Category Archives: Scandal

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE National Museum of American History, Artillery Magazine, July 2014

This press release was a work of art I contributed to Artillery Magazine’s “Celebrity” issue in July of 2013. The press release was published, as is, with no explanation, in the magazine.









The National Museum of American History to Exhibit Artworks by Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush

The National Museum of American History is pleased to presentPresidential Pictures: Paintings & Drawings by Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush. This unprecedented exhibition brings together works from three of the most powerful and influential men in American history. Presidential Pictures will no doubt open the public’s eyes to the fact that these men were not just great politicians but also true artists.

While he is best known as the American president who desegregated the U.S. armed forces and public schools, signed the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and 1960, and articulated the anti-Communist “domino theory,” Dwight D. Eisenhower was also a dedicated painter. Having taken up the art in 1948 to relieve the stress of being Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, Eisenhower created hundreds of images before, during and after his presidential tenure. He even had an artist’s studio installed in the White House. Always a straight-shooter, the former President was quick to dismiss symbolic meanings viewers might read into his tranquil images of farm houses, mountains, and mirthful family members. At a 1967 exhibition of his paintings, the former president told United Press International reporter Richard Cohen, “They would have burned this [expletive] a long time ago if I weren’t the president of the United States.” Referring to his portrait of Abraham Lincoln—based on a photo by Alexander Gardner—one cannot help but consider the thoughts that went through the artist’s mind as he carefully rendered the shine on the forehead of his heroic predecessor. President Eisenhower’s work is provided courtesy of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Museum, The Lyndon Baines Johnson Library & Museum, and David and Julie Nixon Eisenhower.

It’s no secret that Ronald Reagan was an actor before he was a politician, starring in dozens of films, from Santa Fe Trail to The Voice of The Turtle. Political and film historians have proposed that President Reagan’s work as a stage and screen actor, President of The Screen Actors Guild, and spokesman for General Electric, allowed him to cultivate a “Teflon” façade, an impermeable presence that deflected criticism from the Iran-Contra affair to his indolence at the dawn of the AIDS crisis. But did you know President Reagan was also a cartoonist before and after his time in office? Visitors to this exhibition will get the rare chance to explore President Reagan’s prolific drawing practice through his images of cowboys, horses, football stars, butlers and even caricatures of hook-nosed men and mustachioed Asian faces. As President Reagan said in a 1984 letter to political cartoonist Jeff MacNelly, “I am a cartoon aficionado up to and including reading the comics every morning.” Amidst these pictures—most of them doodled on White House stationery—one sees the president’s externalized mental space in the moments between moments, when meetings got a little too boring and he needed some distraction. President Reagan’s work comes to us courtesy of The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library and the many private collectors credited in the exhibition’s catalog.

Unlike his artistic predecessors, George W. Bush took up the palette knife after leaving office. America knows the Decider in Chief as the man who battled for the contentious 2000 election, initiated the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and signed The Patriot Act into law. But in 2014, President Bush had his first museum show of portraits comprising images of global leaders such as Vladimir Putin and the Dalai Lama, all taken from the Google image search engine. Since then, he’s never looked back. Speaking of his now prolific painting practice, President Bush told CNN’s John King, “I relax. I see colors differently. I am, I guess, tapping a part of the brain that, you know, certainly never used when I was a teenager.” Amongst the former president’s numerous portraits, visitors will have the opportunity to fully experience the former Commander in Chief’s visual perspective on what it was like to connect with global leadership. President Bush’s paintings appear courtesy of The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.

A catalog with essays by Lynne Cheney, Jerry Saltz and Roberta Smith accompanies this exhibition.

Special Events:
Feb. 6: To celebrate his birthday, the museum will screen Knute Rockne: All American, starring the former president. A panel moderated by former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will follow.

Starting Feb. 14, President George W. Bush will teach a 10-week drawing and painting class, focusing on classical technique. Students will produce a portrait and a still life, using live models and nature mortes arranged specifically by the 43rd president. Reservations required.

Up Next At The Museum:
Missing! A photographic survey of looted artifacts from the Vietnam, Afghan and Iraq wars.



To Catch A Thief: Why it’s not a good idea to steal from muscled men in leather and chains

Originally Published in Artillery Magazine Nov./Dec. 2010 Vol. 5 Issue 2

In 2007 The Tom of Finland Foundation launched a traveling exhibition of over 100 artworks by the prolific artist, with 80+ works from the permanent collection, and around 20 more available for sale. The tour started out at Gallerie Richard in Paris, where Tom’s work was received with great fanfare. Then it was off to The Keith Talent Gallery in London.

One of the stolen works: Tom of Finland 1984 signed and dated rough sketch pencil on paper, 9 x 13”, Tom of Finland Foundation, USA

Soon after the opening, the gallery’s owners, Andrew Robert Clarkin and Simon Pittuck, contacted The Foundation saying they had sold one of Tom’s drawings. They requested a Certificate of Authenticity for the work, which Durk Dehner, the President and cofounder of the Foundation, signed and mailed to the gallery. All seemed in order until the show arrived at Galerie Espacio Minimo, its next destination in Madrid, and eight important works from the Permanent Collection were missing from the shipment.

Once Keith Talent gallery claimed that they had no idea where the missing works were, Dehner and The Foundation began to get concerned. After Keith Talent refused to file a claim with their insurance company (it later became evident that they had not secured insurance for Tom’s work), and after the gallery failed to pay the foundation for sold work, Dehner enlisted the help of high-priced London lawyers, Scotland Yard, and, most importantly, the Tom of Finland network, which was able to send out an SOS alerting anyone who had recently bought Tom’s work that they may have been sold stolen goods. Eventually one anonymous but cooperative collector came forward with the work he thought he had purchased legally, and was willing to testify against Clarkin and Pittuck. During this time, the London gallery did curiously return five of the missing works to The Foundation, with a short note attached explaining that the work turned up in a room that, since the exhibition (more than a year earlier), had been turned into an artist’s studio.

Soon after, Scotland Yard raided the gallery and arrested the two owners. During the trial in January of this year it became evident that the two had knowingly sold work from the permanent collection, that Pittuck had had forged Certificates of Authenticity for the work, and that they had put money from the sale in a joint bank account. Because the two dealers had no priors and had lost all credibility in their profession, Clarkin’s 10 month, and Pittuck’s 14 month, prison sentences were suspended and they were ordered to each carry out 150 hours of community service, and pay £5,700 to the collector to whom they sold the drawings, as well as over £1,000 in legal fees. As of this writing they have failed to make their full payments on time and are expected to return to court soon. The Tom of Finland Foundation has not received any compensation for expenses related to this trial and are considering filing a civil suit against the former gallery owners.

By Tucker Neel

The Unique Spectacle That Is The Contemporary Art Fair

By Tucker Neel

Originally published in  Fine Art Magazine, Vol. 33 No 1, Spring 2008, 67.

Installation at Gavin Brown Projects

Installation at Gavin Brown Projects

Art Basel is like watching your parents have sex, or so says one of my favorite graduate school professors. While the gallery/collector public displays of affection and private backroom deals may seem to spoil the mood, the roaring art market wouldn’t be able to survive in its current state without Basel.

For many galleries Miami in December is the time and place to unload inventories and increase reserves for the coming year. This sobering reality doesn’t diminish the queasiness that comes with seeing work you adore hanging clustered like so much meat in a butcher’s window. Hearing dealers and collectors talk in frank, Warholian terms about how much is it now and how much it will be worth in a year seems to take the fun out of looking at the work in the first place. And watching works sell to earnest collectors and hotel chains alike, and knowing that in a few months the entire cycle will start again can put a damper on any sort of art-school-fueled idealism.

Yet if one can overlook its artistic and creative constraints, Basel can become a welcome opportunity for artists. Where else can one interact with so many intelligent, influential (an often inebriated) artists, writers, curators, and cultural mavens from all over the world? If anything, the multiple fairs allow for thousands of artists to contrast practices and compare conceptual interests.

Once inside the fairs the repetition of materials and methods was at times overwhelming. Every-day objects cast in metal, taxidermied animals, reconstituted designer goods, Photoshopped history paintings masquerading as photographs, utilitarian tools covered in sparkles, crystals and glitter, adolescent flat watercolors, oversized celebrity-themed photographs and paintings, abject libidinal cartoons, finish-fetish metals, neon, glitter, cardboard, and used and unused bottles of alcohol – all cropped up again and again in countless booths.

This is not to say that any of the works employing these techniques were inherently derivative. In fact, an outstanding work at Art Basel employed more than one of these material concerns. Oliver Payne and Nick Relph’s installation at Gavin Brown Projects allowed visitors to peruse the duo’s stylish retro sneakers stuffed with expensive bottles of Chateau Latour, strategically placed alongside antiquated technology like a tan Macintosh Classic computer or an old Tamagotchi keychain. Displayed on well-lit platforms a’ la Prada or the MOMA’s design wing, the work embodied a kind of dandy decorative sensibility, updating Haim Steinbach’s 80’s consumer fetish wall displays for a new nostalgic millennium.

Another work, also reminiscent of Jason Rhodes’ plastic phantasmagoria, was Franco Mondini-Ruiz’s Infinito Botanica at Frederieke Taylor’s booth at the Pulse art fair. Here the artist arranged a crowded table of religious idols draped in fake foods, pizza, Corona beer bottles, ceramic tzotchkes and pop art piñatas. The booth’s walls were crammed with clichéd paintings of whimsical white dresses, lonesome suited figures, and brooding faces, all of which looked like they came straight from a local mall’s Fine Art emporium. The overall effect was not only humorous, but also keenly critical of the art fair’s tendency to value commerce over kunst, likening the entire experience to a carnival of conspicuous consumption.

However not all standouts employed an over-the-top aesthetic. Jay Johnson’s Some Kind of Meal in Quint Contemporary Art’s booth at Art Miami sparsely speckled an unremarkable wall with minuscule bronze objects: a bottle, a pill, a funnel–each referencing human relationships to food, eating, digestion, and sustenance. The work insisted on placing the viewer in a self-reflexive position, highlighting one’s own bigness next to the work’s conspicuous smallness. This physical sensation no doubt heightened by the work’s close proximity to nearby bombastic and self-consciously BIG painting and photography.

Unfortunately some artists and galleries can take reductive tendencies too far. Take Wilfredo Prieto’s El Tiempo es Oro / Time is Gold installation in Martin Von Zomeren’s booth at NADA for example. The entire booth was painted machine-gun blue, empty, save for a single gold pocket watch dangling from the ceiling. With this didactic polemic deployed in such a privileged space, the piece clumsily strives to addresses the economies of space and time associated with paying for and showing in an expensive fair. But the piece does little more than scream its castigations in a familiar tone at an uninterested and unreceptive audience. While Prieto has made his name practicing similar flat-footed institutional critiques (some of them at times quite acerbic and poignant), he, and many other artists with similar goals, could learn a thing or two from Yves Klein.

While admittedly operating under less anti-capitalist pretenses, Klein spoke to Prieto’s current concerns with Le Vide, his now legendary performance from 1956. For this work the artist provided blue cocktails to guests attending his opening in a gallery that featured nothing displayed on its blank white walls. Upon returning home after the show and retiring to the water closet, the patrons found that their urine had turned a patented Yves Klein Blue. He had effectively used the tools of the trade (booze and a party) to highlight the merger of the gallery/patron relationship, making the remnant of such public interaction visible in the most private of places.

Maybe the art world is too jaded to take note of pranks like this. Maybe we’ve seen it all before. However, Cut out ‘however’ one can only hope that more artists could channel Klein’s strategic humor within the primed setting Basel provides. Such an informed, simple, and hilarious intervention would no doubt usher in new ways of seeing and participating in the unique spectacle that is the contemporary art fair.

Sex, Satyrs and Scandal: An Afternoon at the Getty Villa

By Tucker Neel

First published in The L.A. Alternative Press, Vol. 5, March 03, 2006, 8

photo by Tucker Neel

I’m a sucker for classical Greco-Roman art. Who doesn’t love ogling naked youth, elegantly preserved in stone, clay, metal and glass? Add in some good old-fashioned drama and you’ve got me hooked. Such is the sexy and sordid state of affairs at the newly renovated Getty Villa in Malibu.

photo by Tucker Neel

Former Getty curator Marion True is currently awaiting trial in Italy on allegations that she knowingly procured looted Italian artifacts from unsavory dealers. She denies these allegations, but the museum has handed over the disputed artifacts to the Italian government for further investigation. Notable scholars, governmental authorities, and the Getty’s own director Michael Brand have called into question the authenticity and provenance of more than 50 of the over 40,000 artifacts in the Getty’s antiquities collection. What’s more, Barbara Fleischman, wife of deceased antiquities collector Lawrence Fleischman, recently removed herself from the Getty’s board of directors amid controversy over her financial relationship with True and allegations that she and her husband donated and sold plundered artifacts to the Getty.

The museum itself is a marvel, however, despite these scandalous circumstances. Maybe it was the perfect weather, my willingness to hop on the Villa’s “Pirates of the Mediterranean” ride, or simply my fondness for depictions of sensuous muscles and sleeping satyrs, but I found the newly renovated museum endearing as well as visually and mentally stimulating.

To actually get to the Villa one must endure a few Sisyphean challenges. First of all, reservations are required and tickets are booked until July. So either plan to call the Getty to see if same day tickets are available, or, if you want to play dirty, simply find a “friend” who has made reservations, steal his or her identity, and head on out to Malibu. But be prepared to shell out seven bucks in cash for parking. Consider this a trifle because the museum itself is free.

Once inside, you are faced with the results of a nine-year, $275 million facelift. Machado and Silvetti Associates and SPF:architects have reconfigured and refurbished J. Paul Getty’s old Villa, which itself sought to imitate the Villa dei Papiri, an ancient Roman home in Pompeii. The current renovation upgrades the entire space to more accurately reflect the “original” Roman estate. The architects have overhauled security features, reoriented the gardens, redesigned the tile work (a particularly awe-inspiring element), and added a cafe, gift shop, offices, learning and research spaces, an outdoor theater and many other improvements.

While I usually don’t go for museum tours as they tend to make one feel more bovine than human, I did enjoy the Getty orientation tour and I recommend it to anyone interested in the museum’s architecture. If you are as fortunate as I was, you will stumble upon a guide who has taken a personal tour of the Villa with the architects themselves. Asked which part of the renovation he likes best, my tour guide, Patrick, told me he appreciates the addition of the outdoor Grecian style theater. “Its perfect for L.A. This city is all about entertainment,” he says with a triumphant smile. The Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater (yep, the same Fleischmans mentioned above), faces the Museum and puts it on stage, making it both actor and backdrop for the Getty’s series of outdoor performances.

photo by Tucker Neel

Upon entering the Atrium, the first room in the Villa, I was struck by the compluvium, a skylight opening to the crystal clear heavens above. It’s closed when it rains which is a shame because I’m sure it would be quite a sight to see the raindrops falling into the impluvium, a small basin in the floor below. The Inner Peristyle, an open courtyard in the center of the museum, contains an enchanting fountain orbited by reproductions of five female statues originally found in the Villa dei Papiri. One statue is missing because, according to Patrick, “They can’t find it. But they’re having it remade”-an apt decision for this, a museum remade to look like a re-imagined Roman home. Continuing into the East Garden at the back of the house, my jaw dropped at the sight of a polychromatic mosaic fountain which itself was worth the trip to Malibu.

After perusing the reproductions of gorgeous nude athletes, Gods, and satyrs in the Outer Peristyle gardens, I surreptitiously ran my fingers over the exquisite trompe l’oeil paintings ringing the walls of the portico. These luscious, almost ostentatious, walls need some dirtying up. Seriously, the cleanliness and newness of the entire Villa is eerie. So much so that any intrusion of the “present day,” like a plastic yellow cone warning a careless visitor not to slip and fall (and sue), jolts one back into the 21st Century, the equivalent of art-historical whiplash.

photo by Tucker Neel

It takes more than two hours to really see the entire collection of Greek, Roman, and Etruscan artifacts housed in the museum. While I might debate the curatorial decision to divide the museum up into theme rooms, each containing didactic displays about various aspects of ancient life, it’s nevertheless heartening that the overall cohesiveness of the collection has been brought into the light with more windows, better display features and accessible and informative texts.

photo by Tucker Neel

During your visit make sure to glance behind every terracotta vessel, because this is where they hide the naughty stuff. I spent many painful minutes standing on my tiptoes, pressing my face into a 90-degree angle of glass and wall with hopes of glimpsing hidden fornication. Why they don’t just put mirrors in these display cases is beyond me. I guess when Aunt Mabel jaunts up to the Villa on a Sunday after church the last thing she wants to see is her own reflection as she stares at a chorus line of erect penises. Well, for those of us who revel in the libidinal, here are a few places to look.

In the “Men in Antiquity Room” hop on someone’s shoulders to see the back of the “Wine Cup Fragment With a Drunk Man” and in the “Athletes and Competition” room allow your face to become intimate with the wall and look behind the bowls and cups in the “Athletes Cleansing” display case. Trust me, it’s worth the effort.

For those of you burdened with children, take them to the “Family Forum” room where they can draw cute pictures on vases and perform for you with swords, shields and helmets in a somewhat disturbing shadow theater. They’ll love it and when they’ve puttered out you can head to the “Luxury Vessels” room, a temple to opulence, with diverse collections of marble from around the world and Tiffany-like display cases containing ornately decorated silver. Also, the current exhibition, “Molten Color: Glassmaking in Antiquity,” delivers breathtaking rainbow-patterned perfume bottles, and is a must-see for those interested in the decorative arts-or anyone who loves the ceiling of the Bellagio hotel in Vegas. I particularly enjoyed the “Prehistoric and Bronze Age Arts” room, whose collection of Minoan statuary is a refreshing contrast to the idealized classical figures, battle scenes, and “in situ” installations prevalent throughout the museum.

Just before the Villa closed and the guards kicked me out, I took a second to inhale the picture perfect view of the Pacific Ocean from the top floor overlooking the Outer Peristyle gardens. I found myself caught in a moment of total enchantment.

What happened here? Had I been duped? Was I going to totally ignore the constructed nature of this Villa in Malibu, the questionable artifacts, and the alleged curatorial improprieties? Certainly not. These problems still persist. But I did smile, reassured that this, the only museum dedicated to Roman, Greek, and Etruscan art in America, is, after nearly a decade, open to the public once again. Despite all the scandal it will surely please countless visitors who yearn for an escape from the traffic and daily grind of Los Angeles, providing the constant simulacra and suspended disbelief that we Angelenos hold so dear.