At Sotheby’s, ASAP Rocky Breaks Out of the Box


The rapper and style muse put himself through a series of physical challenges before unleashing his new album, “Testing.”

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ASAP Rocky unveiled the performance installation “Lab Rat” at Sotheby’s. The rapper was locked inside a box and tormented with difficult questions and physical challenges in front of an audience.CreditKrista Schlueter for The New York Times

On the fourth floor of Sotheby’s, there’s a private room sponsored by Loro Piana, the Italian cashmere specialist. On a recent afternoon, the rapper and style muse ASAP Rocky was sitting on the floor, wrapped in one of the company’s cashmere blankets, a pearlesque necklace peeking out from beneath his T-shirt and Prada technical sneakers on his feet.

A young woman entered the room and brought him a coconut cracked in half. He took a spoon to the tender white meat, and considered his place in — and out of — hip-hop.

When he emerged seven years ago, he was a high-fashion natural, displaying the sort of comfort and fluency in that world other rappers had pretended to pull off but never quite nailed. But something strange has happened in the years since: Almost all of hip-hop’s young generation followed suit. Goyard is more common than Carhartt. Gucci is more ubiquitous than Nike.

Rocky shrugged. “I proved my point in fashion,” he said. “Is it necessary for me to be at the Met Gala every year?” he asked. “I bodied that.”

CreditKrista Schlueter for The New York Times

Sotheby’s, though — that is something new. That evening, he was unveiling “Lab Rat,” a performance installation in a high-ceilinged space on the seventh floor typically used for auctions.

A few hours later, he was inside a large glass box set up in the middle of that room, with tools of torment spread around him: exercise equipment, holes in the wall through which he could be touched, a large pool of ice water.

The box, he said, was “a metaphor for me being distracted.”

It’s been three years since he last released an album, and he realized that his fans worried whether music was his focus. “Their main concern was, do he even like doing this?” he said. While he has been one of the most influential personalities in hip-hop of this decade — in terms of aesthetics, musical and personal — that hasn’t always translated to musical success.

CreditKrista Schlueter for The New York Times

It was notable, and unusual, hearing him rap the hook of a major pop-rap hit, G-Eazy’s “No Limit,” which went to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. “It’s fun,” he said of those kinds of songs, which are few and far between in his catalog. “Sometimes I’m frustrated. I’m in limbo, like, do you cash out or do you stay genuine to your craft? I would sleep better at night knowing that I’m me.”

He is the sort of rapper — the sort of New Yorker — who understands the difference between living on Park Avenue in the East 60s and living on Park Avenue in the East 70s. That person was at home at Sotheby’s. “Can I be real?” he asked. “All of the chicks look like they want to give me some …”

CreditKrista Schlueter for The New York Times
CreditKrista Schlueter for The New York Times
CreditKrista Schlueter for The New York Times

The event wasn’t bereft of commerce. At one point, Rocky pulled a chunky black sneaker out of a bag: the reveal of his coming collaboration with Under Armour. And the performance was also an elaborate maze leading to, at the end of the night, the announcement of his fourth solo release, “Testing,” which arrived on Friday.

“I never won a Grammy — that makes me sad,” Rocky said. “I might be getting discounted.”

“Testing” is his most outré album to date, the one least concerned with prevailing trends. “I wanted to make my version of trip-hop,” he said. One song, “Praise the Lord (Da Shine),” was produced by the grime star Skepta while both men were on LSD, Rocky said. The album closer, “Purity,” is mournful indie rock featuring Frank Ocean and a Lauryn Hill sample.

“I feel like I’m just changing sounds again, and it takes some getting used to,” Rocky said. His taste in art is similarly instinctual. “It’s unorthodox. I don’t completely know what I’m doing, I just know what I like and what I don’t like. That’s what people trust more than anything.”

“I can afford contemporary art, but I prefer masters, Renaissance,” he added. “Those pieces like a million and up, $5 million and up.”

CreditKrista Schlueter for The New York Times

In other words, the sort of pieces that usually fill the room he was performing in. At the end of the event, some of the dancers had slid up to the balcony suites that lined the room. During auctions, those are the rooms where the most serious collectors can bid in relative luxury and privacy, set apart from hoi polloi.

On this night, though, the suites’ windows were thrown open, and dancers flooded the floor with huge silver balloons, which other dancers then threw into the glass box. Rocky was surrounded, suffocated, stuck.

But then the dancers freed him, and “Testing” began to play from the speakers. By the end of the night, Rocky was in one of those suites, surveying the detritus. Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones (Part II)” was blasting. Everyone was dancing.

“It’s not for everybody to understand,” he’d said earlier. “I can afford to be myself.”

CreditKrista Schlueter for The New York Times

Virtual Reality Asserts Itself as an Art Form in Its Own Right


In April, Acute Art’s VR Museum introduced a subscription program to experience works by Mr. Eliasson and the performance artist Marina Abramovic while distributing the output of five other artists free of charge for nonsubscribers.

The website works with three brands of virtual-reality headsets.

Mr. Eliasson envisions a future in which people access art “on a platform like Netflix” once the necessary equipment is more widespread and the business model more developed. “Rainbow” was presented in March at the contemporary exhibition space Kunsthal Charlottenborg during the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival.

If virtual reality has proved useful as an educational tool through recent initiatives such as a re-creation of Modigliani’s last Parisian studio at the Tate Modern in London, it is still asserting itself as an artistic form in its own right. A panel discussion with Sandra Nedvetskaia, partner of the virtual-reality production company Khora Contemporary, and Edward Klaris, an adviser and lawyer specializing in intellectual property, addressed some of the issues at stake.

While a painting is acquired through a single sale payment, Mr. Klaris said, virtual-reality works may demand a monetization plan more along the lines of the film industry. An artist who creates such a work “might be paid every time it is sold or distributed,” he said.

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A recreation of Modigliani’s last Parisian studio at the Tate Modern in London.

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Preloaded

Khora Contemporary was founded, however, with the main objective of helping established and young artists translate their work into the realm of virtual reality. The company was inaugurated at last year’s Venice Biennale with commissioned works by Paul McCarthy and Christian Lemmerz.

Ms. Nedvetskaia cited a “triangular” business model involving the artist, production company and gallery. The structure varies on a “case-by-case basis.” Khora Contemporary is also in talks with film festivals on both sides of the Atlantic. Down the line, Ms. Nedvetskaia envisions creating pay-per-view versions of artwork online.

She pointed to virtual reality as a new frontier for artists at a time when all other forms and genres have been explored. “There is little today which is brand new,” she said.

But the collector base is just developing. “It is too early to talk about at this point,” she said of “a very nascent market” while mentioning sales in Asia and the interest of private museums and collections.

The Salon Berlin of the Museum Frieder Burda — a private collection in Baden-Baden, Germany — is displaying its first virtual-reality component with “The Bridge,” by the Ukranian artist Nikita Shalenny.

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A still image from “Rising” by the artist Marina Abramovic.

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Acute Art

Presented in partnership with Khora Contemporary and part of the exhibition “Back to Nature?” — which runs through Aug. 18 — the work illustrates a bleak vision of the human race running and swimming through a black-and-white landscape.

The salon’s curator, Patricia Kamp, pointed to the irony that, in an exhibition exploring the alienation from nature in modern society, virtual reality represents a crucial means of harnessing younger visitors.

“When art doesn’t move people emotionally, it has no purpose,” she said. “The next generation only grows up with screens. They have a totally different point of access.”

“The Bridge” is juxtaposed with both modern and contemporary paintings in an effort to create dialogue between the different mediums. Ms. Nedvetskaia also mentioned the possibility of exhibiting virtual-reality works alongside the physical material on which they were based, such as Shalenny’s watercolors or video directed by Mr. McCarthy.

“It makes it more believable,” she said in an interview. “It gives people the confidence that it can be taken seriously as a real art form.”

As Glenn D. Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, said during the Art Leaders Network panel “The Future of Art Museums,” contemporary art had transcended formal labels.

“There use to be these categories,” he said. “High art, fashion, commerce, you name it. Artists have demolished that.”

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Renaissance Tapestries Are Out. But Today’s Are Having a Renaissance.


On Tuesday and Wednesday, the regional auctioneer Sworders sold the principal contents of North Mymms Park, a Jacobean estate 17 miles north of London that had formerly been the home of the British-American banker Walter Hayes Burns, brother-in-law of the financier John Pierpont Morgan. Most recently, the house has been owned by the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, which was putting its principal contents up for sale.

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“Red Carpet,” by Grayson Parry, was made in an edition of eight. The dealership that financed the works said they had sold out.

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Paragon Press

The second day of the auction began with an exceptional group of 19 antique tapestries that had hung in the house for more than 100 years, many of them gifts from Mr. Morgan. These included a partial set of five mid-16th-century Brussels tapestries depicting the “Labors of Hercules.”

In 1979, when the Burns family sold North Mymms Park and its contents, all 19 had been offered by Christie’s. The tapestries were then bought back by the estate’s next owner, to preserve the decorative scheme.

On Wednesday, the five “Labors” sold for a seemingly impressive total of 478,000 pounds with fees, or about $680,000, led by the £146,400 given for a tapestry of Hercules and Atlas. It was bought online by a London dealer, who acquired nine tapestries in the sale. But in 1979, that same partial set was sold by Christie’s for £104,000, equivalent to about $800,000 in today’s money.

An 18th-century Brussels tapestry of a village festival, also formerly owned by Mr. Morgan, sold for £9,760. At the Christie’s auction 40 years earlier, it achieved a top price of £28,000.

“They’ve gone down substantially,” said Penny Bingham, a specialist valuer whom Sworders consulted for the North Mymms Park auction.

“People want instant color, and they’re generally less interested in wall hangings and textiles,” she added, noting that potential buyers were concerned about tapestries’ colors fading.

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Weavers at Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh during the making of Chris Ofili’s tapestry “The Caged Bird’s Song.”

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Dovecot Studios

Paradoxically, just as antique tapestries have been falling out of collecting fashion, there has been a revival in tapestry as a medium for contemporary art. Digital innovation has allowed tapestries made on Jacquard machine looms to achieve unprecedented clarity of interpretation, and enterprises such as Factum Arte in Madrid and Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh are enabling artists to realize ambitious new projects in the historical, but ever-evolving, medium.

“Increased computing power means you can do things you couldn’t do before,” said Adam Lowe, the founder of Factum Arte, which facilitates and produces artworks using a range of new and established techniques. “Artists are getting really excited by tapestry and are trying to push what can be done with the medium,” added Mr. Lowe, who points out that the Jacquard loom’s early-19th-century punch-card technology prefigured modern computing.

Grayson Perry, Cornelia Parker, Carlos Garaicoa and Craigie Horsfield are among the artists Factum Arte has helped to make tapestries on the looms of Flanders Tapestries in Wielsbeke, Belgium.

“The looms have become so sophisticated in the last 10 years,” said Mr. Horsfield, who immerses himself in the painstaking process of turning a large-scale photograph into data, then into an even bigger, unique tapestry. “I can make it look exactly like a photo. It doesn’t look like a tapestry. It doesn’t have that materiality.”

In “Zoo, Oxford,” a monumental 2007 tapestry diptych showing a male and female rhinoceros gazing at each other across their pens, the artist went a stage further by using digitally programmed 3-D weaving techniques to simulate the skin of the animals. The 13-yard-wide work was acquired by the Centraal Museum in Utrecht, the Netherlands, after a 2017 exhibition devoted to the artist there. The purchase price was 220,000 euros, or $270,000 at current exchange rates, said Mr. Horsfield, who self-finances his tapestry projects.

“They’re so expensive to make,” he added, noting that the weaving alone of a single tapestry panel could cost more than €25,000.

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Tapestries were among recently auctioned items from North Mymms Park, a Jacobean house 17 miles north of London.

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Sworders

Mr. Perry’s much-exhibited tapestries satirizing contemporary Britain are financed by the London dealership Paragon Press. These have been selling steadily to museums and private collections at slightly lower prices, reflecting that, unlike Mr. Horsfield’s unique tapestries, they are machine-woven in editions. Of Mr. Perry’s 10 ambitious seven-yard-wide tapestries titled “The Battle of Britain,” eight have found buyers at prices up to £125,000, while the entire eight-piece edition of the more compact “Red Carpet” has sold at prices up to £65,000 each, according to Charles Booth-Clibborn, founder of Paragon Press.

“Big things are back,” Mr. Booth-Clibborn said, referring to the renewed commercial appeal of large contemporary tapestries now that “collectors are creating warehouse-style private museum spaces.”

Unique, hand-woven tapestries made today in the tradition of Leo X’s Sistine hangings are, by contrast, almost a different medium.

It took two and a half years for Dovecot Studios’ five master weavers to make Chris Ofili’s tapestry “The Caged Bird’s Song,” a one-off commission for the Clothworkers’ Company, an organization in the City of London that dates from the 16th century. The tapestry was exhibited last year at the National Gallery in the British capital, before its permanent installation in the company’s hall.

One of just two tapestry studios left in Britain, Dovecot would not divulge the cost of the commission, but it did say that just one meter, or close to a yard, of its tapestry costs £25,000 to weave. Mr. Ofili’s Trinidad-inspired landscape covers 20.7 square meters, or almost 223 square feet, implying a cost of more than £500,000 for a commission the company said would “support endangered skills and nurture talent.”

But how can you tell the difference between hand- and machine-woven tapestries, other than price?

“There’s more life to them, a bit more expression,” said Naomi Robertson, one of Dovecot’s master weavers, who chooses colors by eye and mixes dyes by hand. “We see ourselves in a 50-50 relationship with the artist. We’re expressing ourselves as we weave. We blend the colors and find the language to create the work.”

Tapestry is once again gaining value in the art world. But as with so much else in that world, it’s out with the old and in with the new.

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Richard Oldenburg, Who Led MoMA’s Expansion and Drew Crowds, Dies at 84


“Everybody likes him,” Blanchette Rockefeller, the museum’s president, told People magazine in 1984. “He’s a worrier, and we had plenty of worries.”

Mr. Oldenburg turned out to be a reassuring leader with no curatorial agenda of his own. Knowing MoMA’s inner workings, he did not interfere with curatorial decisions, which made him popular. But he required his top curators to meet with him for weekly sandwich-and-wine lunches.

“They were often rowdy,” John Elderfield, the former chief curator of painting and sculpture, said in an email. “Dick was often exasperated but had the knack of bringing a meeting to a close without promising anything at all and dealing with problems individually behind closed doors — or not. He had the further diplomatic talent of not doing anything at all so that problems went away by themselves — at least, usually.”

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As director, Mr. Oldenburg, shown in 1994, dealt with strikes by museum staff and established ties in the Soviet Union to help with loans of artwork from museums there.

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Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

As director, Mr. Oldenburg dealt with strikes by members of the museum staff and established ties in the Soviet Union to help with loans of artwork from museums there, in particular for the Matisse retrospective, in 1992.

Most important, he shepherded a $55 million expansion that included the sale of MoMA’s air rights to a developer, which built a condominium tower directly over a new museum west wing. The museum’s exhibition space doubled, relieving it of a longstanding space crunch. By one estimate, its previous exhibition space could have fit into the central rotunda of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“People don’t remember, I think, how tiny those gallery spaces were — those old small gallery spaces and the carved-up area where you had one little cubicle for photography, one little cubicle for architecture and design; they were just minute,” Mr. Oldenburg said in the 1999 oral history interview.

Nonetheless, in 1980, the still-cramped museum hosted the immensely popular “Pablo Picasso: A Retrospective” — its last big show before the renovation was completed four years later.

Mr. Oldenburg recalled that the museum had erred in placing Picasso’s earliest pictures in the first galleries.

“We had this incredible jam as people got in and spent an hour in those first galleries rather than going on,” he said. “So we had to rearrange and space out the works. But it was quite a time. You remember, people were hawking the Picasso catalog on the streets.”

About a year after the Picasso show closed, MoMA quietly (for security reasons) sent the show’s mural-size centerpiece — “Guernica,” Picasso’s masterwork about the Spanish Civil War — to the Prado Museum in Madrid. Picasso, who had died seven years earlier, had wanted the painting to be moved to Spain after democracy was restored there.

Richard Erik Oldenburg was born in Stockholm on Sept. 21, 1933. His father, Gosta, was a diplomat and his mother, the former Sigrid Lindforss, was an opera singer in Sweden and later an abstract artist. The family moved to Chicago in 1936, where the elder Mr. Oldenburg served as the Swedish consul general.

Richard graduated from Harvard with a bachelor’s degree, but left Harvard Law School after a year, finding it both intensely competitive and boring. He became an assistant to the director of financial aid at the university.

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Mr. Oldenburg was chairman of Sotheby’s in New York in 1997 when the auction house returned Tischbein’s “Portrait of Elizabeth Hervey Holding a Dove” (1778) to the German museum the Kunstsammlungen zu Weimar. The painting had been looted from the museum at the end of World War II. At left was Christoph von Berg, a museum representative.

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Richard Drew/Associated Press

After stateside Army service as a battery clerk, he moved to Manhattan, where his brother introduced him to the art world.

“Through him, I met Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, Warhol, Segal, Rosenquist — everyone — because they were all in very close contact,” he said in the MoMA oral history. He added: “It was a very exciting time. It was the whole emergence of the Pop Art movement.”

But he did not enter the art world, and he recognized how he and his brother differed. “He had the free spirit which I longed for,” he told People, “but I was born with an excess of caution.”

Mr. Oldenburg worked at the book publishers Doubleday and Macmillan until 1969, when he attended the opening of his brother’s exhibition, MoMA’s first major Pop Art show. While there, he met a former Doubleday colleague who was stepping down as the museum’s director of publications. Despite initial doubts, he interviewed for the job and got it.

In 1993, when Mr. Oldenburg announced his retirement as director, the museum’s annual budget had grown during his tenure to $50 million from $7 million; its endowment had soared to $180 million from $20 million; and its attendance had increased to 1.28 million from 853,996.

After leaving the museum, Mr. Oldenburg was the chairman of Sotheby’s North and South America for five years.

He is survived by his wife, the former Mary Ellen Meehan, who is known as Mel, and his brother. His first wife, Lisa Turnure, died in 1998.

Glenn D. Lowry, the museum’s current director, said that Mr. Oldenburg’s careful style had paid off.

“In the 1970s, being more cautious than less cautious may have been exactly what the museum needed,” Mr. Lowry, who succeeded Mr. Oldenburg, said in a telephone interview. “When I think of Dick and the gift he gave me and the curators, it was a sense of stability.”

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Reporter’s Notebook: How’s the Air in London? ‘We Should Be Worried’


By the time I reached São Paulo, I was desperate to get out.

‘It’s Dangerous’

A vast majority of the visitors to Mr. Pinsky’s pollution pods either scrunched up their faces or covered their noses as soon as they breathed in the scent of diesel.

“It’s nasty,” said Maria Jones, 35, a London resident of 10 years. “You don’t notice it that much out there, maybe because it’s spread out. But if it’s really this bad, then it’s dangerous and we should be worried.”

Anna Whiston, a 24-year-old paralegal who recently moved to London from the countryside, said the pollution in the city was invisible, but she noticed it through her physical symptoms.

“In the mornings I cough a lot, and when I blow my nose, it’s all dark,” she said.

Visitors generally started slowly in the cleanest air pod and moved faster as the air quality deteriorated. Many coughed and sneezed, and some children cried and ran out.

Meredith Pistulka, 26, who moved to London from Florida this year, kept sneezing even after she left the domes.

“London and Florida have very different air quality,” she said. “I can’t run here. I tried — and I almost died from coughing.”

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Somerset House raised a new Union Jack flag that will change color as it reacts to London’s air quality in real time.

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Peter Macdiarmid for Somerset House

Ms. Pistulka and her boyfriend said they recently bought plants to help improve the air quality in their apartment.

“I don’t think Londoners realize just how bad the problem is,” said Madeline Corbett, a medical student who visited the pods for a second time. “Politicians talk about the issue when it’s at its peak and then people quickly forget. We need more exhibitions like this to make the issue visible to the public.”

‘A Blackened Union Jack’

Mr. Pinsky said people’s experiences in the pods were subjective and depended on what levels of pollution they were exposed to daily. He recalled the experience of one couple from a rural part of Ireland who started gagging when they entered the New Delhi room and had to exit immediately.

The pods are climatically controlled and contain various levels of ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide.

Somerset House was chosen for the installation, which will end on Wednesday, because “this courtyard was deliberately built with no nature in it to demonstrate how mankind could make something more beautiful than nature,” Mr. Pinsky said.

To mark Earth Day, Somerset House raised a new Union Jack flag that will change color as it reacts to London’s air quality in real time. The flag, created by the artist Lauren Bowker, will transform from red, white and blue to gray and black as it reacts to levels of radiation exposure.

“A blackened Union Jack,” Ms. Corbett remarked as she drew a picture of the flag in her notebook. “That’s so symbolic of what will happen to us if we don’t act soon.”

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That Shaggy Mutt? At Dog Museums, Our Drooling Companions Are the Stars


Below are a few museums around the world devoted exclusively to our canine friends. At this rate, cats may start to wonder what’s up.

Dackelmuseum, Passau, Germany

Mr. Küblbeck and Oliver Storz have been collecting dachshund memorabilia for a quarter-century. But the bulk of the collection — about 3,500 items — was acquired from a Belgian musician who sold it because he was getting married, Mr. Storz said. An array of books, drawings and porcelain figurines are now crowded into overstuffed display cases.

One object of note: a Waldi, the first official Olympic mascot, created for the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. (It’s a plush toy.) Dachshunds, which were bred in the Middle Ages to flush badgers out of their burrows, are the 13th most popular dog breed, according to the American Kennel Club. Fans including Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein.

American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog, Queeny Park, Mo.

Just in case Park Avenue didn’t already have enough dogs on display: Next year, the American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog is moving from its current home in suburban St. Louis to a ground floor gallery space in the Kalikow building, in Midtown Manhattan. The museum has more than 700 works of art, including paintings, porcelain figurines and sculptures, many donated to the museum by members of the club.

Alan Fausel, the club’s director of cultural resources, said the new museum would focus more on education and children’s programming. “We want to get the museum to a different audience,” he said. “We want to tell the story of the dog, and we can do that through our collection.”

Barryland, Musée et Chiens du Saint-Bernard, Matigny, Switzerland

Where else would one find a museum to honor the St. Bernard? Matigny is situated at the Great St. Bernard Pass in the Pennine Alps, where for centuries travelers have been greeted by the loyal dogs, known for their prowess in avalanche rescues. Monks bred St. Bernards in the late 17th century for work and to aid travelers overwhelmed by harsh winter conditions.

The museum, founded in 2006, is next to a Roman amphitheater and houses portrayals of the creatures in literature, art and culture. The main attraction, though, might be the dogs themselves, which can be petted and observed in their kennels on the first floor.

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Canines on display at the Museum of Dog in North Adams, Mass. It opened in March.

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Museum of Dog

Dog Collar Museum, Leeds Castle, Kent, England

In 1977, Gertrude Hunt donated a collection of more than 60 dog collars to the Leeds Castle Foundation in memory of her husband, John Hunt, an antiques dealer and scholar of Irish history. They became the centerpiece of a collection that includes more than 130 rare collars from the late 15th to the 19th century. The oldest is a Spanish mastiff’s iron collar, worn to protect dogs against bears and wolves that roamed the European countryside.

Collars from the medieval era are studded with spikes and barbed metal. Later, in the 1800s, canine neckwear became more ornate as more dogs moved indoors and became companions and pets. Pieces from the collection include an intricate gilded collar from the Baroque period, a set of engraved silver collars from the 19th century, and a display of neckwear with owners’ markings. More modern collars are laden with beads and gemstones.

Museum of Dog, North Adams, Mass.

David York loves pooches a lot. So much so, in fact, that he opened a dog museum last month in the Berkshires. For the Museum of Dog, situated in a historic building near the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, Mr. York has assembled more than 180 pieces of art, including works by Mary Engel, a sculptor from Athens, Ga., and William Wegman, whose popular photographs of his Weimaraners are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

Metal dog collars are prized collectibles among dog lovers; Mr. York has two from the 1800s. Most of the museum’s collection is owned by Mr. York, a rescue dog advocate. But he said the museum would also feature work by visiting artists. The first is Jesse Freidin, a fine art photographer who takes pictures of — what else? — dogs.

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Nonfiction: How Picasso Became Picasso


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Pablo Picasso in 1946.

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George Konig/Keystone Features, via Getty Images

PICASSO AND THE PAINTING THAT SHOCKED THE WORLD
By Miles J. Unger
Illustrated. 470 pp. Simon & Schuster. $32.50

In biography, struggle is invariably more interesting than success. The most irresistible memoirs prefigure celebrity entirely, from Moss Hart’s “Act One” and Emlyn Williams’s “George” to David Niven’s “The Moon’s a Balloon” and Dirk Bogarde’s “A Postillion Struck by Lightning.” These are tales of lightness, possibility and wonder. It was in this spirit that I welcomed Miles J. Unger’s “Picasso and the Painting That Shocked the World,” which traces the artist’s childhood in Spain through the creation of “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” in 1907, to the otherwise heaving shelves of Picasso literature.

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“Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”

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2018 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Picasso’s pre-1900 work is marked by his father’s art-school conservatism, as seen in the dark, unpainterly “First Communion” of 1896 and “Science and Charity” from the following year. Picasso was liberated from the 19th century’s heavy-handed conventions in Paris, which he first visited with his friend and fellow aesthete Carles Casagemas in October 1900. There he found inspiration in the Louvre, in the retrospectives of the flickering Impressionist generation, in his acquaintance with would-be painters and poets and, it appears, in the invigorating camaraderie of la Vie Bohème.

On the way to the hothouse, proto-Cubist summer of the “Demoiselles,” the shocker of his book’s title, Unger ably covers the El Greco-influenced “Blue” and “Rose” periods; the patronage of the Steins; and Picasso’s path-altering discovery of African art in the collection of the Trocadéro museum, the precise dating of which has divided scholars.

Unfortunately, insistent platitudes and pigeonholing tend to mar Unger’s efforts. Picasso is “bathed in the dazzling aura that surrounds all famous men”; Montmartre is the “ground zero of the worldwide avant-garde”; Picasso is compared to “an athlete before the big game,” an actor on “the stage of history” and “an ingénue making her way to Hollywood.” In one passage, Picasso’s rivalry with Matisse is described as an aesthetic “game of thrones.” Elsewhere, Picasso and Braque are said to knock Matisse “from his perch atop the leadership of the avant-garde,” imbuing painting with all the nuance of Flywheel. Unger plays up the “tortoise-and-hare” caricature of the contest of Matisse and Picasso, “the plodding striver against the facile genius, the introvert against the extroverted gadfly.” In his view, “Picasso was a born rebel, Matisse a rebel through circumstance, and a reluctant one at that.”

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Museums Shake Things Up by Mixing Old and New


Ms. Wagstaff oversees the Met Breuer, the museum’s branch on Madison Avenue and, in a telephone interview, she described her programming there as “consciously transhistorical,” a term she said she started using about six years ago.

“With a blending of history and contemporary art, we can reveal some of the puzzles at the centers of great art,” she said.

The Breuer’s 2016 exhibition “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible” presented incomplete paintings through the ages, from Titian to Lucian Freud, Gerhard Richter and Bruce Nauman. She followed up with “Like Life: Sculpture, Color and the Body (1300-Now),” on view until July 22, which takes a nonchronological look at 700 years of sculptures of the human body.

Including not only fine art but also wax effigies and anatomical models, the show opens with a hyperrealistic sculpture by Duane Hanson from 1984, jumps from a 15th-century Donatello sculpture to a Spanish Renaissance work by El Greco, and juxtaposes a modern android with a 19th-century effigy of Jeremy Bentham, made with the British philosopher’s bones.

“The idea with this show was to open it up and to expand the canon more, with work that could be seen in a more populist way,” Ms. Wagstaff said.

Suzanne Sanders, an art historian in Amsterdam, who organized conferences on “The Transhistorical Museum” in 2015 and 2016, calls transhistorical curating “the most urgent thing curators are doing in trying to reinvent the museum to create some sort of new paradigm.”

“It can be ‘trans’ in all these senses of the word,” she explained, “from across history, to transdisciplinary or queer, or just to represent things in an inclusive way, to find a balance between acknowledging and addressing points of view.”

But James Bradburne, director of the Brera Art Gallery in Milan, said the trend was just a new term for what curators have always done: “Try and bring people back to the moment when the art was contemporary.”

“We are always obliged to re-perform the art we have in our collections in a contemporary way,” he said, “just as an actor, when they perform Shakespeare, has to re-perform it for a contemporary audience, whether in mafia costumes or in drag.”

A year ago, M, a museum in Leuven, Belgium, rehung its permanent collection as “Collection M: The Power of Images,” presenting new comparisons, such as a 14th-century Pietà alongside a 16th-century Baroque painting and a conceptual art installation from 2009.

“We wanted to get out of this time-chain approach,” its director, Eva Wittocx, said by telephone. “Even people who know these works for a long time can find new meanings or new ways of looking at them.”

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Tullio Lombardo’s “Young couple,” left, from around 1505 has been placed alongside Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ “Untitled (Perfect Lovers),” a work from 1987-1990, at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

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Kunsthistorisches Museum; The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation, via Andrea Rosen Gallery

The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, whose permanent collection features art from Ancient Egypt to 1800, borrowed 22 works of contemporary art for “The Shape of Time,” which runs through July 8. A nude covering herself partly with a fur coat, by the Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens in 1636-38, for example, is presented alongside a full-frontal nude portrait from the early 1970s by the Austrian artist Maria Lassnig.

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Peter Paul Rubens’ portrait of Helena Fourment next to a 1970s nude by Maria Lassnig in the exhibition “The Shape of Time.”

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Kunsthistorisches Museum; Maria Lassnig Stiftung

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When the Kunsthistorisches Museum posted a picture on Instagram of a painting by Rembrandt, left, next to one by Rothko, they received many comments. “Half them were saying ‘this is absolutely abysmal,’” said Jasper Sharp, a curator there.

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Kunsthistorisches Museum; Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko/Artists Rights Society (ARS)

“I’d like to think that we are teasing out all of the ideas and concerns and dreams and nightmares that are buried in all of the historical works that we have,” said Jasper Sharp, who curates the museum’s program for modern and contemporary art. But he added that the curators spent a few years trying to figure out “what types of confrontations would be interesting, respectful,” he said.

Pairing Édouard Manet with Diego Velázquez, or bringing a Titian into conversation with a J.M.W. Turner seemed to work, he said, because “these are very well-documented admirations of younger artists looking at older artists.”

But other choices proved riskier. Scores of art lovers responded on Instagram to the museum’s juxtaposition of a Rembrandt self-portrait next to a Mark Rothko color field painting. “Half of them were saying ‘this is absolutely abysmal,’ or ‘Rembrandt must be turning in his grave,’” Mr. Sharp said. “Some of the connections knit together instantly; others reward more sustained looking.”

Ms. Demeester of the Frans Hals Museum pointed out that the history of art is cacophonous in its connections and influences — with “people talking to each other in salons and cafes and messing things up.”

“In creating more meaning and new stories for an audience, it’s important as a museum to think more like an artist,” she added. “An artist is more free, or less inhibited than an art historian, to make connections that go across time or across culture or across geography. To connect.”

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She Won the Turner Prize. Now She’s Using Her Clout to Help Others.


Ms. Himid has long championed the work of other artists. A leading figure in the British Black Art Movement of the 1980s, she organized important group exhibitions at public institutions in London.

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“Tenderness Only We Can See” (2017-2018), the title work from a recent series, carries a reference to Essex Hemphill’s poem “Between Pathos and Seduction.” A painting of a British carp, its muddy coloring transformed to exotic pink and yellow, decorates a wooden panel from inside a piano like a secret message.

Credit
Courtesy of the artist and Hollybush Gardens

The exhibition at Sérignan will present works from eight series Ms. Himid made since the ’80s: All are talking points connected to Europe’s colonial past and wealth derived from slavery. “Cotton.com,” a series of 85 painting from 2002, recalls an incident from the 1860s when mill workers in northern England refused to process cotton grown in the Confederate States. The patterned panels imagine coded communication between black slaves on American plantations and British textile workers.

As part of her participation in the forthcoming Berlin Biennale, Ms. Himid asked the organizers to translate into German texts by the African-American poet and activist Essex Hemphill, and by Maud Sulter, a British artist and writer of Ghanaian and Scottish heritage. In Sérignan, a region where more than half the voters chose Marine Le Pen from the far-right National Front in the second round of the 2017 French presidential elections, the gallery will host, at Ms. Himid’s request, a conversation between Françoise Vergès, an academic known for her work on the legacy of colonialism and slavery, and the French-Cameroonian curator Christine Eyene. (“It will be hard-hitting,” Ms. Himid said.)

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“Cotton.com,” a series of 85 paintings from 2002, recalls an incident from the 1860s when mill workers in northern England refused to process cotton grown in the Confederate States. The patterned panels imagine coded communication between black slaves on American plantations and British textile workers.

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Courtesy of the artist, Firstsite and Hollybush Gardens

Ms. Eyene, artistic director of the International Biennial of Casablanca, Morocco, said in an interview that public conversations like these were important, particularly in France, where it could be difficult to discuss issues of race and the country’s colonial legacy.

Ms. Eyene recalled that while she was studying art history at the Sorbonne in the 1990s, “There were no black professionals in museums. I knew very early that there was little chance for me to get a job in a museum.” She noted that she still sees a tendency in France to favor work by black artists from outside the country over the work of French artists of color. “In France, when institutions do an African art exhibition they will look for artists based on the continent, or perhaps in other countries,” she said. “They’re not interested in bridging the gap between the diaspora and the Africans from Africa.”

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The central panel of Ms. Himid’s early work “Freedom and Change” borrows its composition from Pablo Picasso’s 1922 painting “Two Women Running on the Beach (The Race).” Early in her career, the artist was interested in political and street theater: some works from this period draw their improvised make-do energy from traditions of avant-garde performance.

Credit
Courtesy of the artist and Hollybush Gardens

Two works on show in Sérignan refer to the French context of the exhibition. “Freedom and Change” (1984) borrows its composition from a 1922 work in the Picasso Museum in Paris — “Women Running on the Beach (The Race)” — a reference that in turn recalls Picasso’s own borrowings from African art that commenced in 1907 with the painting “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.”

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“Naming the Money” (2004) was inspired by portraits of black slave servants who were given as gifts to the king of France by the king of Spain.

Credit
Courtesy of the artist and Hollybush Gardens

“Naming The Money” (2004), a throng of 100 life-size standing figures, was inspired by portraits of black slave servants who were given as gifts to the king of France by the king of Spain. Each figure bore a sash stating their name and occupation in the court: lute player, dog handler, dancer and so forth. Lavishly dressed, they were the glamorous face of exploited black labor and exotic status symbols.

Gabi Ngcobo, the Berlin Biennale’s curator, said that it was important to look at Ms. Himid’s work in the global context of creative practices giving voice to shared history that remains hidden or untold: “It is here that black artists working in different parts of the world can find a space in which they are not marked by an otherness but rather self-determination.” This year the Biennale borrows its title from the Tina Turner anthem “We Don’t Need Another Hero,” a call for “love and compassion” that Ms. Ngcobo said was reflected in the determined but generous way Ms. Himid has worked “as an artist, curator and cultural activist: quietly, forcefully whilst reaching out to many.”

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With Choice of New Director, the Met Gets a Scholar and a Showman


“You fulfill your programmatic ideas and then you do everything you can to find the funding to make that happen,” Mr. Hollein said in an interview at the Met.

A ‘Think Big’ Coach

This ability to strike a balance between art and business was a skill Mr. Hollein learned from Mr. Krens at the Guggenheim.

Mr. Hollein met Mr. Krens through his father, the prominent postmodern architect Hans Hollein, whom the Guggenheim had tapped for a branch in Salzburg that ultimately never materialized.

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The young Max Hollein, background, left, grew up in a creative household and attended the opening of the Museum Abteiberg in 1982 with his father, Hans Hollein, the building’s architect, and Joseph Beuys, the German conceptual artist. “My parents would have loved me to be an artist,” he said last week, “but I had no talent for that or inclination.”

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Udo Dewies

“You became part of the family,” Mr. Krens said. “We had a close relationship.”

Growing up in a creative household (his mother Helene was a fashion designer), Mr. Hollein became conversant in the art world and interacted with leading figures like Joseph Beuys and Claes Oldenburg. When Andy Warhol went to Vienna in the 1980s for a show of his late large-scale silk-screens, 12-year-old Max got the artist to sign every single page of Warhol’s exhibition catalog.

“Contemporary artists for other students were these out-of-this-world figures,” Mr. Hollein said. “For me, it was a friends and family background.”

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Hans Hollein, the Pritzker Prize-winning architect, in 1988 with a proposal (never built) for a suite of buildings that would have integrated Mies van der Rohe’s Nationalgalerie in Berlin.

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Günter Peters/ullstein bild, via Getty Images

When Max had to do a report on an artist at school, other students chose subjects like van Gogh and Monet; Mr. Hollein said he chose Naum Gabo, the Russian avant-garde sculptor.

“My parents would have loved me to be an artist,” he added, “but I had no talent for that or inclination.”

Mr. Hollein’s sister, Lilli Hollein, the director of Vienna Design Week, said her brother’s business instincts were apparent early on. “He once developed a game that had an economic background,” she said. “It was played with farm animals and people, and you had to buy cattle and stuff and then sell it.”

At the University of Vienna he studied under Konrad Oberhuber, an eminent scholar of drawings, and Hermann Fillitz, who directed Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum — but also, “as a revolution against my parents,” studied business.

When Max was 21, he came to New York to work as an intern at the Guggenheim and Mr. Krens invited him to return for a job after completing his education. He ultimately became Mr. Krens’s chief of staff and executive assistant, working closely on projects like the Guggenheim branch designed by Frank Gehry in Bilbao, Spain.

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Thomas Krens, then the director of the Guggenheim Foundation, in Bilbao, Spain, in 1997. As his chief of staff and executive assistant, Mr. Hollein watched Mr. Krens plan the export of the Guggenheim to Bilbao and other cities.

Credit
Eric Vandeville/Gamma-Rapho, via Getty Images

“The reason that Max is so multifaceted and has had so many great opportunities in life has a lot to do with Tom Krens,” said Lisa Dennison, chairman of Sotheby’s Americas division, and a former director of the Guggenheim, who overlapped with Mr. Hollein. “Tom gave Max opportunities — he was building museums, he was thinking about technology and he told Max to think big.”

After five-and-a-half years at the Guggenheim, Mr. Hollein told Mr. Krens, “I have to leave here because I risk becoming a copy of you.”

What he took from Mr. Krens, Mr. Hollein said, was that he could push an ambitious agenda until the pieces fell into place and naysayers came around.

“One must not forget the success of Bilbao,” Mr. Hollein said, by way of example. “Two years before it opened there were large amounts of people who thought it would be a huge failure.”

Returning to Europe, Mr. Hollein imported the strategies and techniques he’d learned in New York. “He has this mixture of the European and the American know-how, and that’s a very rare thing,” said Renée Price, the director of the Neue Galerie and a fellow Vienna native.

In 2001, after impressing Frankfurt’s mayor, Petra Roth, at a dinner in New York, Mr. Hollein was named director of that city’s Schirn Kunsthalle, a non-collecting institution with such low attendance that local politicians were arguing for its closure.

Mr. Hollein quickly whipped it into shape, and was savvy about sponsorships, getting private corporations to help pay for exhibitions of Yves Klein and Pablo Picasso.

Attendance surged, and hipsters in Berlin began to take note of the upheaval underway in sleepy, big-money Frankfurt. By 2010, the weekly newspaper Die Zeit had called the Schirn “the most exciting exhibition hall in Germany.”

Ambitions Beyond the Rhine

Mr. Hollein was soon invited by trustees to take the director’s post at the Städel foundation, a more venerable institution, and home to one of Germany’s best collections of medieval, Renaissance and Baroque painting. He agreed to take the post, as well as the directorship of the neighboring Liebieghaus sculpture museum under a surprising condition: that he keep the Schirn as well.

This struck some as a power grab, and in Germany, a country whose citizens stick their academic titles on every surface, Mr. Hollein’s lack of a doctorate in art history caused additional concern.

Eventually, Mr. Hollein’s efforts began to speak for themselves. At the Städel, he helped expand the collection to include 20th- and 21st-century art by brokering unusual long-term loans with two German banks — Deutsche Bank and DZ Bank AG — that allowed the museum to retain the works in perpetuity.

Exhibitions of Cranach, Botticelli and Monet attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors. An ambitious digital program — including art history video lectures in German and English — brought international attention to what was once a museum of only regional influence.

And at both museums, Mr. Hollein indulged his abiding passion for electronic music. At the Schirn, he backed exhibitions featuring experimental composers like Carsten Nicolai and Ryoji Ikeda; at the Städel, during a 2012 exhibition of Romantic and Symbolist painting, he invited the public to dance until 2 a.m. to D.J.s from the Berlin nightclub circuit.

Mr. Hollein’s progress gained attention on the other side of the Rhine. In 2013, he emerged as the odds-on favorite to become director of France’s leading modern art museum, the Pompidou Center in Paris.

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Max Hollein and his wife Nina, an architect turned fashion designer, in San Francisco on March 1.

Credit
Drew Altizer

“Max, in Frankfurt, had been committed to very strong temporary exhibitions — blockbuster shows as well as more scholarly, researched, niche shows,” said Alain Seban, who was the Pompidou’s president from 2007 to 2015. He praised Mr. Hollein’s “capability to make the whole curatorial team participate in an exhibition strategy for the museum. And perhaps, considering the current situation of the Met, it’s something that he might have to do there as well.”

Mr. Seban would continue to hold the top job — a situation that closely parallels Mr. Hollein’s new arrangement at the Met, where he will report to Daniel H. Weiss, the Met’s president and chief executive.

Yet leaks to the French press damaged his Pompidou candidacy, particularly reports that his requested salary was three times higher than expected. Mr. Hollein withdrew before the final selection. (The job went to Bernard Blistène, a Pompidou veteran.)

In his Met interview, Mr. Hollein said he felt that the French government couldn’t give him the freedom he needed to make significant strides.

“I draw a lot of energy where I feel I can move the institution forward,” he said, adding: “It clearly was not the money.”

Some people in the art world were surprised to see Mr. Hollein take the job in San Francisco, in part because of its powerful board president, Diane B. Wilsey, who has a reputation for being loath to relinquish control of the Fine Arts Museums.

Ms. Wilsey, 74, ceded the chief executive title after the museums paid a $2 million settlement to a former high-ranking executive who said Ms. Wilsey had her ousted for revealing alleged museum misspending.

But both Mr. Hollein and Ms. Wilsey said they have had a very productive working relationship. “He pushes the staff, but they like it,” Ms. Wilsey said in a telephone interview. “They’re energized by his energy and intelligence and ambitions.”

Indeed, Mr. Hollein managed to make an impact during his short tenure at the museum, balancing the budget and initiating shows like “Contemporary Muslim Fashions,” which is set to open in September. (Breitbart News Daily questioned whether it was “a celebration of subjugation.”)

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