african masksSmithsonian Bad Marks
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A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden

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Another Smithsonian Bad marks -News Day:

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Betsy Broun Gets a Bum Rap

found at artsjournal.com Posted March 22, 2007

Score a scoop coup for Jason Edward Kaufman in The Art Newspaper, for this report posted Tuesday (and cited yesterday by the Washington Post) about the highly critical findings, publicly released yesterday, of a panel of major museum professionals charged with a comprehensive review of the Smithsonian's constituent art institutions (....)

The report gives particularly low marks to the National Museum of African Art:

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.

At least Paul Farhi, reporting in the Washington Post, has eased our minds about one troubling finding:

The committee said repairs to the museum buildings "are urgently needed" and warned that leaks in the Freer and Sackler's storage areas threaten their collections. Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas said that the criticism was "outdated." She said any artworks in vulnerable areas are protected by plastic.

Plastic! That's so reassuring!

Speaking of the Smithsonian's woes: Tyler Green provided links yesterday to the Washington Post's continuing follow-ups on the Lawrence Small compensation controversies, uncovering alleged irregularities that go beyond the initial reports of a mere $90,000 in questionable expenses over six years. And the NY Times yesterday weighed in on this controversy here

National Museum of African Art

Director: Sharon Patton

Strengths: excellent library and vast photo and film archive.

Weaknesses: underground building limits access and programming space; collection “not yet of national importance”; “haphazard” acquisitions process; no distinguished exhibitions and publications; failure to attract potential audience; inability to raise funds; lack of strategy for ­collaboration with the Smithsonian’s African-American museums.

Recommendations: strengthen board, directorial leadership and curatorial staff; become a greater force in scholarship; expand collection and programming to include contemporary art; collaborate with other museums to improve visibility and raise quality of exhibitions and programming to national status.

Key point: “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.”

The panel's full report is here.

This comes just three years after Small plead guilty to the charge that his private collection of tribal art, obtained by possibly dubious means, contained feathers from protected birds. And that isn't the end of it: when originally presented with findings from an inspector general's report, the Smithsonian's 17-member board fudged, ignored, or changed rules to exempt Small - and even tried to quash the report, according to a seething Post editorial

commentisfree.guardian.co.uk  

 

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African art books

The Tribal Arts of Africa

The Tribal Arts of Africa
Author: Jean-Baptiste Bacquart

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