In Art News
Theft, Tarps, and Departures
The strangest news this week: $200,000 is missing from Bellevue Arts Museum. According to a letter from the museum detailing the situation, "Discrepancies in our financial accounts revealed that our chief financial officer embezzled museum funds." The CFO (whom the museum isn't naming) was fired and is under museum investigation. This only two years after BAM reopened as a craft museum after declaring that its previous focus on contemporary art sent it out of business in 2003.
In response to the letter, supporters have been sending donations, including one "in the seven figures," director Michael Monroe said in a phone interview. He wouldn't say whether the museum has contacted the police; Monroe's letter to supporters reads that the museum "is actively seeking restitution from its former employee who has indicated a desire to make full repayment."
Laudably, the museum exposed the potential crime instead of trying to keep it a secret. But Monroe is mum on the specifics of the museum's accounting system, except to say that the museum's system of checks and balances is in no way at fault and that the embezzlement will not hurt the museum "whatsoever." He called embezzlement "a universal."
Only slightly less bizarre news is the latest turn in the fight between the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and the Swiss artist Christoph Büchel. They've been on the outs since Büchel's requests for materials (an oil tanker, a movie theater, a house) doubled the budget on an enormous installation of enterable environments, at which point the museum stopped fulfilling his requests.
Now, against the artist's wishes, the museum has installed the show, displaying the work behind translucent tarps to protect itself from legal action by the artist (whose lawyer, of course, says this is anything but legal). The museum is also suing for the right to show the work uncovered.
Was the artist, a known provocateur, torturing his patron to make a point about power? If so, this small-budget, generally artist-friendly museum is a lame case study. But it exposes a delicate, unseen relationship. Only a few artists are more powerful than institutions. It would be an only-in-the-art-world twist if this stunt made Büchel one.
The new Bill Fontana sound installation is the best thing I've ever seen at Western Bridge. Watch the vodcast with him at www.the-stranger.com/visualart. (Footnote: WB owners the Trues have bought Lead Pencil Studio's Arrival at 2AM.)
A terrific artist is leaving Seattle for grad school at Columbia: Mary Simpson. Her studio sale is Saturday, June 2 (see calendar).
After 17 years of influential writing about art, architecture, and urban design in Portland, Randy Gragg has left the Oregonian.