December 9, 2010

A Visit to the Museum from the Loan Officer

On the night before Xmas, throughout the museum
‘Twas totally quiet, a damn mausoleum;
The offices empty, except for our claimants,
All because, gosh, we were late on some payments.
(OK, so we’d stretched when we took that last loan,
But it was so easy! Just pick up the phone,
And voila! A mortgage so big and so splendid,
More money than any trustee comprehended.
It bought us a curvy new Gehry addition
The pinnacle of our director’s ambition.

But now, stroke of midnight, the loan had come due,
And I knew that our mortgage wouldn’t pass peer review.
Hark! There was Loan Santa, cigar in hand,
Over the rooftop, preparing to land.
Skidding across our titanium curves,
I heard him cry out with great gusto and verve:
“Now Buffet! Now Volker! Now Merrill and Lehman!
Come on Fannie Mae! On Greenspan, and Krugman!”
Out he leapt, landing square on his Pucci-clad feet
“Hallo,” He called out “I’ve come straight from Wall Street!”
“Fear not!” he continued, “I’ll not let you default,”
And plunged down the vent with a grand somersault.

Scrambling inside I found him in collections,
Tallying objects, noting his selections.
The fluid collections provoked an epiphany:
“These could hasten your early return to liquidity!”
He poo pooed taxidermy; the conclusion was tacit:
Preserved with arsenic they were—toxic assets.
The fossils were tagged for early foreclosure
“We’ll sell them,” he cried, never losing composure.
“In China I know that they’ll fetch quite a penny,
So don’t ask which ones, just ask me ‘how many?’”
He explained that auctioning New Guinea weaponry
Would help to defray that negative equity.

He enthused over panthers whose shipment was pending:
“Now that’s what I call predatory lending!”
He gathered our registrars, deployed in swarms,
And put them to work auto-signing his forms.
“I know” he observed, “You’re all working part time”
“You should have been leery of that term ‘sub-prime.’
Curators linked arms, defending the vault.
“Oh really,” he sneered, “would you rather default?”
I cried that his moves were moral abrogation
“Nonsense,” he demurred, “financial innovation.”
“Would you rather have squatters lay claim to your foyer?
Be sued by your broker, not to mention your lawyer?”
And opined, packing specimens into his crate
“You should have avoided ‘adjustable rate.”

When the shelves were all bare, file cabinets empty,
The museum pillaged from attic to entry,
He brushed himself off and leapt onto his sled
Checked the straps, grabbing one last axe head.
Looking me in the eye he sagely concluded
“Its your lust for grand space that left you denuded”
I heard him cry out, fleeing into the night:
“Here’s my advice to all--next time rent it outright!”

August 25, 2010

Cathedrals of Culture?

The Wall Street Journal continues to break down art museum stereotypes with a long piece on the new generation of art museum directors and their increased sensitivity to their communities.

The notion that museums are no longer "Cathedrals of Culture" is not new for most museums, but the ways that art museums are beginning to reach out are remarkable, for these typically most conservative of museums.  The charge, not surprisingly, is being led by contemporary art museums. like the Walker, but the attention such programming is getting is good for the whole museum community.

August 18, 2010

Visitor Studies is finally getting some love!

The Wall Street Journal has a good piece focusing on the Detroit Institute of Arts' visitor studies program called The Museum is Watching You.

It is wonderful to see visitor studies and evaluation finally getting some recognition in the mainstream press, but it is sad that it is apparently only getting covered because art museums are now doing it.

 One quibble: I am quite sure that the author's suggestion that "many museums dedicate 10% of their operating budgets to evaluation" is not true. The one museum he cites may well do so, but surely that is an exception.

“It is a drunken orgy and they are all having sex!”

The Financial Times had a good piece about the Metropolitan Museum's new director Thomas Campbell. (He's not really so new, but in museum-staff-turnover time 2 years counts as a rank newbie). The interesting bit comes about halfway through:
We assume a great deal of knowledge in our audience; I’m conscious that we need to do more for our general visitors.
We assume people know who Rembrandt is, for example. We have wonderful, thoughtful labels next to each Rembrandt painting, but there’s no overview of who he was and, frankly, considering our international audience, I doubt whether many of them do know who [he] was, or the significance of a particular period room, in a broader context.  
"What I’m trying to do is to get the museum rethinking the visitor experience from the moment that people arrive at the museum: the signage they encounter, the bits of paper they pick up, all the way through to the way we deliver information in the galleries. And obviously that’s an enormous task. We’ve got a million square feet of gallery space and tens of thousands of objects on display, so nothing’s going to change overnight.
Campbell seems committed to maintaining the Met's scholarly reputation,while also allowing that perhaps all of us are not quite up to the same level and may need a little more explanation, or perhaps just some plain speaking.  What about the drunken orgy? There is a story here about Campbell's own education:
an Italian teacher at Christie’s who once asked him to describe a Titian bacchanal and, after Campbell had groped for a succession of scholarly terms, admonished him with an explosion of plain speaking: “It is a drunken orgy and they are all having sex!”
Sounds like the right guy for the job.

April 8, 2010

Revising Temperature and Humidity Standards

Max Anderson argues convincingly for relaxed standards for temperature and humidity control for museum collections, noting that current research does not show any adverse affects with fluctuations of humidity from 35% to 65% and temperature from 52 to 88 degrees fahrenheit.  Relaxing the current strict standards would both make loans and exchanges easier, but also significantly reduce costs for HVAC and reduce carbon emissions.

The "gold standard" of strict 70 degrees fahrenheit and 50% (or 55%) relative humidity is only possible with expensive humidification and dehumidification systems (which suck up a lot of power) and require very careful detailing of the building envelope in order to the building itself. Perhaps the costs associated with a changing climate will accelerate the discussion.

This is not a new idea. We have talked about the value of strict temperature and humidity control and the challenges of vapor barriers here before, but it is good to see the discussion getting more attention.

Update:  Here are several other interesting discussions:

The Nothern States Conservation Center on Relative Humidity and Temperature

A piece posted by the National Archives by the father of this discussion, Ernest Conrad: The Realistic Preservation Environment

And here is a good, if technical, discussion of the challenge of Humidity Control in the Humid South.

January 27, 2010

The Airstream Museum

The NY Times has a piece about a novelist who has "a traveling museum of oddities and handmade optical illusions." The article is mostly about his work as a writer, but it reminds us that a museum doesn't have to be a building, or even in a fixed place. Plus, I like the photo.

January 5, 2010

"Artists contend with Libeskind"

No comment is really necessary about this article from ARTINFO:
Daniel Libeskind’s 2006 addition to the Denver Art Museum (DAM) is a difficult building to like. It greets visitors with an empty, cavernous lobby and houses galleries with bizarre geometries and sloping walls, features that make it almost impossible to show art coherently, despite the heroic efforts of curators. It is a design that at times seems determined to displease. The museum has decided to confront this architectural awkwardness by commissioning 17 contemporary artists to craft site-specific works in response to the new building. . . .more
It should at least be an interesting exhibit.

January 4, 2010

New Zaha Hadid Museum

I missed this one in the holiday hectics. Zaha Hadid is designing a new art museum for Michigan State University with significant funding from Eli and Edythe Broad.  The ArchTracker web site has a few renderings and quite a nice fly-through of the design concept. It looks somewhat like Libeskind's Denver museum, but perhaps with a few more walls that are plumb enough to hang a painting. With a project budget of $40 to $45 million they may just have enough money to make the project happen. Last week's issue of the New Yorker (Dec. 21, 2009) also has a good profile of Hadid by John Seabrook.  The best part is that I finally have some sense of what "tektonic" means.