Archive for May, 2009

Banned in Britain… at the Met… and in the Big Apple?

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Cityfile has picked up the story of the effective ban on Rogues’ Gallery in England and wonders if the saber rattling aimed at the book has been heard in New York newsrooms, too. As Francis Urquhart, the fictional Prime Minister of England in a trilogy of political novels (later made into a TV series starring Ian Richardson, above), often said, “You might very well think that; I couldn’t possibly comment”

Gold for Goldfinger

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“Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s shiny goddess is certainly perfect in a setting named after a metals magnate who inspired the James Bond villain Goldfinger,” Bloomberg art critic Linda Yablonsky writes in a review of the Metropolitan Museum’s newly renovated Charles Engelhard Court, going on to note that Engelhard’s “eccentric biography is retailed in Michael Gross’s new Rogues’ Gallery.” She finds the new courtyard “impersonal and antiseptic.” After a visit on Monday, I thought it palatial but glacial — rather like the complex lives of the family it is named for. I hope Yablonsky hasn’t risked her access to the Met with that … Continue reading

The Met speaks (or at least, a few employees do)

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Several e-mails arrived in the last 24 hours from employees at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. One came from inside the Metropolitan bookstore, where the book is apparently banned: “I just find it amusing how many people ask for it.” Another was from someone who works in the museum proper: “I simply wanted to express many thanks [to you] for writing the book Rogue’s Gallery. As a current MET employee, the things I’ve read in [the book] all ring true. I personally think the media is grossly — and intentionally — misinterpreting your objective and concept in writing Rogue’s Gallery.” … Continue reading

Speaking of libel tourism…

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Writing in London’s Independent, Alice Azania-Jarvis, author of its Pandora column, reveals that the threat of libel tourism is why the book-loving British can’t buy Rogues’ Gallery. As the New York Times so wisely editorialized yesterday, saber-rattling by “wealthy and litigious people” is not only “bad for writers,” it’s “bad for everyone.”

Oh, Canada

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“Finally, a book about art and the wealthy,” says Maclean’s, the Canadian newsweekly. “Michael Gross‘s unauthorized look at the Metropolitan Museum of Art… starts with its first director, a fake Italian count — neither the Met’s first nor last acquisition of dubious title. There’s also J. Pierpont Morgan and various Rockefellers, Anna Wintour and Johnny Rotten, plus art scandals, vicious social manoeuvring and wretched excess of all sorts, all part of the story of America’s foremost temple to art and riches.

Truth is beauty

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From this morning’s editorial decrying libel tourism in The New York Times: “If authors believe they are too vulnerable, they may be discouraged from taking on difficult and important topics, like terrorism financing, or from writing about wealthy and litigious people. That would not only be bad for writers, it would be bad for everyone.”

“A terrific tale… stuff that more people should know,” says USA Today

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“As journalist Michael Gross shows in his history of the gentlemen and geniuses, barbarians and social-climbers who have run the Met since it was founded in 1870, proximity to the glorious art of humanity doesn’t necessarily improve the humans who document, collect and display it,” writes Maria Puente in USA Today. ” Great collections aren’t built on generosity and genteel spirit alone — try egomania and tax deductions. Also fraud, theft, greed, arrogance, anti-Semitism and snobbery… What a passel of pooh-bahs they were. Morgans and Rockefellers, Astors and Wrightsmans, Sulzbergers and Lehmans bestride the boardroom, while curators and directors labor … Continue reading

Hail to thee, blithe spirit

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Madame Arcati, the UK media blog, has entered the ring with a stirring defense of Rogues’ Gallery. “Indisputably,” writes the pseudonymous blogger named for an eccentric medium in a Noel Coward play “Gross… hit a raw nerve about a national institution. What is unacceptable is the suspected exercise of informal social power to, in effect, banish a book.” UPDATE: Once again, the comments are priceless, if not SFW or for households with small children.

Who do YOU trust?

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Two top officials of the Metropolitan Museum of Art have offered violently opposing opinions on Rogues’ Gallery. One is the prevailing opinion of the Manhattan plutocracy, too. What do you think? Harold Holzer, the museum’s current Senior Vice President for External Affairs, says: “A so-called ‘history’ of The Metropolitan Museum of Art that ignores its mission, and blurs the distinction between gossip and fact, is not only insensitive but highly misleading.” (He refused to be specific.) Daniel Herrick, Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer of the museum from 1968 until 1985, and then the CFO and Treasurer of the National Gallery … Continue reading

Shine a light

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“You are to be commended for shining a light on the highest levels of hypocrisy in New York Society,” writesChristopher London, editor of ManhattanSociety.com. Either that or condemned!

Vox Populi

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My two favorite comments so far on my Huffington Post essay today: dstanley wrote: “I think H.L. Mencken described these people best: ‘Out of this class comes the grotesque fashionable society of our big towns already described. Imagine a horde of peasants incredibly enriched and with almost infinite power thrust into their hands, and you will have a fair picture of its habitual state of mind. It shows all the stigmata of inferiority — moral certainty, cruelty, suspicion of ideas, fear.’” And iridium53 said: “Argumentum ad crumenam,” the Latin phrase (meaning an argument to the purse) describing the logical fallacy … Continue reading

Down the rabbit-hole?

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“People [are] wondering why the New York media don’t have much of a line, even a hostile one, on [Rogues' Gallery] yet,” Ron Hogan observes on Galleycat this morning after reading through the online coverage of the book’s off-line reception in its first few days on sale. “Is Michael Gross really the victim of a media elite freeze-out, or is there an alternative explanation? … We don’t know which answer is the right answer, of course, although we do know which one is more entertaining to contemplate — although we suppose if you’re Michael Gross, ‘entertaining’ might not be the … Continue reading

The truth hurts (… their feelings)

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The trustees and administrators of the Metropolitan Musem of Art have issued their review of Rogues’ Gallery. “A so-called ‘history’ of The Metropolitan Museum of Art that ignores its mission, and blurs the distinction between gossip and fact, is not only insensitive but highly misleading,” museum PR man Harold Holzer tells the New York Observer’s Reid Pillifant, who adds, “The Met declined to comment on Mr. Gross’s specific allegations.” Some earlier, telling quotations from the museum’s $300,000-a-year mouthpiece: — “The only kind of books we find even vaguely palatable are those we control.” — “If we tell you we won’t … Continue reading

A “great book,” says Forbes.com. “Important and splendidly readable.”

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Melik Kaylan of Forbes.com, a long-time observer of culture and museums, reviews Rogues’ Gallery — and some of the controversies surrounding it — today. He writes, “Any and all facts that I knew of personally, the author gets absolutely right, which makes me trust much else in the book — and there’s a great deal else, indeed an entire history of the museum beginning from its gradual birth in the 1870s, told as a kind of extended gossip dish, a dense and exhaustively factual one, about the powerful egos that drove it into prominence and kept it there… I didn’t … Continue reading

Freedom to Suppress: The Empire Strikes Back vs. Rogues’ Gallery

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Jesse Kornbluth, writing for Headbutler, reveals the full story of the campaign against Rogues’ Gallery, and has this to say about it: “George Orwell wrote something to the effect: When I see a policeman beating a worker, I don’t have to wonder whose side I’m on. That’s how I feel here. A rich woman has used a two-ton gorilla to threaten a writer, and, for whatever reason, silence has descended. I have no brief for Michael Gross or his book. But I care a great deal about the powerful abusing their power. And that’s what seems to be happening here.” … Continue reading

“Yummy!” says The Daily News

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George Rush and Joanna Molloy have once again caught the rest of the town snoozing. They call Rogues’ Gallery “yummy” in today’s Daily News while hinting about a legal attack on the book. There’s a review in today’s News, too. “The nut of Gross’ story is the power and influence wielded behind the scenes by the monied,” says Sherryl Connelly. She also calls the book “salacious” and “exhaustive,” praises (and damns) the depth of research behind it, and says it “forays into the personal, sometimes seamy, histories of major names” — singling out the late Jane Englehard, Annette de la … Continue reading

A review worth reading: “Skulduggery in the sculpture gallery, intrigue among the antiquities… “

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Readers of Rogues’ Gallery are filling the (possibly not-so) curious silence to date of mainsteam media book reviewers concerning Rogues’ Gallery. An S. McGee, amazon-certified to be using a real name, has penned a thoughtful and not uncritical view of the book that I very much like despite its quarrels with me. Calling it a “a peek behind the scenes at the shenanigans of the donors, trustees, curators and directors at the Metropolitan Museum of Art over the nearly 140-year life of that institution,” McGee adds, “Gross tackles the Met’s larger than life personalities with a pen dipped in vitriol … Continue reading

What the… ?

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Both the bad review referred to below and Tom Hoving‘s response have disappeared from amazon.com. Should I take down the posts? Remove the dead links? Continue to shelter the fellow who called me a bottom feeder? Decisions, decisions…

Hoving into view

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Tom Hoving, the influential former director of the Metropolitan Museum, has waded into the sometimes muddy puddle of the amazon customer reviews of Rogues’ Gallery, responding to the reviewer who called me a “bottom feeder” and doesn’t like Hoving much, either. Play nice, kids!

Cone of Silence

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Cityfile wonders about the coverage, or rather, some curious gaps in it, of Rogues’ Gallery in the mainstream press.

#33 With a Bullet

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Rogues’ Gallery hit #33 on the Book Sense independent bookstore non-fiction bestseller list today.

Where no man has gone before…

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A customer review on amazon.com calls Rogues’ Gallery “a gossipy hatchet job on the private lives of several of the museum trustees” and the author “the sort of bottom feeder who can find something sinister in just about anyone or anything.” Some might consider that praise. My feeling? Better a strong reaction than none at all.

Rogues Gallery Live at The Strand

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Watch last night’s discussion of Rogues Gallery at The Strand by clicking on my name below:

“Great theater — drama and excitement,” says Met Museum CFO

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“Wow,” says Daniel Herrick, Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer of the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1968 until 1985, and subsequently the CFO and Treasurer of the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. “There’s so much more in Rogues’ Gallery than I, even after working there for seventeen years, could possibly have imagined or known. The book represents a prodigious piece of work (with some 37 pages of notes and bibliography) about those who created and operate this nations’ leading museum of art. It’s simply great theatre. As giants of our country’s recent history stride across the stage of … Continue reading

“Highly entertaining” but banned in Met bookstore — Bloomberg.com

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Introducing “Secrets, Phonies Animate Lively Met Museum History,”an interview about Rogues’ Gallery for Bloomberg’s Muse, its executive editor, the Pulitzer Prize-winning cultural critic Manuela Hoelterhoff calls the book “highly entertaining,” and reports something I assumed but didn’t know, that the book “is not for sale in the gift shop of the lofty art house on Fifth Avenue.”

#1 (with an asterisk)

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Rogues’ Gallery, which already hit this spot at Barnes & Noble, is now the best-selling book on art (and #1 in urban sociology, too) on amazon.com, too.

Page Six on Fifth

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Today’s Page Six in the New York Post covers the Rogues’ Gallery book party.

Costume Drama

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Although she leads with a photo of Richard Avedon-inspired elephants, Lee Rosenbaum, aka the art-blogger culturegrrl, doesn’t mention the elephant in the room, Rogues’ Gallery, in her post today on the Metropolitan Museums’ new Costume Institute show, “The Model as Muse.” But she does second the point already made in the book and in comments I made to the New York Post last week, which a spokesman for Vogue Magazine deemed cynical. She finds the relationship of the museum to that magazine, its editor Anna Wintour, and its publisher Conde Nast “highly problematic,” adding, “The connections between the sponsors’ professional … Continue reading

#1 (with an asterisk)

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Rogues’ Gallery is the bestselling work of art history in the country.

Vanity Fair: Rogues’ Gallery is “explosive”

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Vanity Fair’s Society & Style gives Georgette Mosbacher‘s launch party for Rogues Gallery top billing over competing fetes that attracted mere movie stars and Chelsea Clinton in a post on Thursday night’s top parties. “Why?” asks VF. “Because social powerhouses have been awaiting this book with bated breath, and where better to toast it than Mosbacher’s abode, with its clear view of the Met steps? “Talking Point: The book’s explosive allegations, and the anticipated uproar.” In attendance: former Metropolitan Museum director Tom Hoving, Jay McInerney and Anne Hearst, Gay Talese, Arianna Huffington, Samuel Peabody, Paul and Dayssi Olarte de Kanovas, … Continue reading

Sympathy for the Devil: At the Brooke Astor trial

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On Thursday morning, Charlene Marshall was sobbing, her eyes bloodshot and bright red when she walked into Supreme Court in Manhattan where her husband Anthony is on trial, charged with manipulating his Alzheimer’s Disease-stricken mother, the philanthropist and socialite Brooke Astor, into changing her will in his favor, plundering her estate and selling off her favorite painting in the last few years before her death at age 105 in 2007. Marshall was crying because that morning, she’d been referred to as “a villain,” “Miss Piggy,” “a social climber” and “a bitch” on the front page of the New York Times. … Continue reading

Frieze: a “meticulous” and “entertaining romp”

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Brian Sholis of Frieze calls Rogues’ Gallery “an unabashedly unofficial history… ranging from the Met’s early days as ‘a firetrap with shellacked floors and walls covered with red billiard cloth’ to the questions facing the institution today as it adjusts to a new director, Thomas P. Campbell, after being led for 30 years by Philippe de Montebello. It quickly becomes clear that Gross’s large cast of characters is not only squabbling over the institution itself; many are also jockeying for position among New York’s social elite. Gross is a meticulous storyteller, and Rogues’ Gallery is an entertaining romp.”

I’ll Huff and I’ll Post

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I’ve just made my debut on The Huffington Post (thanks Arianna!), with some contrarian observations about the prosecution of Anthony Marshall, Brooke Astor’s only child. Astor, Marshall and Annette de la Renta, who testified at the trial this week, have all been trustees of the Metropolitan Museum, and feature prominently in the cast of characters of Rogues’ Gallery.

Room With A View

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David Patrick Columbia‘s New York Social Diary stopped by Georgette Mosbacher‘s book launch party for Rogues’ Gallery last night, in her sprawling apartment overlooking the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There’s more on the party here.

“Proustian figures drawn by ego and propelled by imagined furies”

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“Mr. Gross’ history of the mechanisms and machinations of personality that created the Met is fascinating and a lesson to all of us on many levels about the marriage of human behavior and civic responsibility,” writes a particularly poetic David Patrick Columbia, reviewing Rogues’ Gallery on New York Social Diary today. “Mr. Gross who is nothing if not perspicacious, also has a nose and a palate for the dish. We like to think of it as gossip and therefore can easily deride its legitimacy. However, much of it, especially people’s personalities, drive all history. So the story of the Met … Continue reading

Pub date cometh

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Rogues Gallery is “a fascinating read,” says artinfo.com, “by turns funny, outrageous, and disconcerting — that makes public what arguably should have been public knowledge long ago. Gross’s coup is not only in the vast amounts of information he has obtained but also in his ability to tell a story about the rich and powerful people of New York nearly effortlessly and without disdain.”

Azzie vs. Anna

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Azzedine Alaia, one of my favorite designers in the days when I covered fashion, has refused to allow models to wear seven of his gowns to the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute gala tonight, according to Cathy Horyn in the New York Times: “‘It would have been silly to have seven girls wearing my dresses at the party and not have anything of mine in the exhibit,’ he said.” Horyn says “he blamed the omission not on the Met’s chief costume curator Harold Koda, but rather on Anna Wintour, the editor in chief of Vogue, who organizes the party. ‘She has … Continue reading

Good Buzz

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“Undeniably fun, Rogue’s Gallery is a hefty (over 500 pages), detailed guilty pleasure that’s hard to put down,” says the presumably pseudonymous Buzz Girl at Book Page’s Book Case blog. She adds that one of her friends who works for the museum “had the pleasure of hanging up on Gross when barraged with inappropriate questions.” Hmmm. I wonder if that was one of the several people who called me a sleaze for daring to ask about the museum without its permission? Or one of the people who talked to me anyway and won’t (or can’t) admit it?

Rogues’ Gallery: Front Page News

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Rogues Gallery made the front page of today’s New York Post. Read the back story on the Metropolitan Museum’s Party of the Year here.

Wintour wanderland

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In an update on Anna’s Party, Monday night’s scaled-down Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fashion Week Daily says that designers Karl Lagerfeld and Matthew Williamson, LVMH boss Bernard Arnault, French Vogue scion Julia Restoin-Roitfeld, and the entertainers Charlize Theron and Kanye West will be no-shows. But noted fashion plate Jerry Seinfeld will do his best to fill the fabulosity vacuum.

They report. You decide.

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Two of America’s most venerable fonts of gossip, Liz Smith and George Christy, weigh in on Rogues’ Gallery today. Christy loves it in the Beverly Hills Courier, calling it “a pageturner that unravels like an elite whodunit… a captivating, tattle-tale yarn, [that] will spark a furor.” Smith, in her wowowow.com column, isn’t so sure, but agrees about the furor part, at least. She says it is a “fabulous, realistic, well-researched book,” but adds that it is “marred” by what she variously describes as a “devastating attack” on, a “diatribe” against, and “condemnation” of “pillars at the top of the City’s … Continue reading