August 2007 Archives


Is John Wilmerding the Karl Rove of the American Art world?

In May 2005, Alice Walton effectively broke ground on her Bentonville, Ark. museum project Crystal Bridges, by buying Asher Durand's 1849 painting Kindred Spirits from the New York Public Library for a reported $35 million.

As Carol Vogel reported at the time, Kindred Spirits had "long been considered one of the finest examples of Hudson River School painting." It depicts painter Thomas Cole and poet, abolitionist, and NY Evening Post editor William Cullen Bryant. Bryant was a proponent for the creation of both Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Durand was commissioned to paint Kindred Spirits as a gift for Bryant. It was donated to the Library by his daughter in 1904, three years after the Library began construction in Bryant Park. [The site, Reservoir Square, had been renamed in honor of Bryant 20 years earlier, in 1884. I don't know if Julia Bryant was marking that anniversary with her donation.]

Kindred Spirits was one of 19 works the NYPL trustees decided to sell after what chairwoman Catherine Marron called, "Through deliberate review and thought over a couple of years." The Library selected Sotheby's to sell the works via both auction and private sale.

A month later, Walton won a sealed-bid auction conducted by Dara Mitchell, Sotheby's head of American Paintings and a Walton adviser. The underbidder was a joint proposal by the Met and the National Gallery to share the work.

Reports and critics noted the conflicts of parties in the transaction, to no effect: Walton was being advised by Princeton art professor John Wilmerding, who had recently been named a trustee at the NGA. The implication, of course, was that Walton had an unfair or unethical advantage vis a vis the NGA/Met's bid. Also, the sale was being conducted by another of her advisers. Also, she has $18 billion.

What I did not realize until now, despite following the Crystal Bridges story very closely, is that Wilmerding advised the NYPL on the sale of the Durand, too. From the NYT article in April that first announced the sale of Kindred Spirits:

"Sure there may be some politician who starts screaming that New York patrimony could be lost," said John Wilmerding, an American art scholar and Princeton University professor who was asked to advise the library. "But that would be unfair and unrealistic."

"If this has to happen, this is the way to go about it," he added.


l: the Eakins Crystal Bridges got from Jefferson after locals hastily bought Gross Clinic

r: the Eakins the PAFA sold to someone they don't know to pay for their share of same

And if I were the richest woman in the world who wanted to build a museum in my home town filled with art from a period in which, "the best works have been long spoken for," this is the way to go about it:

I would draw up a list of those works in the collections of non-museum institutions--libraries, medical schools, universities [the more cash-strapped the better], fine art academies, hospitals, schools, trusts, foundations, local and state governments--and then I'd send out my esteemed advisers to broach the topic of fiduciary responsibility and core mission over the course of several years, if necessary.

Wilmerding has been coy on the subject [link via todd], but the directorship of Crystal Bridges is almost certainly part of his deal with Walton. Does that deal also involve a multi-year strategy of rolling up major artworks in local, nominally public collections across the country by coaxing their institutions' non-expert boards into selling to you?

Karl Rove orchestrated the systematic firing of US Attorneys across the country and undisclosed changes in the congressional approval process for their appointed replacements. Rove's strategy to manipulate local prosecutions and investigations to Republicans' favor by installing political loyalists in the top law enforcement jobs in key electoral battlegrounds only began to come to light when locally isolated patterns and evidence were considered together.

With their low, low prices, Wal-Mart stores systematically destroyed the locally owned-and-run economies of thousands of cities and towns across the country. All the profits that used to stay in town are now shipped off to Bentonville. Now, Alice Walton is spending some of that money, by coming back to those same regions and buying up their artistic patrimony.

With the announced involvement in yet another highly localized dispute over the sale of major, donated artworks, it's time for Crystal Bridges and its advisers, its director apparent, John Wilmerding, and people on the other side of the boardroom table, to come clean on its actual role in such sales, including Kindred Spirits.

Ah, forget it. "It's time for" what? Who do I think I am, Lee Rosenbaum? I'd just like to see this whole thing blown wide open and to be entertained by the increased trouble and expense it could make for some ethically challenged, sanctimonious, yet unaccountable people. New York's greatest cultural institutions have either already been thoroughly schnookered by Crystal Bridges, or are in on the fix. I got no horse left in this race. Besides, twenty years from now, visiting Walton's one-stop shop for American Art will be so much more convenient than traveling to a bunch of fourth-tier college museums anyway. Roll'em up, John!

9/20 update: And then there was another one. I missed the reports from May that Alice Walton was seen shopping at the Maier Museum of Randolph College in Lynchburg, Virginia, and that College officials refused to acknowledge her visit. A short time later, the college, in dire financial straits, announced it was considering selling its 100-year-old collection. [thanks to Kriston for the story. He has a great deal of coverage of Crystal Bridges goings-on on Grammar Police.]

Apr 11, 2005: New York Public Library to Sell Major Artworks to Raise Funds
May 13, 2005: New York Public Library's Durand Painting Sold to Wal-Mart Heiress
May 14, 2005:A Determined Heiress Plots An Art Collection [nyt]

Upstaged by Architecture: Crystal Bridges’ modern design contrasts with collection. [arktimes via fromthefloor]


When I saw images of front architecture's billboard-shaped house-on-a-pole floating about, the first thing I thought of was one of the first sculptures by Michael Ashkin I ever saw.


It's title, "For Months He Lived Between The Billboards," pretty much says it all. It's from 1993. Like the sculptural work of the mid-to-late 1990's for which Ashkin first became known, "Between The Billboards" is a table-sized diorama made of model train pieces.

Unlike the later pieces, wasted desert and industrial landscapes which were abstract enough to evoke minimalist paintings, "Between The Billboards" is explicitly narrative. Still, they all feel like they were scenes from the same JG Ballard-by-way-of-Robert Smithson-and-Antonioni movie.

There's a better reproduction out there somewhere. [It was in Harper's Magazine, fwiw] this one's from the collector, Howard Tullman's site []

For the upcoming release of Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven, Criterion and Paramount have taken the rather extraordinary step of creating a new interpositive, the definitive, second-generation transfer from a film's original negative. Lee Kline's story of color-correcting a masterpiece of golden-hued cinema with Malick and cinematographer John Bailey [who'd been Nestor Almendro's camera operator] is on Criterion's blog:

Before he arrived, I wasn’t sure how hands-on he was going to be with the color. As soon as he sat down, though, Terry made it clear that the new transfer needed to feel natural and not too “postcardlike.” We weren’t allowed to use words like golden or warm. The natural beauty of the land needed to be represented, since that was what they were going for when shooting. When we first started to take out the gold and the warmth, it was heading toward a really different place from the previous transfer. Not bad, mind you, just different and definitely more natural. I would sometimes joke in the room that such and such a shot was pretty, and then I would say to Terry, “But not too pretty!” We’d all laugh. DVD producer Kim Hendrickson was also with us one afternoon, and when she started to say out loud how pretty it was, we all turned in our chairs to cut her off and simultaneously say, “Shhh!”After three days of Terry, Billy, and John’s expertise, we were finished. It looked beautiful, but boy, was it different. I told Terry that people were really going to be pretty surprised by this new transfer, since it was such a radical departure from before, but he said it was perfect.
Sounds like stripping centuries of varnish from a Rembrandt. Fascinating stuff.

Striking Gold [criterion blog via coudal]
href="">the new Criterion Collection Days of Heaven comes out Oct. 23 [amazon]

Gerhard Richter's design for the stained glass window in the Köln Cathedral was unveiled yesterday. 11,500 handblown glass squares in 72 colors.


German: das Gerhard Richter Fenster in Köln
English: Gerhard Richter window in Cologne, hires image
[ via boingboing]

Previously: Richter's Window - background and The Making Of

August 21, 2007

Olafur: The Magazine??

Olafur: The Magazine

This is what I get for not going to the Serpentine Summer Party this year...

Publisher of a new magazine that melds artistic and architectural experimentation, Eliasson is currently involved in numerous architectural projects such as the Icelandic National Concert and Conference Centre in Reykjavik (design of the building envelope).
- Serpentine Gallery Pavilion press release

August 21, 2007

Magic: Teller Like It Is

At a recent conference talk on magic given in Las Vegas, Teller [the quiet one] gave the most amazing definition of magic I wish I'd heard before writing about Scott Sforza for Cabinet Magazine's magic issue:

[Magic is] the theatrical linking of a cause with an effect that has no basis in physical reality, but that — in our hearts — ought to.”
I wish he'd have piped up sooner.

Sleights of Mind [NYT]
previously: Cabinet 26: "Perspective Correction

August 18, 2007

Architects & Games

"the relentless glossiness of contemporary visualisation makes us wonder whether there is an 'uncanny valley' for buildings"

- things magazine on architecture and gaming engines

I would ascribe the uneasiness to the different purposes and agendas of architects, developers (real estate, not game), gamers, and critics. Has anyone made a FPS map of Gehry's Peter Lewis Building at Case Western yet?

previously: SWAT team blames Gehry architecture for delay in trapping Cleveland shooter

People, please.

So with 30 million page views x 4 units x $30/page ratecard, Gawker Media's annual ad inventory is priced at $52 million retail.

How much inventory do they sell? 50%? 70%? 40%?

Every time you see a Gawker t-shirt button or a Gawker Artists or a Jalopnik banner, it's an impression that didn't sell. How often and when does that happen to you on a GM site?

Consumerist's editors recently bragged that no one's ever bought an ad on the site, which turned out to be essentially true.

So for the network as a whole, let's say it's 60%. MSRP: $31 million/yr.

A 15% discount for walking in the door: $26 million.

Discounts for buying up the entire page [i.e., the 3 biggest units, leaving the 4th button empty]: 20%? I don't know. Say it happens half the time, so 10%. $23.4 million.

Do these ads sell themselves? 15% commission, not including the tab at Balthazar: $20 million.

Is $1.5mm/month possible? Sure, why not?

But making $20 million while paying people $3000/month? Less than the chick at the Uniqlo store? Less than Chris Evans pays to have his backyard cleared? I doubt it. Gawker ain't no...damn, what was the name of Calacanis's blogging sweatshop again? I can't even remember. WIN something? Never mind.

A job at Gawker is a regular media job at a regular media company. Far be it from me to grope in the dark and overestimate the size of Denton's nut, but he's gotta be spending $5-6 mm a year.

Nick's right. When done professionally, blogging turns out to be a profitable, efficient media publishing platform, but Gawker is not clearing $51 million/year. You should still totally let him pick up the tab at Balthazar, though. And the real reason they keep hounding that Ferrari douchebag on Crosby street is because he's parking in Denton's AMG-spot.

Seeing William Burrough's old Nike commercial reminded me of Burroughs' 1996 music video Thanksgiving Prayer, directed by Gus Van Sant. Classic stuff.

August 13, 2007

Love And Music

I've been working with a recent episode of WNYC's Radiolab on in the background. The subject is memory, which also happens to be the subject of my series of short films, The Souvenir Series.

There was a typical brainy [sic] science segment on how memories are created--and blocked--in the brain, then a kind of random story about Joe Andoe's paintings. The possibility that memory is metaphorically more like creating a work of art than filing a piece of data away is interesting, maybe even persuasive, though our metaphors usually turn out to be more revealing of us at a particular moment in our culture than accurately illuminating of what's actually going on.

But it was the last story, about Clive and Deborah Wearing and an overwhelming amnesia that just stopped me cold. It started out as one more Oliver Sacks bauble before taking a remarkably poignant turn. Just listen to it, I can't tell you how it goes.

Radiolab Show #304: Memory and Forgetting []

August 13, 2007

Remembering Perv

So for 15/20ths of my time on the elliptical machine yesterday, CNN was, in their words, "Remembering Merv", all while apparently forgetting his sexual harassment and palimony suits or his closeted, right-wing conservative support of Reagan and his sudden lack of gabbiness when the subject of the then-emerging AIDS epidemic.

Then in the car home, the second story on NPR--after the Tragic Loss of Merv--was one CNN didn't even put in the crawl. It was a quote from the US's Important Ally in the War Against Terror, Pervez Musharaff, who acknowledged that the Taliban was getting support from Pakistan's tribal areas. And then he made all sorts of conciliatory, friendly remarks about helping them out, and bringing their well-meaning constituents to the table.

Seriously. All we need now is to worry a bit more about Lizzie Grubman's driving and the whereabouts of Chandra Levy, and we're set.


In 1810, the last year of his young life, painter Philipp Otto Runge devised his Color Sphere, one of the first attempts to depict a comprehensive color system in three dimensions. Runge was a correspondent of Goethe, who was also interested in color theory.

The image above is from Runge's book, Farbenkugel. It comes from Echo Systems' Virtual Colour Museum, which was the source for BibliOdyssey's collection of beautiful images of color systems dating back to Pythagoras.

The History of Colour Systems [BibliOdyssey]

The Japanese magazine Art-iT asked ten artists, directors, curators and i-don't-knows for their top ten "'artistic' films of the 21st century". I was glad but just a little surprised to see Jeremy Blake's Sodium Fox, which I don't think was as good as Winchester.


And I was pleased to see Takehito Koganezawa, whose Untitled (Neon) plays like a documentary Jeremy Blake. I'm surprised that no one put Christian Marclay's Video Quartet on a list, but not as surprised as I was that they put anything of Bill Viola's. Ugh. But the most 21st century list of all is probably Ukawa's, because as you know, if it's not on YouTube these days, it doesn't exist.

The Listmakers:
Kataoka Mami
Kurosawa Kiyoshi
Barbara London
Hans Ulrich Obrist
Johan Pijnappel
Sawa Hiraki
Mike Stubbs
Ukawa Naohiro
Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Elga Wimmer

10x10 "artistic" films of the 21st century [ via]

August 3, 2007

That Was Way Harsh, Times

From the NYT review of Bratz: The Movie:

With their tender hearts and lip-gloss dreams, these teenage princesses are direct descendants of Alicia Silverstone’s Cher in “Clueless,” although Sean McNamara’s TV-ready framing and coarse direction lack Amy Heckerling’s snap and style.
As if. Clueless was like the greatest Jane Austen adaptation Hollywood's ever done. Bratz are a line of skank dolls for whorish toddlers with--oh. Clueless parents.

August 2, 2007

Profit And/From Pain

Charles Thomas Samuels ["S"] interviewed Michelangelo Antonioni ["A"] in Rome in 1969. I finally figured out the occasional non-sequiturish statements in the transcript were originally photo captions.

S: In an interview I had with him, John Updike said something that fascinated me: "Being an artist is dangerous because it allows one to turn one's pain too quickly to profit."

A: I couldn't use that phrase today-"being an artist"-as if that were something exceptional. And if somebody transmutes his pain into profit, very good. I find that the most wonderful way to kill pain.

S: Why do you say "today"? Could you have used the phrase "being an artist" in some other period?

A: Yes, of course. I think that during the Renaissance everything was influenced by art. Now the world is so much more important than art that I can no longer imagine a future artistic function.

S: But today what is the function?

A: I don't know.

S: You don't know?

A: Do you?

S: Yes.

A: Then tell me.

S: You want me to tell you what the function of art is! No, you tell me what you think of Francois Truffaut.

A: I think his films are like a river, lovely to see, to bathe in, extraordinarily refreshing and pleasant. Then the water flows and is gone. Very little of the pleasant feeling remains because I soon feel dirty again and need another bath.

Interview with Michelangelo Antonioni in Rome, July 29, 1969
by Charles Thomas Samuels
[ via greencine]


"Oatsie Charles had John Peixinho recover her late husband's Barcalounger in printed linen."

"Shanghai" from Scalamandre, as it turns out. Updating Newport, Ever So Slightly [nyt]

Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

comments? questions? tips? pitches? email
greg [at] greg [dot ] org

find me on twitter: @gregorg

about this archive

Posts from August 2007, in reverse chronological order

Older: July 2007

Newer September 2007

recent projects, &c.

Our Guernica Cycle, 2017 –
about/kickstarter | exhibit, 2017

Social Medium:
artists writing, 2000-2015
Paper Monument, Oct. 2016
ed. by Jennifer Liese
buy, $28

Madoff Provenance Project in
'Tell Me What I Mean' at
To__Bridges__, The Bronx
11 Sept - Oct 23 2016
show | beginnings

Chop Shop
curated by Magda Sawon
1-7 March 2016

eBay Test Listings
Armory – ABMB 2015
about | proposte monocrome, rose

It Narratives, incl.
Shanzhai Gursky & Destroyed Richter
Franklin Street Works, Stamford
Sept 5 - Nov 9, 2014
about | link

TheRealHennessy Tweets Paintings, 2014 -

Standard Operating Procedure
about | buy now, 284pp, $15.99

CZRPYR2: The Illustrated Appendix
Canal Zone Richard Prince
YES RASTA 2:The Appeals Court
Decision, plus the Court's
Complete Illustrated Appendix (2013)
about | buy now, 142pp, $12.99

"Exhibition Space" @ apexart, NYC
Mar 20 - May 8, 2013
about, brochure | installation shots

HELP/LESS Curated by Chris Habib
Printed Matter, NYC
Summer 2012
panel &c.

Destroyed Richter Paintings, 2012-
background | making of
"Richteriana," Postmasters Gallery, NYC

Canal Zone Richard
Selected Court Documents
from Cariou v. Prince (2011)
about | buy now, 376pp, $17.99