On Friday, a work of ancient Anatolian tribal art, the Guennol Stargazer, one of 15 intact examples known to the world, was sold for $14.4m at Christie’s. This was not the first time one Mr. Martin’s artifacts attracted serious money. Nearly a decade ago, his lioness brought $57m at auction.
The both archeological objects were named after the family of Alistair Martin who was a trustee of the Brooklyn museum and its Chairman in the mid-to-late 1980s. Mr. Martin was the grandson of Henry Phipps, as august a Gilded-Age New Yorker as one might ever hope to come across, and also served on the acquisitions committee of the Metropolitan museum, the Brooklyn museum’s somewhat over-bearing sibling encyclopedic institution.
Why is this relevant? Because today, the New York Times, seems to be rattling doors on Eastern Parkway. In a way, you can’t blame the Times. They have barely finished parading Thomas Campbell’s head on a pike. Now they’re looking to see what might shake loose at the gateway to Crown Heights by putting a little pressure on the museum’s supposed turn toward Contemporary art.
Today’s story emphasizes the challenges facing Anne Pasternak, the relatively new head of the museum who comes from the Contemporary art world:
It didn’t help that Ms. Pasternak’s star hire, the highly respected contemporary art specialist Nancy Spector, who came from the Guggenheim Museum last spring with great fanfare, decided to return to the Guggenheim less than a year later. Though the Guggenheim, according to many accounts, made Ms. Spector an offer she couldn’t refuse, her departure nevertheless suggested that an encyclopedic museum — or perhaps one run by Ms. Pasternak — was not for her. (Ms. Spector declined to comment.)
That urgent packaging up top doesn’t really capture the Times’s own conclusions which are really quite laudatory of Pasternak, her goals and approach to the challenges the museum faces:
“Why can’t we rotate our collections every two years? We could do it more often if we had more money,” Ms. Pasternak argued. “There is not one right way to tell history.”
In covering the colonial period, for example, the museum now features masters like Gilbert Stuart alongside the self-trained black artist Joshua Johnson. “We want to make sure that our audiences are seeing themselves as part of the history of this country, too,” Ms. Pasternak said.
As the Stargazer sale suggests, the problem with museums may not be the lack of Contemporary art but the lack of contemporary thinking that allows the objects held by museums to be treated with more relevance and less reverence:
“Historically, people have said, ‘Poor Brooklyn Museum: we’re not as big as the Met, we’re not quite as encyclopedic as the Met, we don’t have the same number of great masterpieces as the Met, we don’t have the endowment of the Met, we don’t have the board of the Met and — guess what? — we’re not even in Manhattan; we’re in Brooklyn,’” Ms. Pasternak said. “And I thought to myself, ‘What if just the opposite were true? What if all these things were really kind of strengths for us?’ And that was a very sort of creative and generative thought exercise for me.”
‘Encyclopedic’ Brooklyn Museum Vies for Contemporary Attention (The New York Times)