No City Funds For The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art

The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art is in its death throes. After one year of operation, the museum doesn’t have enough revenue to cover its operating expenses. As I mentioned earlier, the trustees hope to get some assistance from the Biloxi city government. Good luck with that.

According to WAPT in Jackson, Mayor A.J. Holloway made it clear that no public money will be used to support the Ohr. The museum has not yet approached the city but the mayor made his intention clear at his annual “Breakfast with the Mayor.”

The museum has already cut its insurance of irreplaceable objects to a minimum. It has great difficulty keeping humidity below 30 percent in a climate where it commonly hits 90. Its electric bill is about eight thousand dollars a month. These are pressing issues but it’s biggest problem is indifference. Its display rooms are generally empty.

The building and its displays have received acclaim from critics and indifference from locals. It was a fitting tribute to a great American artist. The Ohr may still survive but its not at its current location and not with its current splendor. A beach in Mississippi, in a town determined to build casinos and attract gamblers, was never an ideal location. I expect Ohr-O’Keefe II to be more akin to a janitor’s closet down the hall from the mayor’s office. If Mississippi doesn’t appreciate its collection, I’m sure they’ll attract visitors in a wing of a Northeastern metropolitan museum.

George Caleb Bingham In The Governor’s Mansion

George Caleb Bingham was a self-taught American master. He was a prolific portraitist and genre painter. Born in Virginia, he moved to Missouri where he developed the style that would help make him famous. Bingham sought to capture the effect of light on the motif. His strokes were delicate but unlike the Impressionists who would shortly follow, he took pains to conceal his brush strokes.

While he worked his brushes with care, Bingham was careless when it came to records and personal attribution. Scores  of his works were unsigned, more than any other American master. Even though the artist has been dead for more than one hundred years,  his catalogue raisonné must feel like a moving target.

Last year alone, the editors added another ten works to the catalogue. This year, they’ve found another.

A painting presented to the Virginia’s Governor’s mansion in 1977 was attributed to Bingham  and authenticated by the George Caleb Bingham Catalogue Raisonne Supplement of Paintings & Drawings. The painting is commonly referred to as “Portrait of A Boy and His Dog.” It depicts Colin Dunlop, a man who was born in Petersburg in 1836 and was killed in battle during the Civil War in 1864.

Read more:

[Live Auctioneers] [Washington Post]

Everyone’s A Critic, Even Computers

Art criticism appears to be a discipline best reserved for humans. After all, who better knows what appeals to humans than humans? On the surface it would seem like a task that we could never automate.

From the Economist we learn of Lior Shamir, a computer scientist from Lawrence Technological University in Michigan. Mr Shamir recently published an article (pdf) in which he suggests computers may have as good an eye for style as humans.

Dr Shamir’s team scanned fifty-seven works by nine artists into a program which assessed descriptors based on Fisher scores and the most informative features were used to classify the paintings by artist, similarities and schools of art. The program was able to identify the artist with 77% accuracy and it correctly identified the school of art 91% of the time.

To look for comparisons between artists, the team programmed a statistical method that scores the values of descriptors between artists. As a result, the computer was able to see similarities that have escaped humans:

Surprisingly, the values of 19 of the 20 most informative descriptors showed dramatically higher similarities between Van Gogh (left above) and Pollock (right) than between Van Gogh and painters such as Monet and Renoir, who conventional art criticism would think more closely related to Van Gogh’s oeuvre than Pollock’s is. (Dalí and Ernst, by contrast, were farther apart then expected.)

Whether Pollock was actually influenced by van Gogh or stumbled upon those similarities by chance remains to be seen. As the Economist notes, it provides art historians a new line to explore.

Bonnard of Le Cannet

It seems like every town in the south of France has its own art patron saint. Nice has Mattise, Antibes has Picasso. You can’t walk a mile in Aix-en-Provence without stumbling over a sign or sculpture dedicated to Cézanne. And now, another famous French painter, Pierre Bonnard, has found a home for posterity in the French Riviera, this time in Le Cannet. ArtInfo

Pierre Bonnard met Hermann-Paul in the 1890s when the pair were making lithograph posters in the circle of Toulouse-Lautrec. By their mid-twenties, they were part of a post-impressionist group of artists known as Les Nabis. By 1910, they started to chart a different course. Hermann-Paul began working with wood cuts and biding his time in the Carmague. His friend Bonnard left Paris for the south of France and the city that would later dedicate a museum to his work.

Musée Bonnard just opened in Le Cannet, a tiny hillside town overlooking Cannes where the artist produced some of his finest work. It is the first museum in the world dedicated to the artist. Bonnard’s star has risen of late. He was generally well-known among artists and aficionados but mostly unknown to the wider public. A major exhibition last year at the Metropolitan helped raise his profile. Musée Bonnard lifts it further.

[FT: Luminous Legacy]


Lugo Speaks

Mark Lugo walked into a San Francisco gallery and brazenly walked out with a Picasso valued at $225,000.00. The San Francisco Examiner caught up with him in the County Jail. Lugo told the Examiner that he was “stunned” that his case had generated international attention.

Other items of interest:

1. Lugo has been unable to contact his girlfriend and family since his arrest. Their numbers are on his cell phone which had been confiscated by authorities.

2. He’s looking for a top defense attorney, not some public defender. I’m sure Lugo can afford it. He has a $225,000.00 Picasso several expensive works of art.

3. Lugo feels “This has been completely blown out of proportion.”

4. After he stealing the Picasso, he headed to Napa to party with friends. Police arrested him during the party inside a Napa condo. Talk about a buzz kill.

War Over The Ohr

I wanted to follow up on the financial state of the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi. One year after its opening the Ohr was not generating enough revenue to cover its operating expenses. The O’Keefe Foundation voted to extend another $100,000.00 to the museum but that barely covers electricity for a year. What I learned from this second look at the Ohr was enlightening.

Museum officials planned to appear before the Biloxi City Council  to request financial assistance; that appearance never materialized. Instead they sat for interviews with the New York Times. That makes sense. The Ohr is suffering for lack of paying guests. A Times interview could help to raise its national profile.

While wading through these stories, I browsed the comments to sample local opinion. Needless to say, the cultural divide we see on the national level thrives locally as well. There were instances of class warfare, “Building a Frank Geary [sic] design in Biloxi was casting pearls before swine. Listen to the pigs oink!” (Before you call anyone swine, learn to spell the architect’s name). And some ol’ fashioned victimization, “Just for your information, I am a Christian woman. I am not swine.” (He didn’t call you by name but you still took it personally.) And some Tea Party sentiments, “If the PRIVATE Ohr-O’Keefe museum can’t pay its way, then, like other businesses they should shut  down.  No taxpayer money should be used to support this. ” And on and on.

When John Edwards looked up from his mistress and said, “There are two Americas” he was more correct than he could have known. However, his scope wasn’t large enough; we’re divided by more than financial strata.  (Yes, I used two elitist semicolons in one blog post – what are going to do about it?)

Will Leonardo Be Safe At The National Gallery?

Remember that lost Leonardo I wrote about? It’s scheduled to appear at the National Gallery this November.  The lost work is part of an exhibition devoted to the 15th Century master, Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan.

Now remember that act of vandalism I wrote about? A French national walked into the National Gallery and spray-painted two works by Nicolas Poussin. The works have since been restored and returned to the gallery. The paintings are fine but confidence is not.

The star of the November exhibition is Leonardo’s Lady with an Ermine, a painting owned by the Krakow-based Czartoryski Foundation. The Foundation was established by Prince Adam Karol Czartoryski specifically to safeguard the da Vinci masterpiece that he inherited in 1991. Two weeks ago, the Prince sensationally fired the entire board of trustees including his first cousin.  Popular opinion holds that he reasserted himself at a time when it felt like the foundation was slipping from his control.

If Czartoryski’s vision was a foundation to safeguard the Lady, then a recent announcement indicates Czartoryski may be once again calling the shots. According to Dziennik Polski – Britain’s only Polish language daily – the Foundation is reconsidering its decision to send the Lady to the National Gallery in wake of the Poussin defacement.  The announcement was made by Olga Jaros, the newly appointed chairwoman, but it was certainly made from the top.

The debate over security at the National Gallery will surely continue….


Windows On The War

During the Second World War, the Soviet news agency TASS commissioned artists and writers to help generate support for Soviet war policy. As the German army pushed toward the capital, a group of artists waged their own sort of battle from inside a Moscow studio. The team produced hundreds of propaganda posters, nearly one for every day of the war.

Although the war created shortages, the art department seemingly spared no expense. These posters were between five and ten feet tall and utilized large blocks of ink. They were plastered throughout the country and they remained an iconic depiction of the Great Patriotic War for the generation who fought it. They were also mailed abroad. The posters were delivered to allied and neutral nations as cultural ambassadors for the Soviet cause.

One recipient of these posters was the Art Institute of Chicago. Its curators placed them in storage where they were soon forgotten. When the Institute underwent renovation in 1997, a trove a now-brittle Soviet era propaganda posters was discovered on a shelf deep in a storage area in the Department of Prints and Posters.  The idea of a major exhibition immediately began to take shape. The pieces were carefully restored and many were placed under glass.

The Institute selected 157 posters for an exhibition entitled Windows On The War.  According to Reuters, they were selected in order to provide a diary of war. From the devastating early losses to the gallant defense of Stalingrad to the final defeat of Hitler the exhibition tells the story of the Great Patriotic War. It opens on July 31 continues through October 23.

[Art Institute of Chicago]

Jail as Folk

Over the years, I’ve seen numerous cases of art industry players behaving badly. Exuberant prices can bring out the worst in people. As a rule, the world of folk art tends to be better behaved. Its zeitgeist contains neither a Sotheby’s/Christie’s price-fixing scandal nor a hidden stash of purloined Wildenstein paintings – we’re told the latter was a bookkeeping oversight.

Not to be undone by the fine arts, a notable folk art personality is headed for the slammer. Ralph Esmerian, a jeweler and former chairman for the American Folk Art Museum, was sentenced to six years in federal prison along with 1,800 days of community service. He was also fined $20 million for bankruptcy and wire fraud.

The seventy-one year old Esmerian double-pledged collateral in order to obtain $210 million dollars in loans which enabled him to purchase a high end Madison Avenue jewelry boutique. This fraud would have gone undetected if not for one little problem: Esmerian couldn’t properly manage his ill-gotten resources. The boutique filed for bankruptcy protection in 2008. To cover expenses, Esmerian liquidated assets he used as collateral in order to obtain another $40M loan. Needless to say, the banks and courts frown on this type of behavior.

It’s a shame to see a life come to a close like this. Esmerian is not without some redemption. In 2001, he pledged 400 works of earlier American folk art to the museum. These included a comprehensive collection of Pennsylvania German material, Shaker gift drawings, needlework samplers, and paintings by artists such as Edward Hicks and Sheldon Peck.

No (m)Ohr Ohr? Biloxi Museum is Hurting

When the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art opened in Biloxi, Mississippi it was greeted with skepticism. After all, when you think of the ‘Redneck Riviera’ the fine arts don’t generally come to mind.

But Biloxi is home to George Ohr, the experimental American ceramics artist whose work can be seen as a harbinger of abstract form which became popular in the mid-20th century. If the location wasn’t the best cultural fit, Mississippi certainly seemed like the proper place to showcase the Mad Potter of Biloxi.

Sadly, it seems, the naysayers might be right. The museum is teetering on the edge of failure just one year after its opening. The Ohr has exhausted its grant money and revenues aren’t enough to cover operating expenses. Out of options, the trustees asked Biloxi for financial assistance but this isn’t the best economic climate to approach a municipality with one’s hat in hand.

The O’Keefe Foundation voted to extend another hundred thousand dollars which will cover the museum’s electric bill for a year but its salaries alone amount to $450,000.00 a year. It’s hard to imagine the Ohr will be open a year from now….