Guggenheim Can’t Take Clemente Out of the Guggenheim

On Oct. 8, virtually the entire Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum will be given over to 200 paintings and drawings by 47-year-old,Naples-bornFrancesco Clemente for a retrospective that museum curators have been preparing for several years. Mr. Clemente’s sensual work has been a mainstay of the neo-Mannerist revival of interest in rich Renaissance-style art. The artist, who divides his time between India, New Mexico and a town house in Greenwich Village, is also inarguably the most stylish of the art stars who survived the 1980′s. He is credited with inspiring such styles as the two-day-old beard and the tieless, buttoned-up dress-shirt look. He has modeled for GQ , and he played a psychiatrist in Good Will Hunting .

But the combination of artistic talent and suave style that makes Mr. Clemente an appealing candidate for a Guggenheim exhibition has flopped out of town. The standard practice for a museum exhibition of this size is to ship it to several other cities afterward to defray the costs, which can be upward of several hundred thousand dollars. According to Lisa Dennison, deputy director and chief curator of the Guggenheim, and the show’s organizer, the museum approached more than 25 American and European museums, and actually had some interest from the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Houston Contemporary Arts Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. But none of those venues decided to take the show. Instead, when the New York exhibition closes on Jan. 9, it will go directly to the Guggenheim branch in Bilbao, Spain, from Feb. 14 to June 4.

“In the end, it is always a question of timing or changes in leadership,” said Ms. Dennison.

But size might have also mattered, as well as differences in taste. “The thing is that this is a large exhibition. It would have taken up the whole San Francisco Museum of Modern Art,” said Ms. Dennison. “A lot of times when you are dealing with contemporary art-and we would have to say that Francesco is a contemporary artist-the directors of museums prefer to have their own curators organize these shows, because the work is open to interpretation. It is different from, say, a Mondrian show, where everyone simply wants it.”

Ms. Dennison argued that shipping the show to Bilbao will help absorb some of the cost to the New York branch. So will the sponsorship of Hugo Boss, who it seems underwrites almost every one of the museum’s New York shows and is sponsoring Clemente’s. “Our whole rationale for the globalization of the Guggenheim-for having our own network of museums-is to not have to engage in that kind of negotiation with other institutions for shows but to know that from the beginning we have a partner in Europe, and we know that we have covered our development costs for the project because two institutions are involved,” she said. “We have economies of scale in terms of staffing and fund-raising efforts. From time to time we are going to partner with other institutions, but we don’t have to because our utmost priority is to have the show at the Guggenheim.”

The museum in Bilbao still has to find a sponsor to pay for the underlying costs of the four-month-long Clemente show, some of which go toward shared costs with the Guggenheim in New York. “All venues of a tour eventually have to find additional sponsorship,” said Ms. Dennison. With its Frank Gehry-designed building, the museum in Bilbao has attracted a great deal of attention, and finding a sponsor should not be difficult.

Steichen Family Album At Auction

Edward Steichen, the elegant photographer who captured the glamour of New York and France before World War II, and then went on to snap Hollywood celebrities as a staff photographer for Vanity Fair , is probably best remembered today as the curator of the 1955 Museum of Modern Art’s The Family of Man Exhibition . Steichen, who was then an elder statesman in the field, took 503 photographs and divided them into such general categories as creation, birth, love, work, death, justice, democracy and peace. As naive as the show’s premise seems today-in the world of Nan Goldin and Andres Serrano-it marked a turning point for photography by suggesting that the medium could aspire to universal themes the same way as do other major art forms.

On Oct. 5, Steichen’s granddaughter, Linda Joan Steichen Hodes, is putting 25 of his photographs up for auction at Phillips Auctioneers (406 East 79th Street). The pictures, which are portraits of the artist’s family, will be on exhibit at the auction house starting Oct. 1.

Until now, little has been known about Steichen’s own family, which consisted of two daughters and three wives. Like most families, the Steichens had some skeletons in the closet. Steichen’s first wife, Clara, was mentally ill, and he was prohibited for a time from seeing one of his daughters, Kate Rodina Steichen. But overall, he was an extremely devoted family man who entertained a stream of visitors at Umpawaug, his glass house on a pond in Connecticut, until his death in 1973.

“I know that he had lots of other qualities that I never saw, but he was-with me and anywhere around me-the most steady, profoundly loving man,” said Ms. Hodes, who referred to Steichen as “the main man in my life.”

“My overall sense of Bumpa, as I called my grandfather, was that his most profound connections were to children (especially his own), his beloved dogs, gardens, wilderness and the earth,” said Ms. Hodes.

Her mother, Mary Steichen Calderone, was a physician and expert in human sexuality who is credited with introducing sex education in American schools. Her mother, who died in 1998, left several boxes of family photographs to her, as did her Aunt Kate. She said she discovered, after going through the boxes, that she had a surplus of Steichen photographs.