The New York Times, December 19, 2008


By Holland Cotter

In the past eight years, American art and American politics had a lot in common. Both favored big money, insularity and retrograde conservatism. Now come changes.

In politics the old order was voted out. In the art world money is running out. Auctions are iffy. Galleries are closing. Museums are in slash-back mode. So 2009 could be 1989 all over again. Important to remember: The last crash opened the art world's tightly guarded gates to a wave of upstart talent aand radical new ways of thinking. That was great. It could happen again.

Meanwhile here are some notable events from 2008, a year that may go into the history books as the first catastrophic fall, but also the first vital correction, for art in the new century.

A MET LEADER Thomas Campbell was named the new director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He's not well known, but what's known is good: excellent curator, fine scholar, nice man. His job will be to firm up an institution that has come to rely too heavily on the lulling allure of imported luxe. He will want to find ways to make the museum's permanent collection galleries look like special exhibitions: smart, fabulous, constantly changing shows, spiced with maybe a few sexy loans. The Met's Chinese galleries have set a sterling model. If he will trust in the imagination of his curators and let them go nuts once in a while, he'll do fine.

LOS ANGELES MUSEUMS, PLUGGED IN AND ALMOST UNPLUGGED Michael Govan, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, has trusted imagination, and that paid off. The new Broad collection display is a boilerplate bore, and the museum still looks all over the place. But this year it also felt wired into the city around it, with a show of young Chicano artists, a (tiny) first-time African display and reinstalled pre-Columbian galleries. Jorge Pardo's design for those galleries has problems, but it got people talking and looking. People were also talking about the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, because it may disappear. It's a funny place, with its internationalist sheen and market-driven program occasionally interrupted by inspired, could-only-happen-hear shows. The city needs a contemporary museum, no question. But is this the right one?

CHINA'S EXPERIMENT When Chinese contemporary art when global a decade ago . . . .

ADIEU TO AN ALTERNATIVE Triple Candie, Manhattan's one truly alternative alternative space, closed. Located in Harlem, it began with solid traditional shows. In the end it was showing anonymous work by real artists and signed work by fictional artists. In the process it exploded the meanings of creativity, history, authenticity, and value. And it gave lessons in advance on how art and artists can survive, even thrive, even in hard times, which of course they will.



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