Ditch The Junk — aka De-Accessioning

Usen Castle, an iconic building on campus
Time to clear out the castle! Image via Wikipedia

I love this odd, elegant phrase — de-accessioning — used by curators of museums, to describe the formal and sometimes fraught process of culling their collections in order to upgrade and acquire new pieces.

Sort of a garage sale, but with 17th. century tapestries and 19th.century portraits.

Here’s an interesting New York Times piece on it:

Cultural institutions like the National Academy Museum and the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University have generated controversy by selling or even considering selling items to cover operating costs, a practice forbidden by the professional association for art museum directors.

So even though all of the sales — with the exception of the historical society’s — are to be used to generate funds for future acquisitions, institutions that deaccession these days find themselves on the defensive. “Part of the normal biological clock of museums is to examine their collections,” said David Franklin, the director of the Cleveland Museum, which hopes to gain about $1 million from its sale. “We should be constantly refining and upgrading. I’ve given the message to all the curators that I regard deaccessioning as a normal act, and I encourage them to reassess the collections constantly.”

I think about this because I have some nice belongings I now want to dispose of, get some cash for, and acquire something better: a Lartigue photo, a kilim rug, a Japanese silk kimono, a raccoon boa. It’s much easier to bring something into your life or your home than find the right buyer for it when you need that cash.

Here’s a fairly astonishing/depressing look at what happens when your husband is a scam artist and the Feds swoop in to auction off everything you thought you owned.

This week I’m in Canada, to face the not unusual but fairly horrible task of sorting through my mother’s possessions and deciding — with her help — what will be sold, donated or kept. She is moving tomorrow into a nursing home, and it’s all been pretty sudden, so we’re having to make quick yet major decisions about some valuable objects and art. Let alone books, photos and personal papers.

I’ve bought and sold at auction before, and have written enough on art and antiques that I have a good idea what’s potentially valuable and is not, but for many people — and this is only a one-bedroom apartment, not a huge house full of stuff — it’s overwhelming physically, emotionally and financially. I admit, I’m dreading it.

When we’re at our most vulnerable, blindsided by grief and haste and confusion and loss, whether of life, home, vehicle, job or all of these at once, we have to detach from all these objects and dispose of them.

However Buddhist we wish to be(c0me) through practicing non-attachment, our possessions so often define us and encapsulate our memories.

Not easy!

What are you trying to get rid of?

How will you go about doing it?

The Met: Drunk On Beauty

Giant Bamboo in Ecuador
Image via Wikipedia

It’s a sin to live within striking distance of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and not go, often. I shrivel not at the $20 suggested donation, (I paid $10 today and have unembarrassedly paid much less), but the crowds. But I was way overdue for for an aesthetic infusion, so, today, after a terrific French lunch with fellow former True/Slant Afghanistan writer P.J. Tobia, I wandered over.

A wild, weird, amazing show is on the roof right now, Big Bambu, by the brothers Doug and Mike Starn. They have been building the most unlikely structure imaginable, a sprawling, ever-expanding series of walkways and stairs and poles, lashed together with cord of different colors. It is hallucinatory to sit atop the Met, as the sun starts to sink over the rooftops and towers and peer through a thicket of pale bamboo at the gleaming Deco towers across Central Park.

I took some time to savor some of the galleries, a kaleidoscope that whirls you through millenia within steps. I admired a Greek gold diadem from the 5th century, Frankish pins, Olmec pots, Coptic tunics, a Hoffman silver tea set.

I sat on the broad stone steps and watched the pale stone blush with sunset as a cellist, violinist and flutist played quietly.

I always come home from the Met a little drunk.

Drunk on beauty.

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Reunited Masterpieces: My Story In Today's NYT; Gardner Museum Renews Search For Stolen Treasures

Calming the storm
Calming the Storm --- stolen and never recovered. Image via Wikipedia

Here’s my piece in today’s New York Times, in a special arts section about museums:

An unusual and intimate show, “Reunited Masterpieces,” with 10 carefully chosen pairs of artworks, opened here Feb. 14 and continues until May 30.

The painter of Adam and Eve is Hendrick Goltzius, a Dutchman who lived from 1558 to 1617. The Wadsworth Atheneum acquired Adam in 2004; Eve belongs to the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Strasbourg, France.

Eric Zafran, the curator, who conceived, arranged and designed the show, said the loan was made easier because both institutions were members of Frame, the French Regional and American Museum Exchange, a consortium of museums in cities outside government and economic capitals that work together to share their collections.

Some of the paintings in the pairs appear extremely different, partly because of different conservation methods, Dr. Zafran explained. The portrait of Adam remains fresh, pink and luminous, while Eve appears older and more weathered, with a light coating of grime and crackling on the surface.

A similar stunning contrast marks two large pieces, 61 inches by 68 3/4 inches and 61 1/4 inches by 65 1/2 inches, painted in 1490 by Piero di Cosimo of Italy. The Wadsworth’s version, “The Finding of Vulcan,” is classically Renaissance, a breath of fresh, clean air, its six clothed women (Vulcan, in the center, is nude) wearing typically flowing garments.

Its mate, “Vulcan and the Beginnings of Civilization,” borrowed from the National Gallery of Canada, contains 11 figures, including a giraffe in Florence during the period. The colors are muddier, the brushwork much less fine, the birds and beasts oddly out of scale.

The show includes a spectacular pair of portraits by the Dutch Master Frans Hals, from 1644, of Joseph Coymans and his wife, Dorothea Berck; he was 52, she, 51. He belongs to the Wadsworth, while she traveled north from the Baltimore Museum of Art to join him. The two have been reunited only once before, in a show in Hals’s hometown, Haarlem, in 1962.

Twenty years after the largest, and still unsolved theft of art from a museum, the Isabella Stewart Gardner in Boston is redoubling efforts to reclaim its works, reports The New York Post:

It remains the most tantalizing art-heist mystery in the world.

In the early hours of March 18, 1990, two thieves walked into Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum disguised as police officers and bound and gagged two guards. For the next 81 minutes, they sauntered around the ornate galleries, removing masterworks, including those by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas and Manet.

By the time they disappeared, they would be credited with the largest art theft in history, making off with upward of a half-billion dollars in loot far too hot to sell.

Now, 20 years later, investigators are making a renewed push to recover the paintings. The FBI has resubmitted DNA samples for updated testing, the museum is publicizing its $5 million, no-questions-asked reward, and the US Attorney’s Office is offering immunity.

The thieves had knowledge of the museum’s security system, but might have underestimated the scope of their crime.

“I picture the thieves waking up the next morning and looking in the papers and saying, ‘We just pulled off the largest art theft in history,’ ” said Anthony Amore, the museum’s security director.

My friend Ulrich Boser, a D.C.-based writer and former staffer at U.S. News and World Report, has written the only book about this daring theft — “The Gardner Heist”, a best-seller published last year and  newly released in paperback.

I was privileged to be one of his “first readers”, seeing the book in manuscript form. I couldn’t put it down. His reporting is detailed, international and deeply personal — he admits he became so obsessed himself with it all he stopped showering and could think of little else, annoying the hell out of his wife, and his two little kids. He’s clearly passionate about his subject; if you love art, and art history — let alone a riveting international crime tale — you’ll enjoy it.