Back at the Job

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A few things happened while I was away for a week. I’ll comment on two.

First — I don’t think I’ll need to read another word for a while about the new Broad Contemporary Art Museum in L.A., which debuted to middling reviews for both the opening exhibition and for the Renzo Piano building. All the same, one related controversy stayed with me. The Guerrilla Girls — indispensable artworld watchdogs — denounced the opening show for being overwhelmingly white (97%) and male (87%) in its selection of artists. (Which is another way of saying only three of the 27 artists are women — Jenny Holzer, Susan Rothenberg and Cindy Sherman — and just one, Jean-Michel Basquiat, is black.) The Broad Foundation, which supplied most of the works in the show, replied that if you count individual works instead of artists, 33% were by women, though that’s thanks mostly to a hefty sampling of 49 Sherman photographs in a show with a total of 180 works. Here’s the breakdown.

Okay, but I’m still confounded by that 87% number. Parity is no issue in historical survey shows and never will be. There are only so many Artemisia Gentileschis. But in the realm of contemporary art, not only is there no shortage of important women, but a good case could be made that most of the best artists are women. What should we make of a show that has room for David Salle, but not for Elizabeth Murray, Cecily Brown, Kiki Smith or Kara Walker? (Who are all collected by the Broad Foundation.) Or for Magdalena Abakanowicz, Ghada Amer, Janet Cardiff, Sophie Calle or Vija Celmins? (Who aren’t but probably should be.) The only way to get to an imbalance like 87% in a show of contemporary art is to turn the thing into a strenuous exercise in male affirmative action.

Then there’s the big theft at Zurich’s E. G. Buehrle Museum, which appears to be headed for a happy ending. Everyone has already trotted out their pieces on art thieves. They don’t steal on assignment, they’re dumb, etc. I trotted mine out four years ago when Munch’s The Scream was stolen. As always when there’s a big art heist, a lot of the media stories referred back to the massive and still unsolved 1990 robbery of Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. That gave me an excuse to revisit Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. Why? Because Frank Costello, the state-of-the-art wack job played by Jack Nicholson in that film, is based largely on Whitey Bulger, the Boston-area felon who’s been mentioned as a suspect in the Gardner case. All I can say is, if Bulger was behind it, I hope he didn’t do to the Vermeer what Nicholson did to Leonardo di Caprio’s hand.

Does this mean I can write off that two-disk DVD as a business expense? I’m sure Whitey would have.