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Thursday, 17 June 2010

Museum Mile

Tate Liverpool, right
Is it a Worldwide
Fad? Picasso Seems to be Everywhere
By Richard Carreno
Junto Senior Staff Writer Bio

Tired of Pablo? The Philadelphia Museum of Art might be -- at least, for the time being. On the heels of the museum's last show, 'Picasso and the Avant-Garde in Paris, the PMA now just concentrating on its newly rolled-out big show, 'Late Renoir.'

Of course, that doesn't mean that the rest of us need to give up our Picasso fix. In fact, from Liverpool to New York and to, yes, even to Philadelphia, art lovers can still get up close and personal with even more works by the Spanish master. Like the PMA's show, the current worldwide Picasso exhibits, for the most part, attempt to frame the artist to a theme.

At the Tate Liverpool, the concept is 'peace and freedom,' highlighting works that demonstrate Picasso's commitment to those causes. Though Picasso's iconic Guernica is not at the show, other well-known pieces, Dove of Peace and The Rape of the Sabine Women, are. On loan from the Museum of Modern is The Charnel House. (The exhibit runs to August 30).

In London, at the Gagosian Gallery, the theme is the 'Mediterranean Years.' (August 28 is the concluding date).

In New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art titled its show, running to August 15, simply enough 'Picasso.' There's concept catch, though. All the works in the Met show are from its own collection. So the exhibit is limited to that context. Still with 300 pieces on view, that's nothing to sneeze at.

The Picasso theme at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, in Williamstown, Massachusetts, is 'Picasso Looks @ Degas.' It gets complicated. The show has a run to September 12.

Philadelphia? Of course, a return visit to PMA's modern art collection could be a local treat. For the more intrepid and hardy, a trek to the Barnes Foundation might be in order, as well. (I suppose this is just as good a time as any to say, personally, can't wait until the Barnes opens on Museum Mile).

Revolutionary Art
The PMA has kicked off a show, from its own collection and with loans from the Library Company of Philadelphia, that features artistry, including many hand-crafted furnishings, from Revolutionary Philadelphia. The museum notes that many of the pieces, at least, those once owned by Loyalists, fell into the public domain at auction after this Tory property was confiscated. 'Art in Revolutionary Philadelphia' is presented in the gallery adjacent to the Powel House Drawing Room.

Cultural Alliance Announces New Head
Tom Kaiden, a long-time officer of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, has been named its president. Kaiden joined the non-profit cultural advocacy group in 2001, and was its chief operating officer. He succeeds the late Peggy Amsterdam.

Moore College to Honor Three in September
Moore College of Art & Design will confer a 2010 Visionary Woman Award to photographer Wendy Ewald. handbag designer Judith Leiber, and museum curator Ann Temkin. An award ceremony will be held September 30 at the college. (Septa station: 19th and Market streets).

Temkin, in particular, is well known to PMA aficionados. From 1990 to 2003, Temkin was the PMA's Muriel and Philip Berman Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art before going to the Museum of Modern Art as its chief curator of painting and sculpture. (The PMA's modern art position is now held by Michael Taylor).

Business leader to Head Academy of Natural Sciences
George W. Gephart Jr. must be doing something right. Just today, in the mail, I received a fund-raising letter from the Academy of Natural Sciences.

Gephart, a local businessman and a leader in the non-profit sector, was recently named the academy's president and chief executive officer. And it looks like he's coming out of his corner fighting.

Gephart will have his hands full. The 200-year-old academy, the oldest such museum in the country, is showing every wrinkle of those many years. Gephart, 57, until his appointment, board chairman of Main Line Health System, wants to raise the museum's profile -- and money. The academy has been hurting financially for many years.

Like the Franklin Institute, its neighbor on Museum Mile -- and, for that matter, the American Museum of Natural History, the mother of all such museums -- the academy faces a generational game change. One core constituency of natural history museums has always been youngsters. Getting these hyper/inter-active, 21st century thumb twitchers into 19th-century, Victorian-conceived museums isn't easy.

The Franklin Institute tried dumbing down, even changing its name to the hipster-sounding 'The Franklin.' The idea was drop the dead-beat 'institute' association. What do kids know from institutes? That effort didn't last long. Still, despite some crowd pleasing exhibits (the current one, 'Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt'), the Franklin, er, the Franklin Institute is still burdened by its behemoth building, a white elephant if I've ever seen one.

Actually, try two. I recently visited the Museum of Natural History. It's full-block edifice on Central Park West is another early 20th-century disaster. (Even the Natural History Museum in London, another generational architectural nightmare, works better than its New York counterpart, which houses dinosaurs and happens to be one, as well).

The problem is not what these museums do; it's how they do.

Why are stuffed animals in glass enclosed dioramas? Hard to see, uninviting, and off-putting perspectives. Moreover, old glass is reflective. Not great for picture taking, either.

How about an open habitat? I saw how this was very effectively done recently at Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Of course, the Raleigh museum is also housed in modern, 21st-century, purpose-built building. No dumbing down. No kiddie-land. By the way, the place was packed.

The academy's current exhibit, 'Creatures of the Abyss,' concludes September 6.