MAC: Miyuca vs Krens y todas las Juntas de museos

Hace meses Jerry Saltz comentaba sobre la posible renuncia de Krens. También les incluyo el artículo de Carol Vogel en el NY times donde se menciona la labor de una Junta real, no de plástico como la del MAC.

by Jerry Saltz

On the last day of July, the art world awoke to a disturbance in the Force. The New York Times announced that Lisa Dennison, the director of the Guggenheim Museum since only 2005, would be leaving to become executive vice-president for Sotheby’s North America. Dennison wasn’t the best director around; she may have been only a puppet. But she was capably playing the role of Gerald Ford to this troubled institution, helping to bring the Guggenheim back from its 17-year nightmare under the reign of Thomas Krens. This self-styled shah of culture and franchising has been described as "cold, distracted and rarely on hand." I would add reckless, destructive, myopic and misguided.

Since Krens took over in 1988, the air around art at the Guggenheim has been distorted and toxic. Yet since he left his directorship in 2005 to run the Guggenheim Foundation, which oversees all five museums (New York, Venice, Berlin, Bilbao, Las Vegas), the institution has shown auspicious signs of actually putting his tenure behind it. Under Dennison, the specialized but scintillating collection of early-20th-century art was intelligently reinstalled so that batches of excellent women and lesser-known artists are featured alongside the big guns. Very good contemporary exhibitions have taken place, most recently this summer’s smart show of recent acquisitions and art from the permanent collection. Curated by Kevin Lotery, Ted Mann and Nat Trotman (under the supervision of Nancy Spector), this sampler was loaded with serendipitous juxtapositions, and showed the Guggenheim shunning spectacle and stressing art again. The soon-to-open Richard Prince survey could be really good, and this winter’s Cai Guo-Qiang retrospective, as well as other exhibitions in the works, are all good signs.

But something rotten is brewing. Krens has been up to his corrosive old tricks again. With breathtakingly bad timing last year, just days before Israel and Lebanon exploded into war, Krens announced that the Guggenheim would build a 300,000-square-foot edifice designed by architect Frank Gehry, on a spit of land called Saadiyat -- Arabic for "Isle of Happiness" -- in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. The Emirates also has plans to build a branch of the Louvre designed by Jean Nouvel, a maritime museum by Tadao Ando, and a performing-arts center by Zaha Hadid. The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, dubbed "GuggAbu" last year by arts blogger Tyler Green, will sit atop a slender peninsula jutting into the Persian Gulf. The building is to be completed by 2011 at a cost estimated to be between $200 million and $400 million. Slated for construction nearby are dozens of luxury hotels, three marinas, two golf courses, high-end apartments and fancy villas. Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan says this $27 billion Sodom-plus-Vegas on the Persian Gulf is expected to draw three million tourists a year by 2015 and will be an "upscale cultural district."

At the time of the GuggAbu announcement, Gehry hadn’t even begun designing. Calling the building "a rush job," he opined, "It’s got to be something that will make sense here," adding, "I know it’s hot. Being situated on the seafront means we might have sandstorms." He should have added that being situated on this seafront also means it’s possible the whole peninsula will be under water in a hundred years. Perhaps those watching it go under will think that’s where this air-conditioned Xanadu belongs.

Krens notes that the UAE "has the resources" to build this project. He’s certainly right there. Abu Dhabi harbors nine percent of the world’s known oil reserves and four percent of its gas. However, it also harbors something else: a stringent anti-Israel policy. Numerous government sites warn that Israeli passport holders and travelers whose passports bear Israeli stamps will be denied entry visas to the Emirates. Thus, the Guggenheim -- founded by a Jewish family, an institution with Jewish curators and scores of works by Jewish artists, designed by the Jewish Gehry -- isn’t really welcome either. (Nor are other marginalized groups: Two years ago, a UAE government official said, "Our society does not accept queer behavior either in word or action." Maybe that means art by queers won’t be welcome in the GuggAbu.) As of July 2006, it was reported that no nudes were to be shown, nor anything deemed "controversial."

None of this fazes Krens. "This is a minor issue," he said last year. "Our challenge now is to define the next generation of Guggenheim museums." Actually, the word next is misleading because there was no earlier generation. Most of those either went belly-up or never materialized, in places like Taiwan, Rio de Janeiro, Singapore and St. Petersburg. The failed plan for Rio called for a tropical rainforest, a 100-foot waterfall, suspension bridges, and a sunken lobby with underwater views of a reflecting pool. Perhaps he’ll announce a Guggenheim Machu Picchu next, or a Guggenheim Great Wall.

The big success on which all this bluster is based is, of course, the Guggenheim Bilbao. That building does work, but only economically, as a tourist attraction, as a source of civic pride and a leverage tool for Krens. It looks like a shiny, undulating amusement-park ride from the outside. It’s great. The inside, however, is so oversize and jazzy that it is awful for art (except that of the artist who inspired much of Gehry’s thinking, Richard Serra). Krens and Gehry, great as they are as a team, should not build museums together -- not in Abu Dhabi, not anywhere. They should be given the contract to build every Wal-Mart in America. That would change the way American architecture looks and the way Americans look at architecture. Krens and Gehry would be heroes. America would be lucky.

In the late ‘80s, when he took over, Krens did some good. He brought the Guggenheim into the present after it had drifted for years. He sold some of the collection but was behind numerous important acquisitions, including the great Panza collection. Then he saw something before others. He understood that culture was going to be big business and that institutions like his could be franchised. He dreamed of shining museums on hills, and tried to build them. That was the beginning of the end.

Krens broke faith with art long ago. Now he crows about meeting with "business moguls, governors [and] mayors," and boasts, "In the last three years, more than 130 cities have made an initial inquiry into doing something like Bilbao." His traveling lecture is called "Developing the Guggenheim into a Global Brand." But under Krens the Guggenheim brand has been not art or exhibitions or even the collection but Building Buildings. And even that was a lie -- they were all Coming Soon, and in reality every one was Coming Soon But Never Comes.

Though I love the Guggenheim’s Frank Lloyd Wright mother ship on Fifth Avenue, one thing this museum has needed for years has been more wide-open, non-spiraling space in New York. Krens did open a SoHo branch in 1992, but it folded in 2001. (In a nice bit of symbolism, the building now holds a slick Prada store.) He also tried to have Gehry build a behemoth near the South Street Seaport, but that never worked out either. Then he switched back to his international aspirations. Thus, Krens’s world adventures aren’t just silly, sad, misspent and maddening; they’re tragic. Imagine if, instead of squandering the Guggenheim’s good name, and rather than pouring time and money into showy boondoggles around the globe, Krens had secured a large space somewhere in New York City, and created something like what the Tate did in London -- a sort of Guggenheim Modern for rotating shows and space for the permanent collection.

In his heyday, Krens was the one American museum director with the hubris, clout and drive to pull something like this off. His dictatorial power accomplished some good things, but at far too high a price. By now his so-called vision can be seen for what it is: a ruse masquerading as a wow. The only thing Krens did was mix Museum Mile with Broadway. Dreaming of blockbusters, he created palaces and high-concept productions dependent on one-time, out-of-town visitors. Krens accessorized the museum’s shell, but he neglected and betrayed art. The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is just more of the same but on a grander scale. Krens ushered in the ill-begotten era of constructing glitzy trophy museums and then simply filling them with art. He and the ideology came in with Reagan; they should go out with Bush. It is time for the trustees and excellent curators of the beloved Guggenheim to complete the process they seemed to be initiating so admirably before Dennison’s ill-timed and egregious abdication, and together take back the rotunda and get rid of Krens.


Hiring a new director for the Guggenheim will be tricky. It will be extremely difficult for any candidate to unequivocally say, "Krens must go," if only because he’ll have a major hand in the hiring. Nonetheless, an independent-minded director is a necessity if the museum is to recover. The last director of the Guggenheim was a woman, and the next one should be, too. Four candidates come immediately to mind: the chief curator and associate director for programs at the Whitney Museum, Donna De Salvo; the current director of UCLA’s Hammer Museum, Ann Philbin; the departing director of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Kathy Halbreich; and the Studio Museum in Harlem’s Thelma Golden.

Whoever takes the job must not do so without a number of ironclad agreements in place. Assuming the director can’t fire Krens outright (presumably only the board can do that), she must stipulate that she has control over appointing and releasing all board members and employees. She has to sign off on all activities and exhibitions in all present and future Guggenheims, constructing a legal firewall between Krens and the Guggenheim. He should not be allowed to take one dime of Guggenheim money for any project, and she should try to get out of the Abu Dhabi project. Krens must have no role beyond an advisory one -- and without payment, from either the museum or its trustees or other backers. If this new director can defang Krens, then -- and only then -- might there be a bright future at the Guggenheim.

JERRY SALTZ is senior art critic for New York Magazine.

Published: February 28, 2008

After nearly 20 years, Thomas Krens, the provocative director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, is stepping down, its board announced on Wednesday.

The move comes three years after Mr. Krens triumphed in a him-or-me showdown with the foundation’s biggest benefactor, the Cleveland philanthropist Peter B. Lewis. Mr. Lewis resigned after arguing that Mr. Krens was spending too much money and should focus more on the foundation’s New York flagship museum rather than on funneling resources into developing Guggenheim satellites around the world.

In a statement on Wednesday the foundation emphasized that Mr. Krens would remain at the foundation as a senior adviser for international affairs, overseeing the creation of a 452,000-square-foot museum in Abu Dhabi to be designed by Frank Gehry.

In resigning as director Mr. Krens is clearly taking his cue from the Guggenheim’s board. “This is something that Tom and the board decided together,” Jennifer Stockman, the board’s president, said. She characterized Mr. Krens’s new position as a “natural transition.”

She added, “The museum is in a strong position to move on.”

The foundation said that Mr. Krens would remain as director until a successor was hired, and that the search would begin immediately. But it added that the institution would revert to the management structure that existed until 2005, appointing a director who would run the Manhattan flagship and Guggenheim satellites.

In September 2005 the foundation promoted Lisa Dennison, then a deputy director and chief curator, to director of the Manhattan museum. She served less than two years, departing last summer to join Sotheby’s auction house as an executive. Curators and other museum directors have been saying privately for months that the Guggenheim has been unable to fill the crucial job of director of the New York museum. They said that candidates who were informally approached were not shy about communicating that they would not work under Mr. Krens, who is known as a difficult personality.

Supporters of Mr. Krens, however, say he has been disappointed with the foundation’s board, especially its shortage of particularly generous donors. With no replacement for someone like Mr. Lewis, who gave the Guggenheim about $77 million overall — nearly four times as much as any other board member in its history — the Guggenheim may not have the financial muscle to keep growing, some art-world insiders say.

Mr. Krens cast his job change in a positive light on Wednesday. “This is a great move for everyone,” he said in a telephone interview after stepping off a flight from Paris to New York. “In July I will have been at the Guggenheim for 20 years, and I like that round number.”

A towering 6 foot 5, with an M.B.A. in management from Yale and a manner that is often taken for arrogance, Mr. Krens, 61, has long been synonymous with the Guggenheim. He is best known for his ambitions for developing an international network extending from Las Vegas to Bilbao, Spain, and for the types of high-profile exhibitions he presented, including shows like “The Art of the Motorcycle,” a personal passion, and ones that tackled entire countries like China and Brazil.

He has also organized trend-setting shows of contemporary artists, among them Matthew Barney, Richard Prince and, most recently, Cai Guo-Qiang.

Mr. Krens has drawn criticism for some of his programming choices, including a show devoted to Armani suits underwritten by the fashion house itself.

The new director of the Guggenheim will face the task of balancing growth with acquisitions for the permanent collection and organizing high-profile exhibitions. In addition to overseeing the New York museum, the director will have authority over the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, the Guggenheim Bilbao, the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin and the Guggenheim Hermitage Museum in Las Vegas.

“The New York museum is the center of the entire constellation,” Ms. Stockman said.

Although some critics argue that Mr. Krens has in effect turned the Guggenheim into a McDonald’s-like franchise at the expense of expanding its collections and endowment, he has actually created a model for expansion that is being copied by institutions around the world, including the Tate in Britain and the Louvre in France. The titanium-clad Guggenheim Bilbao, designed by Mr. Gehry, is viewed as a major success, attracting more than a million visitors every year since it opened in 1997.

During his tenure Mr. Krens has increased the Guggenheim’s endowment to $118 million from $20 million, although he has been known to dip into the endowment to cover operating costs. (The museum’s endowment dropped by 20 percent from 1998 to 2005, when it was $45 million, which drew harsh criticism from Mr. Lewis.)

In 1989 Mr. Krens negotiated a gift of Impressionist paintings from the widow of Justin K. Thannhauser, acquired the Panza di Biumo collection of Minimalist art and oversaw the commissions of major artworks by Jeff Koons, James Rosenquist, Rachel Whiteread and Gerhard Richter at Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin. These works later became part of the Guggenheim’s collection.

In Bilbao Mr. Krens led an acquisitions program that has included major installations of works by Richard Serra, Mr. Koons, Jenny Holzer and Louise Bourgeois. He also has doubled the size of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and partnered with the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna on programming.

Twice Mr. Krens has overseen the restoration and expansion of its landmark Frank Lloyd Wright building on Fifth Avenue. The first, completed in 1992, was an $80 million restoration of the building’s interior, along with the construction of a 10-story tower gallery and office building designed by Gwathmey Siegel & Associates.

The second, a $29 million restoration of the Wright building, is to be completed this summer.

Mr. Krens said Wednesday that the proposed Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emitates, was his most ambitious project to date.

“It’s 35 percent larger than Bilbao,” he said, adding that the new museum’s programming would be more ambitious, too, and that a staff of about a dozen people would be dedicated exclusively to the Abu Dhabi branch.

“It will be truly global,” he said, “representing art from the Middle East, Russia, Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, as well as Europe and America. It will change the model of the art museum.”