‘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.

Pakistani-American painter Ambreen Butt imbues traditional miniatures with timely social criticism

Ambreen Butt’s exhibit at National Museum of Women in the Arts. Photo: Menachem Wecker

My article “Pakistani-American painter Ambreen Butt imbues traditional miniatures with timely social criticism” appears in The Art Newspaper. (Ambreen’s website is here.)

Why Andy Warhol’s Brillo pads — and a million other things — are kosher

My article “Why Andy Warhol’s Brillo pads — and a million other things — are kosher,” which riffs on the major Warhol retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, appears in Religion News Service.

Warhol’s Brillo boxes at the Whitney Museum. Photo: Menachem Wecker
Detail of OU kosher symbol on Warhol’s Brillo boxes at the Whitney. Photo: Menachem Wecker

In 25 years, Museum of Contemporary Religious Art hasn’t shied from risks

MOCRA
St. Louis University’s Museum of Contemporary Religious Art in 2015. Photo: Menachem Wecker

My article “In 25 years, Museum of Contemporary Religious Art hasn’t shied from risks” appears in National Catholic Reporter.

What’s in a name? Why the Hague’s Gemeentemuseum will soon become the Kunstmuseum

Gemeentemuseum
The Gemeentemuseum. Photo: Nachama Soloveichik

My article “What’s in a name? Why the Hague’s Gemeentemuseum will soon become the Kunstmuseum” appears in The Art Newspaper.

Here’s my broader email interview with Gemeentemuseum director Benno Tempel:

MW: I’m so fascinated by this decision to change a museum’s name. Are you aware of others who have done this from whom you’re drawing inspiration?

Benno Tempel: I am aware of a few other museums in the Netherlands that changed their name. Mostly it concerns small alterations or variations. For example the Amsterdam Historisch Museum (Amsterdam Historical Museum) changed its name to Amsterdam Museum in 2010 and the Letterkundig Museum (Literary Museum) to Literatuurmuseum (Literature Museum) in 2016. However, we have not drawn inspiration from other museums. The Gemeentemuseum itself has had several names since its founding in 1866. The founders chose Museum voor Moderne Kunst (Museum of Modern Art). Later Museum van de Dienst voor Schone Kunst (Museum of Fine Art) and Haags Gemeentemuseum (The Hague Municipality Museum) were used until it was changed to Gemeentemuseum Den Haag in 1998. The larger and smaller adjustments show that the name never actually functioned properly. The name has been repeatedly questioned, also by people outside the museum. As a result, the wish remained to choose a name that makes clearer to the public what to expect: art.

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How Barbara and Aaron Levine Became Two of America’s Most Committed Collectors of Conceptual Art

Barbara and Aaron Levine in their Washington home. Photo: Menachem Wecker

My article “How Barbara and Aaron Levine Became Two of America’s Most Committed Collectors of Conceptual Art” appears in artnet.

Chess Life article about Chess Sets & Conflict

One of Baltimore artist Gianni Toso’s sets of chess pieces.
One of Baltimore artist Gianni Toso’s sets of chess pieces. Photo: Menachem Wecker

My article “Chess Sets & Conflict,” which reflects on the ways that chess sets, for centuries, have done double-duty as political and religious symbols, appears in the Dec. 2018 issue of Chess Life magazine. It may be accessed in PDF format via this link. To read the entire issue Chess Life, and to subscribe to future issues, visit this link to join the U.S. Chess Federation, which publishes the magazine.

Museums’ mislabeling can leave visitors with misconceptions of biblical proportions

Psalter with Samuel Anointing David at the Cleveland Art Museum

Detail from a psalter with Samuel anointing David, c. 1270-1290. Cleveland Museum of Art/Menachem Wecker


My article “Museums’ mislabeling can leave visitors with misconceptions of biblical proportions” appears in Religion News Service.

What If You Trivialize Hitler?

Bruce Gendelman Holocaust art

Detail of one of Bruce Gendelman’s paintings on view in Krakow. Photo: Menachem Wecker


My article “What If You Trivialize Hitler?” — about the Holocaust art of Bruce Gendelman — appears in Mosaic magazine. (The Jewish Journal, LA, also excerpts it.)

Here’s the lede:

“How do you shoot the devil in the back?” asks the character played by Kevin Spacey in the 1995 movie The Usual Suspects. A similar question has plagued artists for centuries. If evil stops to pose for a portrait, what if you miss your shot, trivializing Hitler or turning Torquemada into a cartoon character?

For many, the 2002 exhibit Mirroring Evil at the Jewish Museum in New York missed the mark egregiously. Among its works commemorating the Holocaust were Chanel-, Hermès-, and Tiffany-branded poison-gas containers and a concentration-camp photograph into which the artist had inserted himself holding a Coke. Even for artists exploring the subject of the Holocaust thoughtfully, gorgeous brushwork or careful cross-hatching can so prettify the surface as to tie up evil in a neat bow.

All the more edifying, then, at the other end of the artistic spectrum, are Leonardo da Vinci’s portraits of ugly people—exquisitely drawn, but there’s no mistaking their individual hideousness.

Such thoughts came to mind on a recent visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau. Even articulating what it’s actually like to stand at the notorious train tracks leading to the entrance gates and all that lay beyond them is like trying to explain color to someone who has never seen. How could art possibly supply the want?

Fortunately, I came upon one possible answer to this conundrum later the same day in Krakow, at an exhibit of the Holocaust works of the American artist Bruce Gendelman. The recipe with which Gendelman approaches the portrayal of evil combines ominous or horrific imagery with a graceful handling of materials while somehow also finding room for a sliver of hope, even of God, peeking through the enveloping darkness.

Bruce Gendelman's Holocaust mobile

Bruce Gendelman’s Holocaust mobile on view in Krakow. Photo: Menachem Wecker

With striking juxtapositions, Nordic art unfurls at the Phillips Collection

Phillips Collection Nordic

Outi Pieski’s Crossing Paths (2014) at the Phillips


My article “With striking juxtapositions, Nordic art unfurls at the Phillips Collection” appears in The Art Newspaper.

  • 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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