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Museums 2002

Metropolitan Museum, New York (More)

Below are stories about museums randomly selected from various media sources for the year 2002. Each story comprises the reference and the first few paragraphs. Updates will add stories including some for the years 2000 and 2001.

The featured stories are as follows:

Withdrawal of Gift to Smithsonian

In 2001 Catherine Reynolds, businesswoman and philanthropist promised a donation of $38 millions to the Smithsonian Institution for a “Hall of Fame”. In February 2002 the pledge was withdrawn. David E. Rosenbaum (“Museum Insisted on Control of $38 Million Gift”, New York Times, 6 February 2002) reported, “The chairman of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History said today that one of the largest donations in the museum’s history had been withdrawn because scholars at the museum insisted on having the final say in the operations of the exhibit the donor wanted to finance. “We solicit these large gifts, and we expect the donors to have ideas about how their gifts are used,” the chairman, Ivan Selin, said. “But we must retain the ultimate authority.””On Monday, Catherine B. Reynolds, a Washington businesswoman, announced that she was canceling almost all of a promised $38 million donation because, she said, the philosophy of the scholars at the institution turned out to be so at odds with her own views on how an exhibit honoring American achievers should be staged.

“The withdrawal of the donation was the latest of many tensions that have arisen since Lawrence M. Small became director of the Smithsonian two years ago. Mr. Small, a business executive with no scholarly credentials, is determined to raise money for the institution and put it on a sound financial footing. He has clashed with curators and scholars at the various museums and exhibits who believe the institution should confine itself to scholarly pursuits and not popular entertainment.

“The withdrawal of Mrs. Reynolds’s gift, a museum official said, seemed to indicate that Mr. Small had sided with the scholars in this case.”

Outside the Pompidou Centre, Paris (More)

Exhibiting Chocolate in Chicago

In “Ancient obsession” Kristin Eddy (Chicago Tribune, February 13, 2002) talks about the Field Museum exhibit which takes an historic look at chocolate’s lure through the ages.

“Re-creating the plant’s natural habitat was essential to the museum curators… Jonathan Haas, a curator in the department of anthropology at the Field Museum, has been in a chocolate fog for some time now. During four years of working on the museum’s latest project, he never lacked for volunteers to participate in his research. And no one ever complained.

“Here, try these chocolates,” he insisted, leaning forward from a chair in his office and proffering a box of bittersweet squares. “A friend of mine just brought them back from Paris. After the first staff meeting about this exhibit, I said that we would never again get together without having some chocolate to eat.” So the sweet stuff is on his brain. It makes sense, considering the research he and other staff members have put into the museum’s launch of “Chocolate,” an exhibition that opens tomorrow and runs through Sept. 8.

“Far from being just eye candy, the show presents to the public what anthropologists, artists, agricultural researchers and historians have known for some time–chocolate is much more than a confection.”

Art does not help explain science

Lewis Wolpert (“Which side are you on?”, The Observer March 10, 2002) proclaimed that a new exhibition about the brain which tries to bring visual arts and science together was based on a false premise. “Art does not help us understand how the world works – and to merge the two disciplines trivialises them both.

“The current vogue for believing that art and science should be brought together and share much is strongly promoted by the Wellcome Trust that gives many thousands of pounds to art/science projects. Moreover, in the pack that goes with the trust’s new Science Museum exhibition bringing artists and neuroscientists together, Dr Raj Persaud says that understanding the universe might also need art, Baroness Greenfield that the two are merging, and James Lovelock expresses the belief that they have much in common. I completely disagree.

“This obsession for showing that art – particularly the visual arts – is similar to science in content and the creative processes is bemusing. I detect in it an element of social snobbery – artists are envious of scientists and scientists want to be thought of as artists.

“Early in the past century, the great German physicist Max Planck asserted that the scientist must work by using an essentially artistic imagination. More recently, Jacob Bronowski took a similar line: ‘The discoveries of science, the works of art, are explorations – more, are explosions of a hidden likeness. The discoverer or the artist presents in them two aspects of nature and fuses them into one. This is the act of creation, in which an original act is born, and it is the same act in original science and original art.’

“Science is about understanding how the world works, there being only one correct explanation for any observed phenomenon. Unlike the arts it is a collective endeavour in which the individual is ultimately irrelevant – geniuses merely speed up discovery. If Watson and Crick had not got the structure of DNA we know that Franklin and Klug would soon have had it. Indeed simultaneous discovery is a common feature of science. If one could rerun the history of science and start again it would have a different history but the end results would be the same: water would be H 2 O and genes would code for proteins but the names would be different.”

Picasso & Matisse keeps Tate Modern open for 36 hours straight

The Picasso-Matisse show at Tate Modern was an astounding success. Writing in the Independent (19 August 2002, “Surreal scenes as the Tate stays open all hours for art lovers”), Steve Boggan reported on the huge success of this exhibition.

“The lovers were more reminiscent of a painting by the surrealist Chagall than one by the two masters whose work they had come to see, but Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse would probably have approved. In silence the couple hugged as the sun came up, shuffling slowly and with appreciation through the rooms of the Tate Modern.

“At a little after 5am, with most of the country asleep, the lovers were making history. They had come to take advantage of the vast art gallery’s decision to open for 36 consecutive hours in an attempt to accommodate the thousands of people who had tried in vain to see the most successful show in the Tate’s 105 years.

“The Matisse-Picasso exhibition, a study in the similarities of the work of such different men, had drawn half a million visitors by the time it closed last night. But in the darkness of yesterday morning, most people were not thinking of records as they filed through the gallery on the banks of the Thames at the rate of 500 an hour.

“The couples seemed most enchanted, but they were not alone. There were art lovers of all ages and nationalities, spritely elderly people and, by dawn, tired, red-eyed children with their parents. In spite of the hour, after first the pubs, then the clubs had closed, the event was a sober affair reflecting the fact that this was an event for hardcore lovers of art; at 4am there is no passing trade. No one was here by accident. “It is absolutely fantastic,” said Joseph Beattie, a 24-year-old drama student from Essex.”

New Acropolis Museum destroying unique Archaeological site [1]

Helena Smith (The Guardian July 15, 2002, “Drills and axes ravage ancient Greek site”) reported that “In Greece’s haste to build a museum so magnificent that Britain will finally bow to its demand to return the Parthenon (Elgin) marbles in time for the 2004 Olympic games, authorities have begun destroying a unique archaeological site at the foot of the Acropolis.

“The antiquities, which include the impressive remains of an ancient Christian city and Roman baths, date from the late Neolithic era to the post-Byzantine period. As proof of Athens’ continuous habitation they are said to say more about the historic evolution of the birthplace of democracy than any other findings.

“But video clips seen by the Guardian show men armed with pickaxes and pneumatic drills beginning to destroy the site. “The selected location for the new Acropolis museum is fatal,” said Professor Giorgos Dontas, the president of Athens’ renowned archaeological society and a former director of the Acropolis.”

Closing out Material Conservation in Canberra

In 2002 the University of Canberra determined to close down the course on cultural material conservation. There were many complaints. In LETTERS The Australian September 25, 2002, one reader wrote of “Canberra cuts at the heart of cultural future”. The letter continued,

“THE University of Canberra has shown disregard for potential students by suspending enrolments in the conservation of cultural materials course. The course has been extremely successful in training highly skilled professional conservators in many specialisations. These conservators have responsibility for the care of collections in museums, galleries, libraries and archives throughout Australia and the Pacific.

“Most conservators working in Australia today graduated from UCAN and an ongoing commitment to this specialised training is necessary to ensure that the standard of care in cultural organisations is maintained in the future. The staff of the conservation department at the National Gallery of Australia are deeply disappointed that other educational institutions and cultural organisations were not formally involved in discussions concerning the future of such an important and unique training course. ”

Pilger’s Eyewitness Photographers

In “Eye Of The Beholder” Penny Brown (The Weekend Australian September 21, 2002) reports photojournalism is moving beyond newsprint and on to the gallery wall, writes Penny Brown

“DURING an uprising in 1979, Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Jr dropped a 450kg bomb on his people in Managua. Photographer Susan Meiselas was there to capture on film the consequences. Her photograph of two children rescued from the chaos, sprawled listless on a chequered-pattern floor just moments before death, smeared with what looks like grease or blood, is profound and disturbing. Today, the image hangs on an art museum wall in Sydney, amid works by photojournalists and alongside contemporary art.

“Its placement under the same roof as Arte Povera, an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art of mostly conceptual works by Italian artists, could be perceived as incongruous, perhaps even insensitive; a subversion of the photographer’s intent.

“Yet there was no sense of subversion at the opening night of Reporting the World: John Pilger’s Great Eyewitness Photographers, organised and toured by the Barbican Gallery in London, at the MCA last month. The usual wine-infused chatter of opening-night crowds was absent in the exhibition hall; people were too busy considering each image and its caption. The photographs are challenging and some are distressing, perhaps more so because they are in an art museum, where the reality they depict and its significance can be seriously appraised. Exhibitions such as this have not often been seen in the past two decades. But the medium, particularly documentary photography, is returning to favour as an exhibitable art form. “Around the world there has been a resurgence of interest in documentary photography,” says Australian Centre for Photography director Alasdair Foster. “There’s a much more pluralistic approach to art in general; there aren’t single canons to what’s appropriate.”

Viking remains in Iceland

Alanna Mitchell (Globe&Mail November 30, 2002, “Icelanders add a leaf to Viking mystery tale”) reported from Glaumbaer, Iceland on a legend that begins in Newfoundland ends with a ‘fantasy’ discovery in field.

“Here on this remote northern edge of Iceland, buried under a thousand years of volcanic ash and drifting soil, the second half of one of Canada’s most ancient human mysteries finally is being dug up. It is, they say, the home of Snorri Thorfinnson, famed in Viking lore as the first European born in the New World and a key family member in Eric the Red’s legendary clan.

Thorfinnson’s birthplace is thought to be in Newfoundland, at l’Anse aux Meadows. Discovered 40 years ago, it has been made a United Nations World Heritage Site and is considered one of the world’s major archaeological finds. Besides being the only authenticated settlement of Norse Vikings in North America, l’Anse aux Meadows is the earliest mark of the sweeping role Europeans were fated to play on the North American stage.”

One Grand Project after another coming a cropper

Deyan Sudjic (The Observer December 29, 2002, “First, it was the Guggenheim. What will be next?”) asserted that from SoHo to Sheffield, the story of 2002 has been of one grand project after another coming a cropper.

“This has been a year marked not so much by what happened as by what didn’t. London did not rebuild the South Bank. New York bowed to the inevitable and scrapped banal plans to turn the site of the World Trade Centre into a generic suburban business park. Instead, it started the complex process of finding a design to replace the Twin Towers.

“And despite the optimism of those who see the work of thirty something architects such as Winny Mass, from Holland, or Alejandro Zaera-Polo and Farshid Moussavi as representing an alternative to the older generation that Zaha Hadid and David Chiperfield now constitute, the strongest new direction was the rediscovery of the gentle English utopianism of the 1960s.

“Archigram, the prankster collective which dreamed of walking cities and making buildings into landscapes, was awarded the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture 30 years after it effectively ceased to exist. And Cedric Price, seventy something author of the Fun Palace project, without which the Pompidou Centre would never have existed, was handed the Kiesler Prize and a substantial cheque by the Austrian government for his contribution to the cultural avant garde. The new generation, it seems, is interested in revisiting the iconoclasm of its grandparents more than defining new territory of its own.

“The most impressive projects of the year were either temporary structures – Toyo Ito’s dazzling pavilion for the Serpentine, and Diller and Scoffidio’s artificial cloud on an elegant pier for the Swiss Expo – or such unconventional structures as Zaha Hadid’s swooping skijump that towers over Innsbruck.”


The Greek Newspaper Kathimerini reported July 26 2003, “Works on the new Acropolis Museum are to continue following a ruling by the plenary session of the Council of State, made public yesterday, which rejected as groundless an appeal for the suspension of the works by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and local residents. The country’s highest administrative court based its decision on documents (such as architectural plans) which it asked the Culture Ministry to provide it with last week. Officials say the museum will be ready to host the British Museum’s Parthenon Marbles by the Athens 2004 Olympics.”