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Museums Find Opportunities in Market Slowdown

Museums across the country are feeling the effects of the economic crisis, as shrinking endowments and declining financial support from patrons have forced major cutbacks in budgets and staff.

NEW YORK—Museums across the country are feeling the effects of the economic crisis, as shrinking endowments and declining financial support from patrons have forced major cutbacks in budgets and staff. Last week, Brandeis University’s board of trustees voted to close the school’s Rose Art Museum and sell its entire collection of art (see story, page 3). However, officials of some institutions say that the slowdown in the art market is providing opportunities to acquire important works at more reasonable prices than in recent years, particularly for museums seeking to build up their holdings of contemporary art. Gifts and donations to museums in 2008 spanned a wide range of genres, from Old Master paintings to prints, photographs and contemporary art, according to an ARTnewsletter survey of museums in the United States. A further boon to museums is the declining value of certain artworks, which has made donating a work to a museum a more attractive strategy than selling, experts say (ANL, 1/20/09).

Peter Marzio, director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, told ARTnewsletter that the institution is finding certain works available at lower prices. In particular, he said, “there are great opportunities in private sales.” Collectors who bought artworks a long time ago and who are unaware of the current value, he said, “are now finding that their art may be the most valuable asset they have, so they take it to a dealer so that the fact of selling isn’t so public, and some prices are quite reasonable.”

Among the MFA’s most important acquisitions last year was Albert Bierstadt’s oil Indians Spear Fishing, 1862, purchased at Christie’s in May for $7.3million, in part using funds raised by deaccessioning 76 works from the museum’s collection of American art. The museum also expanded its holdings of contemporary art: it purchased two untitled acrylic-on-canvas works by Ed Ruscha; Rose Art Memory, 1988, a work by Nam June Paik consisting of 20 video monitors in a lacquered wood frame; two ­ceiling-mounted sculptures by Do Ho Suh (Karma, 2003, and Paratrooper III, 2006); and Untitled (Fire Escape), 2002, a ­wall-scaling installation cast in plaster, resin, rubber and concrete by British artist Rachel Whiteread.

Katherine Getchell, deputy director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, said the museum bought three works at Swann Galleries’ October auction of African American fine art (ANL, 10/28/08): Norman Lewis’s Untitled, circa 1960–64—for $312,000, a record price for an abstract work by an African American artist at auction; The Jug­gler #1, circa 1964, by Hughie Lee-Smith; and 715 Washington Street, Greenwich Village, 1947, by Walter Simon. “We were prepared to go higher for these works, and got them for lower,” Getchell said.

The museum also purchased several contemporary works, including a pair of bronzes by Spanish artist Antonio López García, The Day and The Night, both 2008 (which were acquired with funds donated by Gail and Ernst von Metzsch), and Whiteread’s mixed-media Double—Doors II (A+B), 2006–7, which was financed through a variety of funds and gifts.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art added to its growing collection of work by Edward Kienholz with the purchase of The Illegal Operation, 1962, an assemblage dealing with back-alley abortions. The work cost a reported $1million and was paid for by a group of 16 donors. LACMA also bought the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection of 3,500 photographs—which includes works by Ansel Adams, Julia Margaret Cam­eron, Edward Steichen, Henry Fox Talbot and Edward Weston—using a gift from Wallis An­nenberg and the Annenberg Foundation. The museum also jointly acquired El Anatsui’s sculpture Fading Scroll, 2007, with the Fowler Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles. The Broad Art Foundation contributed to the purchase with a cash gift.

Albright-Knox Boosts Contemporary Holdings

In 2006, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, N.Y., came in for a great deal of local and national criticism when it announced it would deaccession 207 older artworks and objects from its collection, selling them in a number of sales at Sotheby’s in order to raise funds to acquire more contemporary art, which is the museum’s central focus. The sales raised a total of $67.2million.

Early last year the museum acquired 71 contemporary works by 15 artists in a part-gift, ­part-purchase from the Italian industrialist Giuseppe Panza di Biumo, who has been both a donor and a seller to such major institutions as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. The acquisition includes Light and Space works by Dan Flavin, Joseph Kosuth and Robert Irwin, as well as an early wall drawing by Sol LeWitt and sculptures by Robert Therrien and Anne Truitt.

Getty Acquires Trove of Penn Photos

Last February the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, acquired (through a combined gift and purchase) the complete set of Irving Penn’s 1950 “Small Trades” series of portrait photographs of blue-collar workers, and soon thereafter purchased The Vexed Man, circa 1775, an alabaster bust by Austrian sculptor Franz Xaver Messer­schmidt (1736–83), and a medieval Romanesque illuminated manuscript depicting the life of Christ.

The Getty also bought a Paul Gauguin Tahitian painting, Arii Matamoe (The Royal End), 1892, which had been in a private Swiss collection for decades and had been exhibited publicly only once since 1946. Museum officials would not reveal the price it paid for the work, but noted that another work by the artist, Te Poipoi (Le matin), also painted in 1892, was purchased by a Hong Kong collection at Sotheby’s sale of Impressionist and modern art in November 2007 for $39.2million.

The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., purchased the complete first edition of 16 woodcuts by Albrecht Dürer depicting the Apocalypse. The gallery bought the prints, which date from 1498, from Laube & Company, Zurich, for a reported $1.4million.

Last year the Guggenheim Museum acquired a number of artworks it had commissioned over the years. For the Guggenheim, a site-specific work by Jenny Holzer that projected large-scale texts (from both the artist’s own writings and a variety of poems) onto the outside of the institution’s Frank Lloyd Wright–designed building on Fifth Avenue, was commissioned to commemorate the completion last fall of a three-year renovation of the museum’s exterior.

The Museum of Modern Art, New York, acquired Georges Braque’s Analytic Cubist painting Homage to J. S. Bach, 1911–12, from Carroll Janis, son of the late art dealer Sidney Janis, with partial funding from an anonymous trustee. The painting had been included in the Modern’s 1989 exhibition “Picasso and Braque: Pioneering Cubism.” Using funds from two trustees, Donald L. Bryant Jr. and MoMA board president Marie-Josée Kravis, along with her husband, Henry Kravis, the museum also purchased three paintings by Jasper Johns—Tantric Detail I, 1980; Tantric Detail II, 1981; and Tantric Detail III, 1981—all three of which had been included in the museum’s 1996 retrospective of the artist’s work.

MoMA also acquired Pino Pascali’s large installation Ponte (Bridge), 1968, made of braided steel wool. The work had been offered in a sale of Italian art at Christie’s in London last fall with an estimate of £1.5million/2million ($2.6million/3.5million), but it failed to sell. MoMA negotiated a purchase of the work after the auction.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired a drawing, circa 1520s, of the Archangel Gabriel announcing the impending birth of Christ by 16th-century Netherlandish artist Lucas van Leyden. The drawing came to the museum as a part promised gift (of Leon D. and Debra R. Black) and part purchase. The Met also purchased a painting of a lute player, circa 1626, by 17th-century French artist Valentin de Boulogne.

Among other notable Met acquisitions last year were Ovid among the Scythians, 1862, an oil on paper mounted on board by Eugène Delacroix; Angeli Laudantes, 1898, an English tapestry designed by Edward Burne-Jones; a pair of John Singleton Copley pastel portraits on paper mounted on canvas, Ebenezer Storer II and Elizabeth Green (Mrs. Ebenezer Storer II), circa 1767; and Edgar Degas’s oil on canvas Young Woman with Ibis, 1860–62 (the latter of which was acquired by exchange through a deaccession).

The Indianapolis Museum of Art collects in a number of areas. Last year it purchased four paintings attributed to the workshop or to a follower of El Greco (Domenikos Theotoko­poulos), Christ Bearing the Cross, St. Luke, St. Simon and St. Judas Thaddaeus or St. Thomas, through one of its endowed funds, as well as 210 photographs by photojournalist Weegee (Arthur Fellig) as a part gift (of Steven H. Nowlin) and part purchase. A large portion of the museum’s acquisitions, however, were in the modern and contemporary category, notably works on paper, including four collages by Stephen Antonakos, a drawing by Robert Mangold, three drawings by Elizabeth Murray, three watercolors by Lucio Pozzi and 28 drawings and watercolors by Richard Tuttle, all of which were acquired as part purchases, part gifts.

The Dallas Museum of Art purchased Mountains, No. 19, 1930, an oil painting by Mars­den Hartley, and Winter Scene in Brooklyn, an early-19th-century landscape by Francis Guy. Last month, the museum announced it had acquired three contemporary works: Marlene Dumas’s painting For Whom the Bell Tolls, 2008, based on a 1943 portrait of Ingrid Bergman; Jim Hodges’ gold-leaf painting and still this, 2005–8; and a sculpture by Yayoi Kusuma, Accumulation, 1962–64. The DMA acquired the works jointly with the Rachofsky Collection and the DMA/amfAR Benefit Auction Fund. The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Ark., which is to open in 2010, also made a number of additions to its collection (see story, page 3).

Anne d’Harnoncourt, the longtime director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, passed away last June, and more than 50 donations of artwork have been made to the museum in her honor. Among the gifts are: Gilbert Stuart’s Portrait of Anne Willing Bingham, 1797, a gift of Robert L. and Nancy McNeil Jr.; Georges Seurat’s Moored Boats and Trees, 1890, a gift of Jacqueline Matisse Monnier, an honorary trustee of the museum; Frank Stella’s Plant City, 1963, a gift of Agnes Gund; and Claes Oldenburg’s drawing Study for a Tomb Monument to Louis Sullivan, 1971, a gift of Marion Boulton Stroud, a trustee of the museum and the founder of the Fabric Workshop in Philadelphia. The museum also purchased Seine, 1951, an early work by Ellsworth Kelly, with funds contributed in d’Harnoncourt’s memory.

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