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Are National Academy artists indifferent?

December 14, 2008 |  5:15 pm

Helenfrankenthaleramalfiway1955

Arguments are well underway over the wisdom or foolishness of the National Academy Museum's recent sale of paintings from its collection in order to cover operating costs. (You can find assorted thoughts here, here, here and here -- as well as elsewhere.) But, so far, something odd has gone unremarked.

And no, I don't mean that the lawyers and bureaucrats seem to be having a field day with the subject. I mean that the academy's honorary membership, which ostensibly runs the place, doesn't seem to much care what happens to its art collection.

It has been reported that the sale was approved last month by a vote of 183 of the academy’s 370 members. (One member voted against the sale, and one abstained.) This fact has been used to show that the artist-membership overwhelmingly favors the decision, which so far has been instrumental in costing the museum its accreditation and generating a virtual boycott from other art museums.

But even this math-challenged art critic can do some simple addition and subtraction and see that 185 of the academy's 370 members -- two more than the number who voted "aye" -- didn't vote at all on the sale. Half the members responded to the fateful inquiry, and half did not respond. What's up with that?

The list of celebrated artists and architects on the membership roster includes Louise Bourgeois, Chuck Close, Helen Frankenthaler (that's her small 1955 "Amalfi Way" above), Frank Gehry, Charles Gwathmey, Jasper Johns, Maya Lin, Tom Otterness, I. M. Pei and Wayne Thiebaud. I know artists aren't known for diligence in committee work. But at least eight prominent academicians got ballots, presumably in the mail, and either voted for the deaccession or remained silent on the volatile topic.

Weird.

-- Christopher Knight

Credit: Helen Frankenthaler

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