Friday, March 23, 2007

SAAM Commissioner James F. Dicke II on SAAM

One of the Smithsonian American Art Museum's commissioners, James F. Dicke II (who as I recall is from Ohio?), is not only a respected artist (his work is actually in SAAM's collection and represented locally by The Ralls Collection in Georgetown), and an ubercollector, but also puts his money where his mouth is, and is very much an involved and hands-on commissioner.

Dicke has responded to the Smithsonian report parts that relate to the SAAM with this comment on Eyelevel:

The 30 Commissioners of the Smithsonian American Art Museum applaud Director Betsy Broun’s inspired leadership and the terrific work of the museum’s talented and dedicated staff over the past seven years. Under trying circumstances of a multi-year “dark house,” frequent budget cuts, and several staff moves, this team shepherded a $278 million dazzling renovation project. They conceived and created two wholly innovative public conservation and collections study centers that are models for museums everywhere. The collections are handsomely installed in elegant galleries, “telling the story of America” with nuance and insight, in a way that has delighted visitors from around the world. Terrific collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery makes the two museums complementary in wonderful new ways.

During the same period, the contemporary program was enhanced with two new curators, an artist’s prize, endowments, and many exciting acquisitions. The same great SAAM leadership and staff undertook the largest touring exhibition program ever by an art museum – more than 1,000 artworks in 14 shows to 105 museums. The museum’s fabulous staff created award-winning programs in distance learning, K-12 education, new media technologies, and publications. The research resources for American art at SAAM include the biggest American art pre-doctoral fellowship program anywhere, the leading academic journal in the field, and more than 1 million research records in searchable online databases. SAAM’s branch museum, the Renwick Gallery, continues to present a full exciting program of exhibitions and collections.

It was SAAM staff that conducted the nationwide research defining how the museums might benefit from covering the open-air courtyard. A SAAM Commissioner provided the funds for the international architectural competition that selected Lord Norman Foster for the project. Director Betsy Broun was on the 5-member selection panel and subsequent Oversight Committee.

It’s quite a lot to manage and a stellar record of success that would distinguish a museum three times its size. SAAM and Betsy are outstanding within the Smithsonian complex and indeed in any context. Our entire Board of Commissioners is proud to be part of this great accomplishment and to have so generously supported it. Our regret is that the External Reviewers conducted their study while the museum was a construction site and apparently lacked information about any of these accomplishments. We wish they had invited comments from those who know the museum well.

James F. Dicke II, SAAM Commissioner
I applaud a commissioner willing to gets his "hands dirty" as Dicke has, and regardless of how one feels about what's right or wrong about SAAM, he does deliver some valid points that now have introduced some questions into my mind about the depth of information and facts gathered (or not) by the external commission charged with the Smithsonian report, other than the obvious points about security, morale, leaks, etc.

Dicke's comments seem to imply (and Mr. Dicke correct me if I am wrong), that the investigators did not talk to the SAAM commissioners.

If this is correct, then I am curious to find out (while I work my way through the 51 pages of the report): did they talk to any of the commissioners of any of the museums?

Did they talk to the "non-contributing board" of the National Museum of African Art?

I'd love to hear more from more of the commissioners from the various Smithsonian Institution's museums on this subject.

Bailey on the Smithsonian Institution and Lawrence M. Small

I'm always open to hearing what other voices say about visual arts issues in our area, and below is an opinion piece by The Right Reverend James W. Bailey, which once again testifies to my worn-out warning: never piss off Bailey.

An Open Letter To The American Taxpayers Calling For The Immediate Firing Of Lawrence M. Small, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution

by The Right Reverend James W. Bailey

Like many across the country, I am beyond being merely outraged over the reported wasteful spending by Lawrence M. Small, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, as well as the reports of his stratospheric salary and ridiculous reimbursements for so-called “living expenses.”

For this Small should be fired.

For pressuring the former Smithsonian inspector general to drop her audit of Small's financial shenanigans, he should be fired, investigated and indicted.

It is incredible to me that the taxpayers of this nation have been paying a king ’s ransom salary to Small - apparently to embellish his home and office with seriously overpriced ego-building furniture - while the very man in charge of the Smithsonian Institution has allowed some of its key infrastructure to seriously deteriorate to the point of being a national embarrassment.

Perhaps the greatest outrage is what Small has allowed to happen at the National Museum of African Art, as detailed in the a 51 page report that examines the near none existent management practices of Small:
“There has been a longstanding lack of visionary leadership at the museum. The director’s protracted illness, the absence of either a deputy director or chief curator, and curatorial departments that are either understaffed or underperforming, contribute to the present discouraging situation. Staff and trustee morale is dangerously low.”
It’s bad enough for the serious appreciation of African Art when the chief art critic for the Washington Post, Blake Gopnik - when recently writing about African Art, Gopnik demonstrated an unbelievable condescending arrogance that attempted to mask his profound lack of understanding and appreciation of the importance of African Art – pens a critique that almost bordered on being xenophobic.

Now, on top of that serious art critical injury, we understand some additional reasons why the National Museum of African Art, while under the missing leadership of Small, has been allowed to slide down the high art cultural ladder to such a low level of appreciation and importance.

It is outrageous that in the nation’s capital, a place that is 62% African-American, that the richest country in the world has allowed such an important museum to falter. If for no other reason, Lawrence M. Small should be immediately fired for what he has allowed to happen to the National Museum of African Art.

Unfortunately, all of the museums and galleries under the umbrella of the Smithsonian Institution are subject to being painted by the same brush of scandal that has come to light over the self-serving actions of its leader. Just like one rotten apple cop on a police force taints all the good cops as well, so it has come to this for many within the organization of the Smithsonian Institution.

That’s a shame.

Actually, it’s worse than a shame. It’s a national tragedy. The so-called nation’s attic is supposed to represent something more than being a mere slush fund to realize one man’s conceited, arrogant and shallow vision of Home Improvement.

Since the American taxpayers are the ones who have been paying for Lawrence W. Small to dither away our cultural patrimony, the American taxpayers should be the ones to have the right to immediately fire Small for his outrageous actions and inactions.

James W. Bailey

O'Sullivan Scores

Many time before I've stated here that in my opinion, the WaPo's Michael O'Sullivan is the best art critic working the Greater DC area scene.

Not only does O'Sullivan have his fingers on the pulse of the art scene itself, but he also seems to be one of the few DC area art critics who gets around to a lot of different galleries and spaces and does not fall prey to the well-known critic flaw of returning to a favorite few spaces over and over.

But it is his knowledge of the inner ticking of the DC area art scene and artists that allows him to write such an insightful piece as the one in today's WaPo. Read that piece here.