where the work of art is a gift, the donor gets a tax deduction. Art always joins a collection after an intellectual process in which curators and the director decide the object meets the museum’s standards and goals. It becomes part of the institution’s history. In selling art to pay the bills, a museum betrays the public trust and the carefully considered decisions of curators, directors, and trustees who accepted the sold object into the collection.

The National Academy’s decision, if anything, shows a cultural rift between curators and directors on the one hand and artists on the other. The National Academy is an artist-run organization. Its trustees are artists. In a way, it is understandable that artists see no problem with selling art to pay the bills since this is what they try to do each day.

Let’s, then, put aside issues of ethics and talk about the museum’s self-interest. As a practical matter, why should a donor give money to a museum if the donor knows the museum is ready and willing to sell art to run the place? That donor’s dollars are going to go to causes without assets to sell like the local symphony, an animal shelter, or another museum that doesn’t monetize its collection. I think the museum community’s uneasiness about selling art to pay operating expenses lies in part in this likely outcome. If selling art becomes an acceptable practice, we will very soon see, for instance, art from university museums sold to pay for a new hockey rink or simply to balance the university’s budget.

Many museums sell art to buy art but often it’s badly done. The museum world is awash with stories of a great object sold during a period when the artist was out of favor. Until the 1950s, many museums sold Hudson River landscapes because they were seen as derivative. A museum might sell a Renaissance painting thought to be, say, by the circle of Titian. Years later, better research and technology might show the picture was by Titian himself. Museums often sell art not through the transparent auction process but through dealers and brokers, sometimes leaving the question of whether or not the museum got the best deal possible. The ways to go wrong are abundant. I think it is best to sell art to buy art only when the sold art is duplicated in the collection.

The National Academy professes to have no other alternative. This is not the case. The museum owns an enormously valuable building on Fifth Avenue blocks from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Recently I described the building in The New York Times as a "pretty prison." Its central location is hardly an advantage for the National Academy because it forces it to compete with all the other great cultural institutions on Fifth Avenue, from the Frick to the Cooper Hewitt to the Met to the Guggenheim to the Jewish Museum to the Neue Gallerie. Finding a niche and marketing it in this kind of environment is, in my view, impossible for a small museum like the National Academy. The museum would have been far better off selling the building, using part of the money to relocate to a site where it is more likely to succeed, and then keeping the rest as an endowment to give it financial stability. The National Academy is one of the country’s historically great museums. The museum does wonderful shows. Its artist base is enthusiastic and passionate. I hope it saves itself but selling the collection bit by bit is no way to do it.

Brian T. Allen
Mary Stripp & R. Crosby Kemper Director