'Gold': Putting the Shine On @wsj - Bass Museum of Art

An exhibit opening Aug. 8 at the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach spotlights gold-related works from two dozen contemporary artists.

Rudolf Stingel, Untitled, 2012
Galvanized cast copper
Collection of Isabelle Kowal
Though gold has symbolized excess, putting it in an artwork also raises its market value. That paradox is a basic theme in 'Gold.' Many artists in the exhibit fuse the luxury of gold with low-end materials. This insulation board by Rudolf Stingel was marked up by museum visitors, cast in copper, and electroplated with gold, giving it a sense of permanence.

George Lindemann Journal - "Using Artists to Sell Condos in Miami and New York" @ nytimes by JULIE SATOW

George Lindemann Journal - "Using Artists to Sell Condos in Miami and New York" @ nytimes by JULIE SATOW

With cities like New York and Miami in the midst of another luxury condominium boom, developers seem to be tripping over one another in the scramble to announce their latest projects, and to stand out from the pack, they are locked in an escalating game of one-upmanship.

In a market where amenities like golf simulators and children’s playrooms barely raise a well-manicured eyebrow, the stakes are high. Add to this the fact that developers are asking buyers to shell out upward of $10 million for apartments that are, in many cases, still just a dirt pile on the ground, and they have no choice but to bring the razzle-dazzle.

Increasingly, the trick they are most often pulling out of their collective hat is art, with a capital A.

In Miami, for example, the developer of a beachfront condominium on Collins Avenue has commissioned a sculptor, whose pieces have sold for more than $500,000, to create original works for every buyer in the building. Another Miami developer has hired the painter and Academy Award-nominated director Julian Schnabel to design a sales center for its condominium, with rose-colored stucco and sawtooth lamps. In MidtownManhattan, a developer is making a pointed effort to stand out by placing a permanent 40-story LED light installation on the building’s facade, while others have taken to hiring art consultants just as they would architects and construction companies.

The lighting designer Thierry Dreyfus was hired by the developers of a condo conversion at 135 West 52nd Street to create a light installation on the facade of the building.CreditWilliams New York

“There is a very strong art market right now, with a much more diverse and large collector base than at any other time I can remember,” said Yvonne Force Villareal, a founder of the nonprofit Art Production Fund. She and a business partner, Doreen Remen, recently started Culture Corps, a for-profit art consulting business that advises real estate developers. The expanded art collector base has resulted in more buyers of high-end condos wanting artwork to be part of the experience of shopping for a new home.

“Those who invest in high-end luxury homes also tend to have a strong knowledge of art,” said Helidon Xhixha, an Albanian-born artist who has shown his work at Art Basel Miami Beach, and who recently sold a piece titled “The Wall” to a private art collector for more than $540,000. The developers Property Markets Group and S2 Development hired Mr. Xhixha to create sculptures tailored to each buyer at Muse, a 68-unit condominium in the Sunny Isles neighborhood of Miami.

While some may consider it selling out for artists to create pieces as part of a condominium marketing effort, Mr. Xhixha said, “I do not see this as over-commercializing my art. On the contrary, I see a collaboration between buyer and artist.” Mr. Xhixha added that an apartment tower filled with his pieces “will be like having my very own private museum.”

For the Chetrit Group and Clipper Equity, the developers converting the former Flatotel at 135 West 52nd Street into 109 condo units, “we wanted to create something that gave the building an identity, that gave us some notoriety,” said Raphael De Niro, a broker at Douglas Elliman Development Marketing, who is representing the building. “People like to be able to talk about their building and have others know it, for people to feel they live somewhere unique.” The developers hired Thierry Dreyfus, the lighting designer who lit up the Grand Palais in Paris and the Château de Versailles, to create the 423-foot installation that will be placed inside a casing attached to the front of the building.

In Miami, the sales center for the Brickell Flatiron condo, rendering above, is being designed by the painter and director Julian Schnabel. The artist's 2008 polaroid, bottom, of his condo project in the West Village, Palazzo Chupi, serves as inspirationCreditTop: Imagery NYC; Bottom: Julian Schnabel

Farther downtown, Culture Corps is consulting on the sales center for 30 Park Place, the condominium designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects that will also feature a Four Seasons hotel. Culture Corps has chosen 11 pieces of art for the space, including works by established artists like Richard Serra and Sam Gordon, as well as by newcomers like Field Kallop. The developer,Silverstein Properties, bought a few of the works, while the others are on loan. “It is not the normal kind of art you would see in a model apartment,” said Ms. Villareal, who is married to the artist Leo Villareal. All abstract, the paintings “are very tasteful, but simultaneously they have an edge to them,” she said.

The commingling of art and real estate has a long, established history, beginning with the cathedrals of Europe, which commissioned religious art. The Medici family in Italy hired artists to create works for their many estates, while in modern times, art has played a role in places like the Seagram Building, with its famed tapestry by Pablo Picasso. Perhaps it isn’t so surprising that in this era, which some have termed the new Gilded Age, the worlds of art and real estate have once again begun to merge.

Mr. Schnabel, who created the interiors of the Gramercy Park Hotel and built Palazzo Chupi, a pink condominium in the West Village, is no stranger to this connection. “The idea of living with art is a good thing, not necessarily a scam,” he told me recently. “Obviously, when something is popular they can turn that into something trendy, but it has a historical precedent.”

Mr. Schnabel is designing the sales center — “a terrible term, can’t we say building?” — for the Brickell Flatiron, a 710-foot triangular-shaped skyscraper underway in Miami. The center — the developers prefer the word “gallery” — will have Mr. Schnabel’s paintings and furniture, as well as a fireplace. It will “look like a living room,” Mr. Schnabel said. “It will be very different than other sales offices, where they look like you are walking into a bank, with cold marble, a lot of glass, very corporate.”  

The artist Helidon Xhixha has been hired to create sculpture tailored to each buyer at Muse, a 68-unit condominium in Miami, as shown, center, in the rendering above.CreditTop: Rendering by ARX Solutions; Bottom: Courtesy of Helidon Xhixha

There are clear benefits to collaborating with artists, but the artists can also be unpredictable. Mr. Schnabel, for instance, repeatedly declined to be interviewed about the project, despite cajoling from the developers who are paying his wages. And when he and I did finally connect, he was far less interested in talking about the condominium than about his new exhibit opening in October at the NSU Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, “Café Dolly: Picabia, Schnabel, Willumsen.”

While art is playing a critical role in the marketing of ultraluxury real estate, it is by no means the only strategy developers are employing. At One Riverside Park, the developer, the Extell Development Company, has partnered with the company Musion, which created the hologram of Tupac Shakur that appeared onstage at the 2012 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Musion created a hologramof One Riverside Park, with images of the floor plans and the surrounding neighborhood.

But some developers, like Francis Greenburger, the chairman of Time Equities, is skeptical of marketing gimmicks. “Like those mood movies — why would you make a movie that has nothing to do with the building?” he said, referring to the $1 million film commissioned by the developer Harry Macklowe to market his skyscraper 432 Park Avenue. “Maybe it has worked, but for me, it is a distraction. It isn’t what selling an apartment is all about.”

Still, Mr. Greenburger has plenty of marketing strategies of his own. At the sales office for 50 West Street, his new condominium in the financial district, a curved projection wall features 180-degree images, taken by drones, of different elevations from the building, allowing buyers to see their potential views. And there is a piece of a curved glass curtain wall that will wrap around the building.

While the efforts may be gimmicky, they may also work. At 135 West 52nd Street, the building will not only be draped in an enormous light installation, but will also have a sales office featuring purple mohair walls and a V.I.P. room for prospective buyers of the penthouses. “Once you step into the V.I.P. room, you are entering a different strata,” said Mr. De Niro, the son of the actor Robert De Niro and himself no stranger to V.I.P. treatment.

Correction: June 22, 2014 

An article last Sunday about how developers are using artwork to attract buyers to luxury condos omitted part of the name of the museum where Julian Schnabel’s new exhibit is opening in October. It is the NSU Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, not the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale.

George Lindemann Journal - "An Artist Fills Galleries With Emptiness" by ROSLYN SULCAS

George Lindemann Journal - "An Artist Fills Galleries With Emptiness" by ROSLYN SULCAS

Marina Abramovic’s latest performance work, ‘‘512 Hours,’’ which she is presenting at the Serpentine Gallery in London through Aug. 25. CreditRune Hellestad/Corbis
LONDON — “You look suspicious,” Marina Abramovic said to an older couple standing to the side of a room in the Serpentine Gallery here on Thursday. The couple looked, well, suspicious, as around them people contemplated panels of bright primary colors, or lay on the floor, eyes closed. Ms. Abramovic took them by the hand, gently asked them to close their eyes, and led them away, walking with a slow, measured tread.

It was Day 2 of “512 Hours,” Ms. Abramovic’s first new work since her 2010 retrospective, “The Artist Is Present,” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, transformed her from a pioneering performance artist to a celebrity. There, she sat motionless, six days a week, seven hours a day, looking straight at whoever sat down opposite her. This time there is no chair. “There is just me,” she said. “And the public. It is insane what I try to do.”

The idea of “512 Hours,” named for the length of time Ms. Abramovic will spend in the gallery over the duration of the exhibition (running through Aug. 25), is both simple and radical. There is nothing in the Serpentine galleries except lockers, where visitors can put their bags and electronic devices. Ms. Abramovic, as well as an assistant, Lynsey Peisinger, and several museum guards are there. What will happen in the space no one quite knows. “I honestly don’t know; I don’t have a plan,” she said in an interview at the house she is sharing with her assistants during the London show. “That is the point. The idea is that the public are my material, and I am theirs. I will open the gallery myself in the morning and close it at 6 p.m. with my key. I want to understand how I can be in the present moment, be with the public.” On Wednesday, hundreds of people lined up outside to enter the gallery, although on Thursday there was no wait.

After ‘‘The Artist Is Present’’ at MoMA, Ms. Abramovic said she found it difficult to move on to another performance work. CreditMarco Anelli

Ms. Abramovic, who has long black hair and almost spookily unlined creamy skin at 67, was born in Belgrade, in what was then Yugoslavia, to parents who had been partisan heroes during World War II. She started her performance career in Belgrade, but has lived most of her adult life elsewhere and speaks a throaty, lightly accented English. Even before the MoMA show made her a star, she was widely known in the art world as a pioneer in her field who had not just created performances of physical intensity — carving a star into her stomach with a razor, lying on a block of ice for hours, screaming until her voice gave out — but had also re-enacted the grueling performance pieces of other artists.

She said that she had been invited to the Serpentine, the small museum in the middle of Kensington Gardens that is mostly dedicated to experimental work, almost 17 years ago. (“Everything takes forever in my life,” she declared dramatically.)

When she and the gallery’s co-curators, Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans Ulrich Obrist, finally fixed a date, she thought she might show little-known early works, or sound pieces. “Then one night, in the middle of the night,” she said, “I woke up thinking: ‘This is wrong. I must do something really radical, there is no time to lose.’ I had this vision of an empty gallery — nothing there.

But there has been much ado about the word “nothing.” Two weeks ago, TheGuardian newspaper reported that a number of American art historians and curators had written to Mr. Obrist, accusing Ms. Abramovic and the gallery of failing to acknowledge the work of Mary Ellen Carroll, a New York-based conceptual artist. Ms. Carroll said in an email that she had been working on a project called “Nothing” since 1984, describing it as “an engagement with the public” without documentation. Ms. Carroll did not respond directly to the question of how Ms. Abramovic’s piece is imitative of her own. But she wrote: “There is a historical tradition/protocol for artists, curators and historians to acknowledge historical precedents. When they are similar, one would say it is necessary.”

Mr. Obrist, in a telephone interview, said that Ms. Carroll was one of numerous artists before Ms. Abramovic who had explored the relationship between art and nothingness.

Ms. Abramovic also has a retrospective showing at the Contemporary Art Center in Málaga, Spain.CreditJon Nazca/Reuters

“There are many people — John Cage, Yves Klein, Gustav Metzger, Yoko Ono, Joseph Beuys — who have worked with this idea, including Mary Ellen Carroll. Of course we take that seriously.” (Mr. Obrist did not mention Jerry Seinfeld.)

“From my point of view, it’s difficult for anyone to claim nothing,” Ms. Abramovic said dryly. “I think it’s a misunderstanding anyway. It’s not that I’m doing nothing — quite the opposite. It’s just that there is nothing except people in the space. But now we are getting letters every day from people who did nothing first. It seems to have become something.”

After “The Artist Is Present,” which drew more than a half-million visitors, Ms. Abramovic said she found it difficult to move on to another performance work. “I set up such a high bar I think everyone was thinking that was it and now I’d do my institute,” she said, referring to the Marina Abramovic Institute, a center for long-durational work in Hudson, N.Y., that she hopes will bring together figures from the worlds of art, science and spirituality. “And it is true that it was so incredibly complete I had to figure out how to get out of that. The solution was simple: To take away even the few things I had there — the chair, the structure of sitting and looking.”

The controversy generated by “512 Hours,” the first performance work that Ms. Abramovic has presented in a British gallery, is nothing new for this artist, who has been criticized for appearing to relish the fame that has accompanied her success: Lady Gaga has come to her for instruction and Time magazine put her on this year’s list of its 100 most influential people.

“I have moved from an art structure to a larger one,” Ms. Abramovic said. “‘This is not a public who usually go to museums; they are super young, and I become for them some kind of example of things they want to know. I think there is an enormous need to be in contact with the artist. It is a huge responsibility, there are huge expectations. It does not make my ego bigger, it gives me more to do.”

In the gallery she gave a small mirror to a visitor and told her to walk backward, using the mirror as a guide. “Reality is behind you,” she whispered.

"Think Big. Build Big. Sell Big." @nytimes CAROL VOGEL

"Think Big. Build Big. Sell Big." @nytimes  CAROL VOGEL

On a spring afternoon with his first major retrospective in New York looming, the artist Jeff Koons, nattily dressed in navy blue from head to toe, calmly boarded a helicopter heading for a foundry in upstate New York. His mission was to check up on his “Play-Doh,” a monumental sculpture depicting the squidgy material ubiquitous in American playrooms.

Back in 1994, Mr. Koons set out to replicate a colorful mound of Play-Doh configured by his son, Ludwig. It was to have been fashioned from polyethylene, and after seeing the model, a Los Angeles collector named Bill Bell agreed to buy “Play-Doh” on the spot.

“But as I started putting more and more detail in the piece, I realized I needed to make it out of aluminum to get a more hyper-realistic surface,” Mr. Koons said, as if to justify the sculpture’s long gestation.

Twenty years later, “Play-Doh” is still in 27 pieces, and Mr. Bell has never seen it finished. Neither has the Whitney Museum of American Art, where the 10-foot-tall work is to be a centerpiece of its coming Koons survey, one that will consume more space than the museum has ever devoted to a single artist, including Mark Rothko, Edward Hopper or Georgia O’Keeffe.

John von Schmid, sculpture manager of the Jeff Koons studio, demonstrates how a part of the sculpture “Play-Doh” (1994–2014) will get through the front door of the Whitney for its Koons retrospective.


“It’s never easy with Jeff,” said Mr. Bell, who owns 10 of his sculptures and is keenly familiar with the artist’s tardy ways.

The Whitney has had its share of challenging installations. Crews have had to handle toxic molten lead and contend with hanging thousands of pounds of mattresses from the ceiling and smearing them with Entenmann’s cinnamon cake.

But nothing comes close to the test the museum will face with the opening of “Jeff Koons: A Retrospective,” on June 27.

How, for instance, are the art handlers planning to move his 15,000-pound granite “Gorilla” into an elevator only equipped to safely handle 14,000 pounds? (Specialists from the Otis Elevator Company will have to raise the elevator with the sculpture inside it, using chain hoists.)

To get both “Gorilla” and “Play-Doh” inside the museum, the building’s front doors and transom must be removed — a first for the Whitney.

And then there are the supersize balloon dog of polished steel; the golden ceramic Michael Jackson with his pet chimpanzee, Bubbles; the black granite Popeye; basketballs floating in tanks of water; vacuum cleaners encased in vitrines, and the giant canvases painted by scores of assistants depicting figures from antiquity and pop culture.

“It’s the perfect storm of difficulties,” said Scott Rothkopf, the Whitney’s associate director of programs, who has spent four years organizing the exhibition and accompanied Mr. Koons last month on his helicopter journey. “There are the sheer physical demands of the objects themselves, their high values and the fragile materials, to say nothing of the cliffhanger of waiting for works that have been in production for years.”

Mr. Rothkopf, 37, who has written extensively about Mr. Koons since he was a student at Harvard, has a lot riding on this show. Not only will it fill nearly the entire museum, including the lobby and sculpture court, with some 120 objects, it is also the Whitney’s grand finale before moving to its new home in the meatpacking district in Manhattan next year.

While it would have been far easier to wait and hold the exhibition in the Whitney’s new Renzo Piano-designed building, which will be equipped with commodious loading docks, elevators able to handle unusually heavy artworks and column-free galleries, Mr. Koons explained that he likes seeing his work set against “the patina of the Breuer building,” adding, “There is a brute force reality about the Whitney spaces.”

At 59, Mr. Koons may be one of the most famous living artists around — and the most expensive at auction, a distinction he earned last year when “Balloon Dog (Orange)” sold for $58.4 million. But this will be the first time American audiences will see the sweep of his more than three-decade career in one gulp, 1978 to the present.

“These works resonate on so many levels, for the younger artists he has influenced and for the general public,” said Jeffrey Deitch, Mr. Koons’s former dealer and his friend, who was counting on holding the retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles when he was the director. (Mr. Deitch left the museum last year, and the show will not be traveling to Los Angeles.) “Despite their sophistication, they are accessible. Everybody can relate to a child’s toy or a vacuum cleaner. You don’t need to know art history to be knocked out by them.”

Mr. Koons, who has been making art out of kitsch since the 1980s, has been slammed by some critics as glibly calculating, even as others have praised him. In 1991, Michael Kimmelman wrote in The New York Times, “Just when it looked as if the ’80s were over, Jeff Koons has provided one last, pathetic gasp of the sort of self-promoting hype and sensationalism that characterized the worst of the decade.”

The occasion was a show at the Sonnabend Gallery of paintings depicting Mr. Koons and his first wife, Ilona Staller, the Italian porn star and politician called Cicciolina, engaged in sex acts. (He is now married to Justine Wheeler, an artist who worked in his studio, and they have six children.)

More recently, his work has received considerable praise here and in Europe, where he has had several shows. And one, at the Château de Versailles in France, got considerable attention good and bad for placing a plexiglass-enclosed display of vacuum cleaners and floor polishers in front of the official portrait of Marie Antoinette and installing a bare-breasted blonde holding a pink panther in the same room with a 1729 painting of Louis XV conferring peace upon Europe.

Part of Mr. Koons’s magic is the perfection and seemingly effortless appearance of his objects, but museum experts say they are among the most technically challenging produced today.

“Many of the sculptures are as delicate as Fabergé eggs,” said Mr. Rothkopf, describing their shiny, painted surfaces as one example of why this show is costing “millions of dollars,” for insurance and shipping and refabricating, for example, aging basketballs. (Mr. Rothkopf refused to give exact figures but said the show is the Whitney’s most expensive.)

A list of its lenders reads like a Who’s Who of today’s powerful collectors, including the British artist Damien Hirst, the Los Angeles financier Eli Broad, the hedge fund billionaire Steven A. Cohen, the luxury goods magnate François Pinault and the real estate developers Harry Macklowe and his wife, Linda.

By all accounts an artist with this much celebrity should have had at least one major show in a New York museum by now. Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince, who also emerged in the 1980s with Mr. Koons, have each had two.

It’s not for lack of trying. Starting in 1996 the Guggenheim Museum had a Koons exhibition on its schedule. But skyrocketing costs coupled with difficulties in making the works to Mr. Koons’s exacting standards killed it. (Not all has been lost for the Guggenheim. After the Whitney’s show closes, it will travel first to the Pompidou Center in Paris and then the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.)

Asked why they finally abandoned the idea, Lisa Dennison, a former Guggenheim director who is currently a chairwoman of Sotheby’s, said that besides the rising costs, “finding the technology to match Jeff’s vision became impossible.”

It is still his biggest problem. In addition to “Play-Doh,” crews are racing to finish several significant sculptures from his “Celebration” series, a group of childlike objects, including party hats, Easter eggs, kittens and the now famous “Balloon Dog.” (And Mr. Bell has yet to see two other purchases: a black granite “Popeye,” which is slated for the retrospective, and a 10-foot tall “Party Hat,” which is not.)

And so, on that spring day, greeting his helicopter pilot like an old friend, Mr. Koons rose above the rush-hour jam on his flight to the Polich Tallix foundry in Rock Tavern, N.Y.

In its cavernous space dozens of workers stood by, anxiously watching Mr. Koons’s reaction to the progress of “Play-Doh.” The artist gently caressed a rippled portion of the aluminum surface and said, in his signature monotone that almost seems scripted in its sincerity: “Look how sensual these forms are. When you rip Play-Doh apart and stretch it, you get these lines. It’s like a Rodin sculpture.”

Later in the day, back at the artist’s Chelsea studio — where more than 100 assistants were performing any number of tasks, including painting canvases and choosing which of some dozen store-bought inflatable monkeys might be replicated as sculpture — it was easy to see why everything Mr. Koons does takes so much time.

Realizing “Play-Doh” was “almost Pharaonic,” Mr. Rothkopf said. There was also a re-creation of the Liberty Bell under way, made of bronze. An assistant was painting its wooden stand, choosing from a palette of 129 shades of brown, each matched precisely by computer to the original.

“It’s a moral exercise to make something as realistic as possible,” Mr. Koons said, explaining that he liked his Bell not only for its “sense of history” but also for its sensuous shape, a “feminine form.”

His choice of colors for “Play-Doh” was equally exacting. Mr. Koons ran off, coming back with a tray with small containers of vintage, dried-up Play-Doh, dating to 1994. “Over the years, the company has changed its colors,” Mr. Koons explained, asked why he had saved the samples and original containers. “They are easy to refresh with a little water.” Tiny mounds of bright yellow, blue, purple, red and green will be matched and spray-painted on the cast-aluminum parts at a company in Connecticut that specializes in decorative painting of hot rods and vintage cars. Then they will be assembled into a gigantic mound.

Finishing “Play-Doh” in time for the retrospective is one hurdle. Installing it on the museum’s fourth floor is another.

A few days later, Mr. Rothkopf and Graham Miles, an art handler at the Whitney, were hunkered down in the museum’s subbasement, planning maneuvers. “It has been like a military operation,” Mr. Rothkopf said. The installation of the show will take three weeks, with crews working seven days a week in 11-hour shifts.

Not leaving anything to chance, Mr. Miles’s team, working with assistants from Mr. Koons’s studio, made a video of a small-scale model of “Play-Doh” to chart exactly how it will move through the museum lobby, into the elevator and up, where it will join other works from the “Celebration” series.

“Every 16th of an inch is critical,” Mr. Miles said. “There’s no room for error. It’s like getting a ship in the bottle 30 times over.”

Mr. Rothkopf said he and others from the Whitney felt it was crucial that the museum’s last show, which is expected to generate record crowds, be like no other.

“We didn’t want to leave uptown feeling nostalgic, we wanted to go out with a bang,” he said. “Let’s just hope we don’t bring the building down with us.”

George Lindemann Journal - "Are Museums Selling Out?" By ELLEN GAMERMAN

George Lindemann Journal - "Are Museums Selling Out?" By ELLEN GAMERMAN

A Bulgari snake bracelet-watch on display in Houston. Julie Soefer for The Wall Street Journal

A display of Bulgari jewels in Houston features cases of spot-lit gems, photos of Angelina Jolie and Keira Knightley laden with signature baubles and testimonials about the company's "shimmering, iconic jewelry."

Pretty typical for a jewelry presentation except for one thing: It isn't in a store, but a museum.

The exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, "Bulgari: 130 Years of Masterpieces," includes slick video and screen displays, hologram-like installations and glowing descriptions of the pieces—all created by Bulgari, which supplied most of the jewels, footed half the bill, and provided the catalog essay.

The timing of the exhibit is also notable. The same week the museum show opened in May, Bulgari unveiled a gleaming makeover of its boutique in a Houston luxury mall. The company brought in experts from Rome to help rebuild the shop, which is partly inspired by the Via Condotti flagship store and features some of the same images of gem-covered movie stars on its walls as the museum exhibit, along with leaflets and window banners advertising the show.

Exhibits featuring luxury fashion and jewelry brands are increasingly jamming museum calendars. For cultural institutions, the shows offer the potential for a blockbuster that attracts a broader range of visitors, brings in big first-time donors and tours the world. To date, more than one million people have seen a traveling global exhibit about designer Jean Paul Gaultier, what museum experts call a record number for any fashion exhibit.

The line between art and commerce is increasingly blurred as museum directors flock to crowd-pleasing shows, while luxury brand executives get aggressive in nabbing exhibits. WSJ's Ellen Gamerman discusses the details on Lunch Break with Tanya Rivero. Photo: hmns.org

For luxury companies, museum exhibits are becoming an important new tool in their marketing arsenals. Fashion and jewelry executives have long cultivated museum shows to provide a stamp of legitimacy and a chance to stand out in a crowded marketplace. Now, big brands have gone further, hiring curators to shop shows to museums, spending millions to build their archives for exhibit loans, wooing arts venues in strategic markets and enlisting stores and VIP clients to help secure and promote these shows.

Individual luxury items that boast a museum pedigree can soar in value. A Van Cleef & Arpels art-deco diamond brooch sold for more than $662,000 at Christie's in New York in 2011—more than eight times its high estimate. The sale followed the piece's appearance in "Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels," a 2011 exhibit at the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum that drew record-breaking crowds in New York.

"These exhibitions are very, very important for us," says Nicholas Bos, CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels. "When clients see some pieces exhibited in the museum that are pretty similar to ones they've bought, it confirms to them that it's a valid choice, and it's a good incentive to add to their collection."

The explosion of recent exhibitions featuring fashion, jewelry and other luxury accessories includes shows created with input and money from the featured brands. Chanel curated and paid for the creation of its brand-related exhibits, known as "Culture Chanel," which museums and arts institutions went on to stage in Moscow, Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou, China. A Chanel spokeswoman says the company sometimes helps cover installation costs at the venues, too. This year, a collector of David Webb jewelry and a major dealer sponsored an independently curated show about the society jeweler at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Fla. An exhibit on Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry that closed earlier this year at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, Calif., was curated by a Van Cleef employee with production costs paid partly by the jeweler.

Even for shows whose curators or sponsors have little connection to the luxury business, a brand's cooperation is often pivotal. A coming September exhibit curated by the Brooklyn Museum, "Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe," will feature lent pieces from a wide range of established and emerging designers including Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin. (A museum spokeswoman says the show has no confirmed sponsors yet.) Cartier didn't sponsor the Denver Art Museum's new fall exhibit, "Brilliant: Cartier in the 20th Century," but it opened its gem vault and various archives to the museum's curator more than a dozen times. The Gaultier retrospective, making its ninth stop this fall in Melbourne, Australia, was originally conceived by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts without funding by the brand. But its curator, former model Thierry-Maxime Loriot, worked closely with Mr. Gaultier and sought his approval. "It's his baby, it's my baby," says Mr. Loriot.

Putting the Shine on Display

A look at luxury brand shows at museums across the world. Leonardo Finotti

The sheer number of luxury shows today—and the differing levels of corporate involvement for each—have some critics increasingly concerned. While some museums assert complete curatorial control and refuse brand sponsorships, others install exhibits with major corporate involvement, and varying degrees of disclosure about that relationship.

"Nobody ever said museums are pure, but at least there's an element of public trust that when you go to a museum, what you're seeing is museum worthy," says Bruce Altshuler, director of New York University's Program in Museum Studies. "The widespread exhibiting of luxury-brand goods erodes that trust."

Other museum professionals argue that some of these exhibits cede too much control over content.

"When the company is the curator, it's the appearance of a conflict that we stay away from," says Alex Nyerges, director of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, where officials recently rejected a proposed exhibit about a movie remake because it seemed too promotional. "The notion that we may be in bed with a commercial venture in a less than appropriate fashion—it's not worth it."

Many museum curators say luxury exhibits featuring work by living designers are no different from art exhibits featuring living artists. Why is it a conflict to work with a wildly creative couture or jewelry house, they ask, when the economic benefits from museum shows could be even greater for fine artists? In the end, they say, the only thing that matters is quality.

"The hunt for conflict of interest is irrelevant to the museum visitor—the exhibition stands or falls on the strength of the artistry of the material displayed," says Gary Tinterow, director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. As the former head of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's modern art department in New York, Mr. Tinterow was an early supporter of a widely debated show about a jeweler known as JAR. "I've worked with lots of living artists, I've worked with dead artists—there are always interests at stake."

A Cartier necklace will be displayed at the Denver Art Museum. Cartier

With stepped-up competition from rivals, fashion and jewelry labels are investing heavily in museum outreach. In 2011, Chanel hired a former curator at the Louvre in Paris, Emmanuel Coquery, to head its "patrimony department," which is responsible for compiling heritage pieces that can be shown in museums. The company, which opened a sprawling new space for its archives outside Paris last year, uses its Culture Chanel shows to demonstrate the art world's influence on the brand, a spokeswoman says. The shows display paintings, photographs, archival materials and other objects next to Chanel pieces such as the little black dress, jewelry or perfume. The company's biggest Culture Chanel show opens in Seoul this summer.

Christian Dior CDI.FR +0.34% has been busy, too. "The last five years have been very rich ones for the house of Dior when it comes to exhibitions," Sidney Toledano, president and CEO of Christian Dior Couture, said in an email.

Dior works closely with museums to place its fashions alongside art in a series of themed exhibits with names like "Inspiration Dior" and "Esprit Dior." The company, which collaborates with external curators for the shows, declined to discuss the funding arrangements for these exhibits.

In 2011, a Dior show at Moscow's Pushkin Museum paired haute couture pieces with paintings by masters like Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse; a show at Shanghai's Museum of Contemporary Art last year presented an Alberto Giacometti sculpture next to dresses from Raf Simons's first haute-couture collection for Dior. Attempts to reach the two museums were unsuccessful.

The venues in growing luxury markets like Russia and China aren't accidental. Bain & Co. says Chinese consumers make up nearly 30% of the global luxury market. Russia ranks third in the number of the world's billionaires, according to Forbes. "The country and city are chosen firstly for strategic reasons, based on the markets in which we want to focus our communication," said Mr. Toledano, adding that sometimes museums approach Dior to initiate a show.

The Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, Calif., chose to have its 2013-2014 Van Cleef & Arpels show curated by the company's "heritage director" Catherine Cariou, who joined Van Cleef in 2000 after working in French auction houses. Museum President Peter Keller said it made sense to have Ms. Cariou curate because of her access and expertise. "She's in charge of the foundation archives—she knows the collection better than anyone," he said. The museum's budget is too small to cover in-house curators so all shows are guest curated.

MUSEUM BLING A Bulgari sautoir necklace once owned by Elizabeth Taylor is featured in a current exhibit in Houston. Museum shows can burnish a brand's image and increase gem values. Bulgari

The show opening at the Bowers coincided with the expansion of a Van Cleef boutique in nearby Costa Mesa, Calif. Although the Bowers noted the store unveiling in its media materials, Mr. Keller says he planned the show well in advance of the store renovation. He calls the museum's efforts on behalf of the boutique too minor to qualify as marketing: "Just because it's in a press release? How many people read a press release?"

A Bulgari exhibit that opened at the Grand Palais in Paris in late 2010 was a private event staged by the company rather than a project organized by independent curators, a distinction that might have been lost on the general public at the time, says Grand Palais chief curator and exhibitions director Laurent Salomé. The Grand Palais is considering changes to make it clearer to audiences when private interests are at work, he adds: "Bulgari was maybe the big problematic exception."

The line between retail promotion and museum exhibits has become increasingly blurred. For this year's exhibit on the society jeweler David Webb, the Norton Museum of Art employed the same architect and designer who worked on the brand's Manhattan flagship location to design the galleries for the Florida museum show, too.

"We wanted people who were accustomed to creating luxe interiors," says Norton deputy director James Hall. Designer Katie Ridder says she used the same color scheme for the interiors and velvet for the display cases as she did for the Madison Avenue boutique: "I think it definitely has a similar feeling as the store."

The exhibit was first proposed by the husband of a board member who collects David Webb's jewelry and was partly funded by that couple, Mr. Hall says. A major local dealer of David Webb jewelry also paid for the show. The exhibit, assembled by a freelance curator, was chosen because of the strength of the pieces and the jeweler's connections to Palm Beach, says Mr. Hall, adding that he doubted the show increased the market value of the jewelry.

The American Alliance of Museums guidelines on exhibition ethics don't specifically address brand-themed shows, and, regardless, all of its suggestions are voluntary. Most museums write their own institutional codes of ethics and are subject to local, state and federal laws and international conventions governing nonprofits.

At the Bulgari exhibit at Houston's Museum of Natural Science one recent afternoon, images of bejeweled stars such as Jennifer Aniston and Jessica Alba flashed on screens. A former cast member from "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills," Camille Grammer, perused the vitrines with her Louis Vuitton purse slung over her Chanel jacket. Cocktail music tinkled in the background.

Two people familiar with the exhibition planning say a staffer from Houston's Bulgari boutique made the initial overture to the museum in 2012. Joel Bartsch, the museum's president, and Alberto Festa, president of Bulgari North America, say they can't quite remember who initiated negotiations over the show.

Cartier in Paris Pierre-Olivier Deschamps/Agence VU/Cartier

Bulgari officials eventually made a presentation to Mr. Bartsch, suggesting ways a recent Bulgari exhibit at the de Young museum in San Francisco could be retooled for Houston. He was impressed.

"They had done their homework," he says, adding that the Bulgari team was familiar with the museum's gem collection and its commitment to jewelry exhibits.

Houston socialites soon were helping with loans to the show. Joanne King Herring, a political activist and widow of a natural-gas tycoon, volunteered her Bulgari sautoir necklace with scores of diamonds, a piece she spotted in a window of New York's Pierre hotel in the 1970s. "My husband said, 'Well, do you want that or the state of Rhode Island?'" she recalls.

People with knowledge of the Bulgari negotiations say the museum exhibit was the main impetus for the Houston store's makeover. Workers toiled all weekend to get the boutique ready for the show's debut, one person said. Mr. Festa says the timing was coincidental and largely due to the expiration of the shop's 10-year lease and its outdated design.

For the exhibit openings in Houston and San Francisco, Bulgari boutiques in those cities were supplied with stacks of tickets so employees could offer VIP customers and foreign visitors tours of the galleries, according to people familiar with the exhibits. In some cases, the shop set up appointments ahead of time so that visitors could go straight from the museum to the store, one person said.

Mr. Bartsch, a gems expert, says the exhibit's aim is educational: "This is about the design and quality of the stones, with a connection to natural history and the technology that goes into making the pieces," he says. "One of the major points is that these pieces are not for sale and are not going to be for sale. This is a historical retrospective exhibition."

Bulgari, an Italian jewelry company purchased in 2011 by Paris-based luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis VuittonMC.FR -0.24% started its push for exhibitions five years ago with a 600-piece show at a cultural center in Rome. The next year, Bulgari rented the Grand Palais in Paris for an exhibit. Bulgari shows followed in Beijing and Shanghai, and Mr. Festa says China is interested in more.

"Clearly now there are going to be more exhibitions world-wide, which is an initiative of LVMH," says Amanda Triossi, an independent curator who created Bulgari's heritage collection and helped develop many Bulgari museum exhibits.

In recent months, Bulgari executives have approached the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Perez Art Museum Miami as well as institutions in Dallas and Chicago to lobby for shows featuring its jewelry archive, says Mr. Festa, adding: "I approached other institutions in the country mainly where we have stores."

For more than a decade, Bulgari has been buying back its collection of archival jewelry—the pieces often displayed in museum shows—including nabbing more than $20 million worth of Elizabeth Taylor's jewelry at a Christie's sale in 2011.

People familiar with Bulgari's business practices say that while archival pieces aren't for sale, customers can ask the company to create a custom-made piece that draws inspiration from the original as long as it is valued at $50,000 or sometimes more.

For Ms. Grammer, who paused in the Houston show to stare at a 1967 necklace with emeralds, rubies, sapphires and diamonds, the exhibit renewed her love for the brand. She owns two Bulgari pieces, gifts from her ex-husband, the actor Kelsey Grammer. "People have questioned me, 'Why would you wear anything your husband gave you after the divorce?'" she says. "Why wouldn't you? They're works of art."

Write to Ellen Gamerman at ellen.gamerman@wsj.com

George Lindemann Journal by George Lindemann - "Meet Design Miami's Rodman Primack" @wsj by Jen Renzi

George Lindemann Journal by George Lindemann - "Meet Design Miami's Rodman Primack" @wsj by Jen Renzi


CREATURE COMFORT | Primack, the new executive director of Design Miami, in his home in Miami. The hippo is by Renate Müller, the artwork on the wall by Florian Baudrexel. Photography by Adam Friedberg for WSJ. Magazine

FOR RODMAN PRIMACK, the collecting bug came early. His youthful obsession, at the age of 12: "Day of the Dead–themed folk art from Oaxaca, Mexico," explains the new executive director of Design Miami, the biannual fair devoted to collectible furnishings that's a sister show to blue-chip stalwart Art Basel.

Primack has since graduated to other passions and now lives among an eclectic array of 18th-century embroidered textiles, Latin American art, midcentury furniture, 1980s Memphis design and works by Charlotte Perriand and Jean Prouvé. "My interests are very broad," Primack says with a laugh. "I am not nearly as focused a collector as I recommend that others be."

Even so, Primack's far-reaching enthusiasms are an asset to his new gig—as is his diverse background. His former titles include chairman of auction house Phillips de Pury's office in London (now Phillips), director of Gagosian Gallery's Los Angeles outpost (where he sold everything from Calder mobiles to Gerhard Richter landscapes), founder of online auction site Blacklots and Latin American art specialist at Christie's. For the past decade, Primack also helmed his own Manhattan-based interior- and textile-design firm, RP Miller, helping clients curate—and create surroundings for—their art collections.

Strengthening the bond between art, design and interiors is a mission he shares with the fair (this year's Swiss edition of the event opens June 17; the Miami version falls in early December). "The idea that people can collect really seriously in one area, like art, but not also collect design and commission a great environment for that art, is so strange to me," he says. "I mean, I even collect my socks!" Among his colleagues, the 39-year-old Primack is known as a connective tissue between disciplines. "Rodman bridges what gaps still remain between art and design collectors with his deep knowledge, experience and connections in both worlds," explains Evan Snyderman, cofounder of New York design gallery R & Company. That's why he was hired in the first place: "His time at Phillips honed his understanding of how to engage collectors and grow the market," adds fair founder Craig Robins. "And working with Larry Gagosian is a fantastic complement of art-market awareness. He's a perfect choice for the next phase of Design Miami's growth."

Primack cites his six-year chairmanship of Phillips as most analogous to his current job. "My time there was distinguished by a lot of flux, since our new building wasn't ready and we had to do these pop-ups and guerrilla maneuvers," he explains. "I love that scrappy energy, which is something Design Miami shares." In terms of connoisseurship, however, Primack's most formative experience was a stint at the studio of Peter Marino, go-to architect for Chanel and Louis Vuitton. "That's where I began looking at design and furniture in a different way, not as simply tables and chairs to sit at, but also as important and collectible," says Primack.

He has since spent his career observing the emergent design market, which he is now positioned to help mature. "The pricing and structure for contemporary design is different from that of contemporary art," explains Primack. "There are areas that have coalesced into clearly demarcated markets—Prouvé, Perriand, Maria Pergay, midcentury French design, Art Deco furniture—but otherwise it's still a landscape in discovery, which leaves room for experimentation."

That's also how he sees Design Miami. In comparison to more staid, trade-focused events, the 10-year-old fair has always had a rakish vibe. Early installments were mounted in unexpected venues (a church, an old market). One of Primack's ambitions is to preserve the show's edgy, upstart spirit as it becomes more established. He's also keen to bolster its Hispanic constituency. Fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, Primack lives part-time in Guatemala, where his TV-executive husband, Rudy Weissenberg, is based. "Having traveled all over South America, my perspective is obviously Latincentric. That's a collector base that we would like to see more of, in both Miami and Basel," he says.

When Primack came on board in February, the lineup for the Swiss fair was all but finalized by his predecessor, Marianne Goebl. And yet he has already begun lending his imprimatur. The Basel show will debut a program called Design at Large, high-concept installations—both historic and contemporary—curated by Barneys creative director Dennis Freedman. Primack is also attending to more mundane matters. "I started thinking about basic ways to make the fair experience more pleasant, from better Wi-Fi to having more—and more generous—table space for people to spread out and meet with clients," he says. "And as someone who's unfortunately ruled by my stomach, it's important to have food you want to eat."

Primack has an appetite for a wide swath of culture, waxing poetic about Paul Gauguin and the "Pina Bausch–like choreography" of Audi's assembly line in the same breath. "Rodman has depth of knowledge of the design field, from his art history education to his practical experience at all ends of the spectrum: designing, marketing and selling to the public," says Primack's former boss, Marino. "I particularly like his non-narrow vision of what constitutes interesting and valuable design."

Although his role vis-à-vis the fair is to help expand the market for rare and limited-edition collectibles—pieces that often walk the line between functional object and fine artwork—he's unmoved by high-design navel gazing. "I'm interested in connecting what we exhibit at the fair to the bigger canvas of design and science, technology and materials development," he says. "The process of bringing better design to a bigger number of people—that improves life."

Bass Museum in Miami Beach celebrating 50th anniversary

Bass Museum in Miami Beach celebrating 50th anniversary

From Egypt to Renaissance Europe to contemporary works, the county’s oldest municipal museum showcases its past as it forges a cutting-edge future.

Like the city’s skyline, Miami’s cultural landscape 50 years ago would be almost unrecognizable today.

In 1964, virtually none of the art institutions we are now familiar with existed, until the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach opened that year, becoming the first city exhibition space in the county. (The Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami was the first art museum in South Florida, opened in the 1950s, but it is not a municipal institution.)

Now in its golden jubilee year, the Bass has come a long way since its birth — and like the metropolis itself, sometimes with fits and starts.

During the 1960s and ’70s, the museum showed mainly the 500-piece collection donated to the city of Miami Beach by John and Johanna Bass, which focused on Renaissance and Baroque works, in the old library building off Collins Avenue.

Fast forward to 2014, when the Bass opened its year with a symphony in a newly refurbished park that now holds significant outdoor public sculptures, outside a building remodeled by Arata Isozaki. Inside, the work of internationally acclaimed Polish multimedia artist Piotr Uklanski took over the second floor; on the first floor a Romanian performance troupe had recently reenacted some pieces from museum’s initial Renaissance painting collection, giving the centuries-old masterpieces a contemporary twist. Clearly, the Bass had come of age and stature.

There have been growing pains, with the museum sometimes closing and renovations taking longer than expected, but today it is one of Miami’s major cultural landmarks.

And the changes may continue in unexpected directions.

The talk of the art town has been the potential merger of the Bass and North Miami’s Museum of Contemporary Art, which would bring MOCA’s more-mature contemporary art collection to the Beach, making the Bass a heftier institution.

But the merger has become mired in technical and legal difficulties since MOCA announced its intentions and has faced stiff resistance from North Miami, which has housed the public, nonprofit museum since its inception. For now, the merger is on hold.

When John Bass ran the nascent museum from 1964 to 1978, it was a small, regional space, attracting a local crowd who came to see the mainly Renaissance and Baroque painting and tapestry. After Bass died in 1978, the authenticity of some of the works was called into question, and the city closed the museum. When a slightly refurbished building reopened, the Friends of the Bass membership group was incorporated, and a professional director, art historian Diane Camber, was hired in 1980.

During Camber’s tenure, the museum started to focus on traveling exhibits and expanded its artistic repertoire.

“From the beginning, I was determined to professionalize the institution,” the Miami Beach native recalls, by getting the museum accredited and developing the collection to include design and architectural aspects. Her first big splash came from the “Precious Legacy” exhibit of European Judaica collected by the Nazis from a museum in Prague. “It illustrated that we could be an important cultural destination, and highlighted the need for an expanded facility,” she says.

The collection grew to about 3,000 pieces, the Isozaki-redesigned building opened in 2001, and the museum was now capable of mounting large shows. But structural problems plagued the facility, and it had to close several times. The struggle for funding was unending. “There are battle scars, but it was all worth it,” says Camber, who retired in 2007 and was named director emerita.

When Silvia Karman Cubiña took the reins in 2008, the Bass was ready for its next big leap. The recession was well under way, but Cubiña expanded the museum’s scope, bringing in important contemporary exhibits, furthering the emphasis on design and fashion to reflect the nature of Miami Beach itself, and literally “busting it outdoors,” she says.

For years the park that extends from the museum’s front door to Collins Avenue had sat derelict, while visitors entered at the rear. Art Public opened up four years ago during Art Basel, with sculptures from international artists populating the newly renovated park during the December extravaganza. The popular sculptural exhibit now runs for four months each year.

From an anemic number of members on its board of directors, the Bass now has 23 under president George Lindemann, who has been instrumental in expanding the educational programming. Support from the Knight Foundation has brought funding for the museum to the next level; and last year the city approved a $7.5 million grant for further expansion, which will begin in 2015. Out will go the huge ramp that leads from the first floor to the second and has been considered a waste of space, and in will come more room for art and additional educational programs.

The museum will have to close again while the work is done, but Cubiña says it will be worth it because the museum will gain almost half again as much programmable space as it now has. “That’s the biggest 50th anniversary present of all,” she says.

Surrounded by the phenomenal works of Ghana-born artist El Anatsui, whose metal bottle-cap tapestries make up the current exhibit at the Bass, Cubiña says part of her mission is to push the Bass to be “part of the international dialogue” on the art stage. “I want to make sure we have a finger on the pulse of what is going on globally.”

To that end, she has brought in some groundbreaking exhibits, including two stunning video installations: Isaac Julien’s Ten Thousand Waves, and another video thriller, Eve Sussman’s Rape of the Sabine Women, both presented during Art Basel Miami.

Other exhibits with acclaimed contemporary international artists have tied the Bass to its history by playing off the Masters’ works in the collection, such as the six projects interpreting classical themes, combined in The Endless Renaissance. Or the solo outing by an early member of the Young British Art movement, Matt Collishaw, whose still-lifes looked like tweaked Baroque reincarnations, and who incorporated a classic altar from the Bass collection into his show.

In 2010, the museum created a room to permanently show the works of Egyptian art that had been in the Bass collection but not prominently displayed before. Featuring a sarcophagus and ancient mummy, 13 objects of antiquity are now on view daily in the dimly lit downstairs enclave.

The museum also instituted the temporary contemporary program, which in conjunction with Miami Beach exhibits temporary outdoor installations, many by local artists. Outside the museum right now are the whimsical and hefty sculpture Self Portrait as the Barefoot Mailman by local artist Christy Gast, whose mailman’s head is buried in the ground; and the pinewood “decks” by Emmett Moore that visitors to the Bass park are encouraged to lounge on.

And Cubiña is surrounded by more art professionals than during her early days with the Bass. One is the new curator of exhibitions, Jose Carlos Diaz, who has put together the official 50th anniversary exhibit, set to open Aug. 8, titled Gold, appropriately. This will not only include artists who work with gold but those who work with the ages-old associations of the metal, power and wealth, in contemporary forms such as video, installation and photography as well as painting and sculpture.

The Bass will continue to explore the relationship between visual arts and fashion, such as last year’s extensive From Picasso to Koons, which included 135 artists’ sculptural jewelry; and this year’s Vanitas, avant-garde, ready-to-wear and couture curated by the director of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute.

In other words, says Cubiña, in the museum’s 50th year she wants to continue to “open up the Bass” to a variety of art forms, locations (indoors and outdoors), international trends and curatorial visions, to be “a conduit to what’s happening in the world.”

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/05/15/4119773/bass-museum-in-miami-beach-celebrating.html#storylink=cpy

George Lindemann Journal by George Lindemann - "Rearranging Warhol’s Legacy" @nytimes by BLAKE GOPNIK

George Lindemann Journal by George Lindemann - "Rearranging Warhol’s Legacy" @nytimes by BLAKE GOPNIK

The front entrance to the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Credit Abby Warhola        

PITTSBURGH — Andy Warhol was, chronologically and by his own description, a nose picker, a pimp and a water guzzler. He was also (or therefore) one of the most various, complex and impressive talents the art world has produced. All those claims, however unlikely, can be confirmed by a visit to the Andy Warhol Museum here in his hometown. In honor of its 20th anniversary, the museum has been rethought from top to bottom, and the results are now being revealed to the public. There may not be another museum that digs as deep into a single artist, and gets as much out of the excavation.

“We want people to know that there’s much more to Andy Warhol than Campbell’s soup cans and Marilyns,” said Eric Shiner, who took over as director in 2011. He started his career as an intern at the museum in 1994, and sitting in his office one day in April — the same space where he once sorted books — he said of Warhol, “He changed just about everything.”

Curators set out to show how life and art were perhaps more closely entwined for Warhol than for any other artist.


Top, the new lobby is lined in silver foil to echo Warhol’s 1964 Factory. Below, the same space before it was remodeled. Credit Top, Abby Warhola; Bottom, The Andy Warhol Museum

The museum used to mix works from various periods in an attractive scattershot, but now all seven of its floors have been reconceived as an orderly survey of just about everything that Warhol got up to, from the 1950s as a leading commercial artist to his work as an impresario with the Velvet Underground in the later ’60s to his landmark films — and the first video art — right through to his place deep within MTV culture in the 1980s. Where other artists of his generation, such as Roy Lichtenstein and Claes Oldenburg, used pop culture to feed their high art, Warhol plunged right in and became part of that culture.

“It really is a new Warhol; it’s much more about him,” Mr. Shiner said, noting especially the trove of archival documents and early art, much of it on loan from local relatives.

Forget Elizabeth Taylor and Brillo boxes and even Edie Sedgwick. To understand the true greatness of Andy Warhol (1928-87), we may want to start with two early images by and of him. The rethought galleries now feature a little-known student painting from 1948 in which Warhol uses the latest in expressionist brushwork to portray himself, nude, with a finger stuck up his nose, pushing past the limits of good taste and fine art even while still in college. Near that artwork hangs a rare family snapshot that includes a baby-bonneted Andy, maybe 2 years old, also with his finger in his nose. Could there be any other artist whose art so closely tracks his life?

We can make do knowing little about Giotto or Vermeer; we can manage without the details of Monet’s life. But Warhol, by being who he was, as much as by making what he made, put himself “at the very heart of what we know as art in the 20th century,” Mr. Shiner said. That art had often tried to bridge the gap between art and life; when Warhol came along, he backfilled the chasm. Figures such as Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons have waltzed across after him.

Last year, a record 120,000 people visited the museum, helping boost its revenue. The budget for the anniversary rehang was $500,000 — less than some museums spend on one show. A new lobby is lined in silver foil to echo Warhol’s 1964 Factory on East 47th Street in Manhattan, and comes complete with a bar meant to get visitors hanging out and to make the important art-historical point that Warhol was as notable as a catalyst for new ways to hang out as he was a maker of precious objects.

The museum is asking a lot, however, if it wants us to imagine that what goes on in its lobby could have much of a link to Warhol’s wild times. The fun that went on in his studio was so serious, it could almost be fatal.

Later, in America’s disco days, Warhol’s mere presence at Studio 54, as much as the portraits he did of his pals there, were what made him matter to our culture, as revealed in a show about Warhol and his designer friend Halston now filling special-exhibition spaces on the new second floor. (Future exhibitions there will dwell on how contemporary artists were influenced by or even reacted against Warhol.)


Andy Warhol in Flushing, Queens, amid black-eyed Susans near the 1964 World’s Fair, with a freshly completed Flowers painting in the background. Credit William John Kennedy/KIWI Arts Group

The idea of a “post-object” Warhol — we might now think of him as the godfather of such “relational” artists as Rirkrit Tiravanija — was a big part of how he came across in his own day. The rehang includes a 1969 issue of “Esquire” in which Warhol explains that his next work will be to rent out his followers to all comers, turning himself into a kind of art-world pimp.

Recent scholarship has also latched onto this idea of Warhol as performer. “There’s this conception of Andy Warhol’s most important artwork as his construction of the self, as it changed over the years,” said Nicholas Chambers, curator of art at the museum. Many of the new galleries where he’s hanging Warhol’s well-known canvases also include photos that show Warhol constructing a forever-new “self” that ranged from tie-wearing upstart to leather-clad undergrounder to preppy social climber and disco king.

The one Warhol persona that is slighted in the new installation is his presence as one of the first notably gay artists to reach mass attention. The museum is open about Warhol’s homosexuality, displaying his “Studies for a Boy Book,” a series of pre-Pop drawings from the 1950s, and mentioning boyfriends in wall text. But it never digs into how important he was for the history of gay culture, and how vital his gayness was for his art.

Yet there’s a risk that too much attention paid to who Warhol was could distract from the art he made, according to Christopher Bedford, the director of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, who recently presented a show on Warhol’s use of photography. Warhol’s ideas about art may have expanded to include aspects of his life, but they are still ideas about art; Mr. Bedford said he felt that the museum has to be careful not to present Warhol as just another “fascinating social figure.”

You can sense the museum trying to strike this delicate balance in its rehang. If anything, however, recent stratospheric auction prices have focused public attention away from Warhol the man and onto his handmade, salable “masterpieces”: The catalog for Christie’s latest contemporary art auction in New York featured a “White Marilyn” from 1962 on its cover, as oligarch bait.

Mr. Shiner, the museum’s director, doesn’t deny the instant appeal of the paintings. Touring through the collection, he stopped to admire an immense 1963 silk-screened canvas of Elvis Presley called “Elvis 11 Times,” now given its own wall. Warhol wrote that he liked the silk-screen technique for its “assembly-line” effect, “the way you get the same image, slightly different each time. It was all so simple — quick and chancey.”

Mr. Shiner emphasized that it’s easier to recognize the radical flair of Warhol’s classic pieces when they are seen near his more challenging work in moving pictures, as they are in the new installation. “Film is equal in his oeuvre to the paintings,” Mr. Shiner said.


This vintage glass vase, etched in red in the 1920s or ’30s, is one of many objects from Andy Warhol’s personal collection on view for the first time. Credit The Andy Warhol Museum                    

Next year will mark five decades since Warhol became the first artist to make video art. (His landmark piece, “Outer and Inner Space,” featured Edie Sedgwick on film, keeping company with a second image of herself on video, and it beat Nam June Paik’s first video work by several weeks.) One of the rehang’s highlights is a fourth-floor media gallery where, for the first time, the public is offered on-demand, uncut access to about 130 of Warhol’s films, videos and TV programs, mostly unfindable until now. “Movies, movies and more movies,” Warhol later recalled. “We were shooting so many, we never even bothered to give titles to a lot of them".

Greg Pierce, a curator of film and video at the museum, is presenting one piece barely known even to experts: Warhol’s 1971 video called “Water.” It was made for an exhibition organized by Yoko Ono, and offers a 33-minute close-up on the tank of the water cooler in Warhol’s Union Square studio, as he and his irregulars stand around nattering and drinking from it. (The audio is punctuated with the “glug-glug” of the cooler being used). The video takes off from Warhol’s earlier “durational” films — works that had him pointing a static movie camera at such things as the Empire State Building — and blends them with his budding 1970s “performance” as the world’s cattiest gossip and partygoer.

John W. Smith, now the director of the art museum at the Rhode Island School of Design, was at the Warhol museum from 1994 to 2006 as an archivist and then assistant director. He said one of the most provocative moves for any one-artist museum would be to acknowledge the weak works as a vital part of the story. He added, “I know the storerooms at the Warhol Museum, and there’s a lot of work that the market has tried to tell us is important but frankly, I doubt it.” He cited Warhol’s “Toy” paintings, from the 1980s, as pieces that might be displayed as examples of second-rate work.

The new installation does not show much sign of trumpeting any works as also-rans.

But Mr. Smith also notes the opposite happening, with works once considered minor now being universally recognized as great. He mentions the Warhol archives as such a case. Down on the museum’s third floor, those archives are going on display behind glass walls. Warhol had the habit of filling cardboard boxes with all the mail, mementos and leftovers from his daily life, including such things as wedding cake, a banana-shaped harmonica and naughty pictures. He called the results “Time Capsules,” and all 610 of them are now visible; at any given time, the contents of one will be spread out in vitrines.

The museum has unpacked Capsule No. 109, whose hundreds of artifacts include a poster printed from a bootleg photo of a naked Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (in good humor, she inscribed it “For Andy — with enduring affection — Jackie, Montauk”) and an autographed (but never opened) copy of Lou Reed’s “Coney Island Baby.” (In an obscure interview conducted in the studio in 1985, apparently with Warhol looking on, one assistant talked about the capsules: “He wants to sell them as a unit. I tried to make them really good. Each one has a T-shirt, a good art book, Godiva chocolates — things like that.”)

Matt Wrbican, chief archivist and a walking hard-drive of Warholian facts, said there are over 500,000 items in his care, with many only now being put on display. Even the couple of hours I spent in the archives last year instantly delivered fresh information — the fact, for instance, that after being shot by Valerie Solanas in 1968, Warhol, either down at the heels or simply cheap, had hoped to trade paintings for his doctors’ services. At today’s auction prices, that would have made it the most profitable medicine ever practiced.

“He always kept everything,” recalled the illustrator James Warhola, a nephew who stayed with Warhol for several weeks in the 1970s and witnessed his manic collecting. “His whole life’s work was made to order for a museum.”

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