What’s Hardball in the museum world?

Well, maybe the Turkish government has decided that refusing to loan art works to American and European museums will count.

The Met is staging a show in 2016 on the Seljuk empire (before the Ottomans, but it’s more complicated than the word predecessors sums up).

Without loans from Turkey, and with Iranian loans unlikely unless there is a sudden improvement in relations between the US and Iran, the Met will have to rely on major loans from British and European institutions instead.


The Met’s exhibition could include, scholars suggest, dragon door-knockers from Berlin, some of the earliest Islamic carpets in existence from Copenhagen, works from the great pottery reserves of the British Museum, and stone and figural carving from the Met’s own strong collections. Some of the finest Seljuk Qu’rans are also in Western collections.


But Turkish loans could have ranged from manuscripts from the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul and trophy items, such as an extraordinary steel mirror with gold inlay also housed there, to reliefs from the walls of Konya, the Seljuks’ historic capital in Anatolia.


The article linked above also discusses the refusal of the Turkish government to make any loans to a major show at the British Museum a few years ago, so this is an ongoing strategy to get the museum world to engage in negotiations over looted or stolen artworks in their collections.


Argh – course prep

File under: Things I should have done online from Chattanooga in June.

I got so busy this mid-summer that I let something slide.

A book about the Elgin Marbles I wanted for my First Year Seminar is out of print (of course), but should be fairly easy to reconstruct with PDFs of articles. After all, it started as a Christopher Hitchens screed somewhere.

But there turns out to be an oversupply of good essays about the Elgin Marbles – and I can’t decide!

Sanctimony over deaccession – whose art is it?

I’m teaching a First Year Seminar this fall on cultural property and just found another article for them to read. A regional museum in England sells an Egyptian statue to pay for building a new wing – and everyone is getting up in arms. 

I’m especially amused by the Egyptian ambassador’s fulminations. I’ve BEEN to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo – it’s a museological disaster. And, though there are plenty of packing crates just sitting around in the public areas, they have works in storage, too.

The Things People Find, Museum store rooms edition

The British Museum stored a lump of “organic material” for 125 years and no one had ever looked at it properly? That’s how this story sounds.

A Celtic treasure looted by the Vikings more than 1,000 years ago has been discovered in the British Museum’s storerooms. An ornate, gilded disc brooch dating from the eighth or ninth century was found by chance and is being described as a “staggering find”. No-one knew of its existence until now.

It had been concealed in a lump of organic material excavated from a Viking burial site at Lilleberge in Norway by a British archaeologist in the 1880s and acquired by the British Museum in 1891.

Curator Barry Ager, a Vikings specialist, was poring over artefacts before a visit from a Norwegian researching the Viking site when his eye was caught by some metal sticking out of the side of the organic lump.

Intrigued, he asked the conservation department to X-ray it. “At that stage, I really didn’t know what was inside,” he said. “It was a staggering find.”

Miami’s new museum

I hate linking to things at the Wall Street Journal – articles appear and disappear from behind the pay-wall for reasons I never understand – but Google News found this for me: Pérez Art Museum Miami: Where the Art Will (Hopefully) Come Later. Go read it quick, before it goes away!

Build it, and they will give. Or promise to give. Or lend for the long term. Or something. Those seem to be the operating hopes at the just-opened Pérez Art Museum Miami, ensconced in a building, designed by the Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron, that gracefully takes advantage of the view and the climate of Biscayne Bay.

The situation is odd, to say the least. PAMM—a museum of modern and contemporary art in the fifth-largest metropolitan area in the country, with five million inhabitants—makes its debut with a paltry collection: only about 1,800 works of art, almost 300 of those just recently bestowed on it from a single private collection. There’s scarcely a showstopper in the trove. By comparison, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (only the fifth-largest city in Texas) has about 2,600 objects, with some instructively important works by the likes of Francis Bacon, Vija Celmins and Martin Puryear among them. Or consider the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, which has more than 10,000 works, including just about the snappiest gathering of recent sculpture anywhere.

The story gets worse.


Museum Collection Websites

Grrrr – I’m fiddling with an idea for my Arth 101 class this fall and am frustrated with the British Museum website. So far as I can tell, you can’t search by “Museum Number” – the catalog number.

Try it!

Go look at this statuette.

Then type its Museum Number, EA36297, into the search field (you know, I might want to find my way back sometime). No hits.

Then try 36297!  Yes, there he is.


Why Detroit has every right to sell off at least some of the art from its museum

Virginia Postrel explains. And I’m convinced – the works the city paid for are probably fair game! Quick excerpt:

In 1931, the man who built the collection, director William Valentiner, argued for continued city funding by citing how much the works’ value had appreciated. “The Brueghel painting we purchased for $38,000 is valued at more than $150,000,” he said. “If the city were to sell, piece by piece, the objects of art it has purchased, they would realize more than five times the amount paid for them.” Valentiner certainly wasn’t advocating such sales, but his statement demonstrates that they weren’t inconceivable.

Acquire with city funds, go down with the sinking ship. Maybe the van Gogh self portrait would keep some fire stations open for another year?