The Detroit Institute of Arts: Goose or Golden Egg?

You cannot escape the irony that the name of the labor lawyer who wants to lay his hands on the $2-Billion collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) is Michael Artz. Mr. Artz represents the bankrupt Motor City’s largest union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. He can’t be pleased with U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven W. Rhodes’ ruling that “pension benefits are a contractual right and are not entitled to any heightened protection in a municipal bankruptcy.”

According the the Detroit News, Judge Rhodes stated that selling DIA masterpieces does not address long-term financial and structural problems, and therefore would make no sense. Further, the judge said, “When the expenses of an enterprise exceeds its revenue, a one-time infusion of cash, whether from an asset sale or borrowing, only delays inevitable financial failure unless the enterprise reduces expenses or enhances income,”

Residents of counties surrounding Detroit also pay taxes to support the museum. The judge’s opinion was welcome news to museum supporters. “Oakland County and the entire region have a vested interest in protecting our art,” said Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner. “Judge Rhodes’ statement is a clear indication that the sale of this world-class art collection has no long-term financial benefit for the city.”

Further information:
Orr: Combined value of DIA’s most valuable art less than $2B, can’t fix shortfalls [Detroit News; Dec 3, 2013]
Detroit Ruling on Bankruptcy Lifts Pension Protections [New York Times; Dec 3, 2013]

Arthur Okamura, RIP

This morning I received an email from Stephen Beal, President of California College of the Arts, bearing sad news:


Dear CCA Community,

I’m very sad to report the death of Professor Emeritus Arthur Okamura. He passed away on July 10 near his home in Bolinas. He was 77.

Arthur taught at CCA for 31 years. Upon his retirement in 1997 he was awarded the distinction of professor emeritus. A master teacher, he inspired generations of artists with his impassioned commitment to his work. Although “retired,” he taught a weekly art class at the New School at Commonweal, a health and environmental research institute in Bolinas, and was working on a new series of paintings at the time of his death.

Born in Long Beach, California, Arthur and his family relocated to Chicago after World War II. He received his BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In the 1950s he came back to the west, eventually settling in Bolinas in 1959. He was a prolific painter who also worked in screenprinting and drawing. His work is in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among others. You can read more about his remarkable life here.

A celebration of Arthur’s life is planned for later in the summer. We will apprise the community of the details once they are confirmed.

We have lost a very important member of the CCA community. In his 31 years at the college, Arthur was an influential mentor to hundreds of students and a great friend to his fellow faculty members and staff. He will truly be missed. On behalf of the college, I extend my sincere condolences to Arthur’s family.

Stephen Beal

Arthur Okamura was my teacher for “Introduction to Screenprinting,” my first year at CCA. I was timid in my approach to this medium, and Arthur didn’t exactly take the pressure off. One day he came up behind me saying anxiously, “What the f— are you doing? What the f— are you doing?” Well, I was probably letting the ink dry on the screen, or something equally idiotic. But I learned to love the medium enough to take another screenprinting class with another wonderful teacher, Malaquias Montoya.

Arthur was the graduate advisor to a fellow student, Gayle Antokal. She is enormously talented, but had not yet hit her stride when she had a solo show of her work on campus. Arthur chastised her, saying “You are making stew when you should be making souffle!” I’m happy to say that Gayle now makes the most exquisite “souffle.” Her mentor would have been very proud.

Obama Street Artist Pleads Guilty

Street artist Shepard Fairey, 39, was sentenced to two years probation and fined $2,000 on Friday, after pleading guilty in Boston Municipal Court to two counts of destruction of property and one count of defacing property. Eleven other charges were dismissed. The California resident must also notify Suffolk County officials when he visits the Boston area.

Mr. Fairey’s red, white and blue “Hope” portrait of President Barack Obama hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. After the hearing, the graffiti artist said, “Fortunately, I’m at a place in my career where I can get sanctioned spaces, so it’s not an issue that I’ll ever have to worry about again.”

See Also:

Obama artist admits to 3 Boston vandalism charges [AP; July 12, 2009]

Mona Lisa Revealed

An exhibit entitled Joconde: From the Mona Lisa to the Nude Gioconda is on display from June 14 through September 30, 2009, at the Museo Ideale Leonardo Da Vinci in Vinci, Italy, Leonardo’s birthplace. It features 5,000 paintings, sculpture and new media created over the past 500 years, inspired by Leonardo’s immortal portrait of Mona Lisa.

One of the paintings was recently discovered behind the paneled wall of a private library, where it was hidden for nearly a century. It is a portrait of a naked Mona Lisa, and was once owned by Napoleon Bonaparte’s uncle, the French ambassador to the Vatican, Cardinal Joseph Fesch.

Yale, Van Gogh, Lenin and the Nationalization of Art

At first Chairman Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks seized private land and “redistributed” it to the Russian peasants. They nationalized the banks and industry. Personal property was confiscated for the state, including the art collections of the Russian industrialists.

General Secretary of the Communist Party Josef Stalin sold off some of the “nationalized” art treasures to raise money to build the Soviet Union’s faltering economy. Much of the stolen art was sold in the United States.

Night Café (1888) by Vincent van Gogh

Night Café (1888) by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh’s Night Café had belonged to industrialist Ivan Morozov, until it was seized by the Communists, along with his textile factory, land and art collection in 1918. In 1933 or 1934, it was purchased through a New York Gallery by an art collector named Stephen Carlton Clark.

The son of the founder of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, Mr. Clark founded the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. He was Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Museum of Modern Art from 1939 to 1946. A Yale alumnus, Mr. Clark bequeathed the painting to Yale University upon his death. It has been in the Yale collection since 1961.

Yale is now being sued for return of the painting and monetary damages by Pierre Konowaloff, the great-grandson of the Russian industrialist Ivan Morozov. Mr. Konowaloff’s attorney, Allan Gerson, makes the claim that the painting was acquired illegally, comparing the “looting” of art by Chairman Lenin to the looting of art done by Nazis.

There have been successful legal challenges to ownership rights in the case of art stolen by the Nazis. However, as Yale attorney Jonathan Freiman writes in papers filed with the court, although at odds with American values, “it was accepted at the time, as it is now, that the sales by the Soviet government were valid, as were later acquisitions of the paintings. Yale had no reason to question the legitimacy” of the bequest.

“The university believes it is the rightful owner and that the outcome of its filing will confirm that,” said Yale spokesman.

See Also:
Russian heir fights Yale over van Gogh painting [AFP; May 28, 2009]
Attorney: Yale turned blind eye when acquiring art [AP; June 3, 2009]

Reagan Statue in National Statuary Hall Collection

Nancy Reagan will be on hand for the unveiling of the Ronald Reagan statue in the National Statuary Hall at the United States Capitol on Tuesday, June 3, 2009. On Monday, Mrs. Reagan was at the side of President Barack Obama as he signed the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act, which calls for national celebrations and educational programming to honor the 100th anniversary of the former president’s birth in 2011.

President Reagan helped as much as any president to restore a sense of optimism in our country, a spirit that transcended politics, that transcended even the most heated arguments of the day,” said President Obama.

The sculpture of President Reagan is the creation of Chas Fagan. It was commissioned and paid for by the Ronald Reagan Foundation.

There are 100 sculptures in the National Statuary Hall Collection, two from each state in the Union.

Arnold Schwarzenegger Returns California’s Nazi Loot

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was on hand on April 10, 2009, when two paintings belonging to the state were returned to the grandchildren of their original owners. Jakob and Rosa Oppenheimer, who owned a gallery in Berlin, fled to France in 1933 to escape Nazi persecution. The Nazis auctioned off 100 paintings from the Oppenheimer’s collection in 1935, to raise money for Reichfluchtsteuer, a “flight” tax designed to strip Jews of all of their assets.

Two of the paintings, “Portrait of Alvise Vendramin” and “Portrait of a Bearded Gentleman,” ended up in the collection of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst. They were on display at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California, which was deeded to the state of California in 1972 to become part of the state park system.

The families of the Oppenheimers two daughters fled Germany in 1940. Jakob Oppenheimer died in France in 1941. His wife Rosa was taken from France by its German occupiers to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland, where she died in November 1943.

The father of Austrian-born Governor Schwarzenegger was a member of the Nazi Party. Returning the paintings on the second day of Passover to Peter Bloch, 73, of Boynton Beach, Florida, and Inge Blackshear, 73, of Buenos Aires, Argentina, the governor said, “”I am humbled to play a role in undoing this terrible wrong for the heirs of Jakob and Rosa Oppenheimer,” adding that the Holocaust was “one of the darkest crimes against humanity in the modern era.”

See Also:
Hearst Castle paintings given to owners’ heirs [SF Gate; April 11, 2009]
Calif. returns art to heirs of Holocaust victims [AP; April 11, 2009]


The first major group show of American artists in Cuba opened on Saturday, March 28, 2009. It’s called “Chelsea visits Havana.” No, not that Chelsea. Even though Ms. Clinton’s father was sympathetic to the frequent visits to Cuba by American art dealers, this show got its name from the Manhattan district where the 30 artists in the exhibit usually hang their hats and their work. (Perhaps ironically, the last big exhibit by American artists in Cuba was in 1986, during the Reagan Administration.)

A sculpture by Padraig Tarrant called “Castrobama” shows facing cutout profiles of President Barack Obama and former Cuban dictator Premier Fidel Castro. Predictably there is also a depiction of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevera, as well as “New Mount Rushmore,” a sculpture of the four Presidents of the original Mount Rushmore monument (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln) with the addition of — surprise — President Obama, assembled out of New York City Yellow Pages.

This is the first exhibition we made after Obama rose to power. This is a kind of lighthouse of the next process of the culture and the politics between Cuba and the United States,” said Aberlado Mana, curator of contemporary art at the Fine Arts Museum in Havana.

Aren’t you overjoyed?

See Also:
Cuba opens first big U.S. art exhibit since 1980s [Reuters; March 28, 2009]
Art exhibition fuels US-Cuba thaw [BBC News; March 29, 2009]

Princess Diana, Mandela Labeled ‘Gay Icons’ in London Exhibit –

For “Gay Icons,” a show of photographic portraits at London’s National Portrait Gallery, 10 famous gays and lesbians, such as entertainer Elton John and athlete Billy Jean King, chose “icons” for the exhibit, based on their inspirational qualities and achievements. The sexual orientation of these role models was only occasionally a factor in their selection. For example, Harvey Milk, the slain San Francisco County Supervisor, made the list specifically because he was the first openly gay man elected to public office in California.

So here’s a question: Why the exclusionary title “Gay Icons?” We can all be inspired not only by men and women featured in the exhibit, but also by the achievements of the 10 members of the selection panel.

See Also:
Princess Diana, Mandela Labeled ‘Gay Icons’ in London Exhibit [; March 26, 2009]