False Attributions Have Beleaguered Tintoretto’s Reputation. Three New Museum Shows Hope to Change That

My article “False Attributions Have Beleaguered Tintoretto’s Reputation. Three New Museum Shows Hope to Change That” appears in artnet. Several works at the three Tintoretto shows at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, feature corrected attributions.

Dear celebrities (and everyone else, too): Stop wearing sunglasses at museums!

My article “Dear celebrities (and everyone else, too): Stop wearing sunglasses at museums!” appears in Washington Post Magazine.

Here’s a selection:

Harry Cooper, curator and head of modern art at the National Gallery, hates sunglasses and wears them only when driving while facing the sun. “I guess I want to have an unfiltered view of the world to the extent possible, and that goes for art, too,” he told me. “I can’t imagine putting on sunglasses to look at art. It seems totally absurd.”

Archie Rand, a professor at Brooklyn College and a painter who has had more than 100 solo exhibitions, recalls a visit in 1987 to see 10 paintings at a Manhattan art gallery. Rand arrived to find the gallery owner fuming and railing about a curator and his entourage who had just viewed the art. “He yelled . . . that they were all wearing sunglasses and ‘How the f— can you look at the color of a painting wearing f—ing sunglasses?’ ” Rand remembers.

At Chicago museum, Mexican Catholic history emerges

My article “At Chicago museum, Mexican Catholic history emerges” appears in National Catholic Reporter. Here’s a selection:

In a recent interview, Cesáreo Moreno, the National Museum of Mexican Art’s visual arts director and chief curator, told a tale of two Spanish waves. Early Franciscan, Dominican and Augustinian missionaries were comparatively compassionate and brought technologies, such as the pottery wheel and aqueducts, to Mesoamerica.

Following the Protestant Reformation and the Counter Reformation, the Spanish Inquisition’s moral policing influenced subsequent missionaries. From the 1560s until the late 18th century, Catholic missionaries erased traditional Mexican culture and life, particularly symbols and rituals that drew upon Mesoamerican cosmology.

“They came up with a pantheon of icons, in other words, ‘If you’re going to paint St. James the killer of Moors, this is how he is to be depicted. If you’re to paint an image of the Nativity of Christ, these are the elements,’ ” Moreno said. “They really came down hard. Nothing was left to interpretation. Everything had to be copied exactly and believed in this one firm way.”

Cantor regains his lost voice by composing Jewish music

Arnold Saltzman at his Adas Israel office/Menachem Wecker
Arnold Saltzman at his Adas Israel office/Menachem Wecker

My article “Cantor regains his lost voice by composing Jewish music” appears in Religion News Service.

National Museum of African American History and Culture’s response to my Washington Post Magazine article

In part, NMAAHC states: “Although the Jacob Lawrence label accurately describes, sources and credits the image, it does not explicitly state that the image is a reproduction. For that reason, we will edit the label to ensure the image is not mistaken as the actual painting. The museum is committed to rigorous scholarship, accuracy, and transparency.” Full statement here.

Before and after labels at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Red markup added for emphasis.

Are museums being clear enough with the public about what’s real and what’s fake?

NMAAHC
A visitor looks at a framed picture behind glass at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. The picture, labeled as a Jacob Lawrence, isn’t disclosed as a copy of the original, which is on view at the Phillips Collection. Photo: Menachem Wecker

My article “The Imitation Game: Are museums being clear enough with the public about what’s real and what’s fake?” appears in Washington Post Magazine.

I looked at every single work of art, artifact, specimen, and other object on view at the following Smithsonian museums:

  1. National Museum of the American Indian
  2. National Air and Space Museum
  3. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
  4. National Museum of African Art
  5. Freer Gallery of Art
  6. Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
  7. National Museum of African American History and Culture
  8. National Museum of American History
  9. National Museum of Natural History
  10. American Art Museum
  11. Renwick Gallery
  12. National Portrait Gallery

I also did the same at the following non-Smithsonian museums:

  1. Phillips Collection
  2. National Gallery of Art

I compiled a list of hundreds of objects in these museums, and in museums elsewhere in the country, which aren’t real and probed the degree to which visitors have a fighting chance off knowing what’s “fake news.”

As I write in the piece:

At all the institutions I toured, visitors would have to sometimes read the curators’ minds to grasp whether certain objects are the real McCoy. On museum labels and wall texts, curators use wildly inconsistent terminology. Some terms — such as “replica,” “copy,” “reconstruction,” “facsimile,” “reproduction” and “scale model” — are generally understandable. But others are more esoteric, such as “conjectural restoration,” “proof test article” and “engineering test model.”

Read the full article here.

Update 2/27: SFGATE, the Hearst-owned, sister site of San Francisco Chronicle, has also run the article under the headline “When museums use copies of art and artifacts in their displays, can we really tell?

Update 2: 3/1: The NMAAHC has posted a response on its website. More here.

Update 3: 3/4: The article appears in artnet‘s Art Industry News, “a daily digest of the most consequential developments coming out of the art world and art market.”

Can a Major Expansion Make the Norton More Than a Playground for the Rich?

An 80-year-old, 65-foot-tall banyan tree at the museum’s new entrance.

My article “The Norton Museum Is Adjacent to the Third-Richest Zip Code in America. Can a Major Expansion Make It More Than a Playground for the Rich?” appears in artnet.

‘The Prophet,’ ‘10 Commandments’ and other religious works enter public domain

Khalil Gibran Memorial
The Khalil Gibran Memorial in Washington D.C. Photo: Menachem Wecker

My article “‘The Prophet,’ ’10 Commandments’ and other religious works enter public domain” appears in Religion News Service (RNS).

Jews of African descent ‘unnerved’ by comparisons to viral video group

My article “Jews of African descent ‘unnerved’ by comparisons to viral video group” appears in Religion News Service.

‘We’re All in Freefall’: Museum Workers Scramble for Cash Amid the Longest U.S. Government Shutdown in History

National Gallery of Art government shutdown
The National Gallery of Art during the shutdown

My article “‘‘We’re All in Freefall’: Museum Workers Scramble for Cash Amid the Longest US Government Shutdown in History” appears in artnet.

  • Selected articles

    NMAAHC "The Imitation Game: Are museums being clear enough with the public about what’s real and what’s fake?" Washington Post Magazine. March 3, 2019.

    Bobby Fischer gravestone "Searching for Fischer’s Legacy." Chess Life magazine. March 2018. (PDF file).

    Jules Olitski star "A Memorial That Knows Its Biblical History." Wall St. Journal. Sept. 22, 2017.

    CIA art collection "Infiltrating the CIA’s Secret Art Collection." Playboy. Jan./Feb. 2017.
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