No one knows exactly what Marylou Whitney said last week to Maxwell Anderson, the director of the museum that bears her name -- except that he could fuggedabout the $1 million she was planning to give them.
Whitney was offended by a work by Hans Haacke, which compares New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to a Nazi.
Haacke's piece, called "Sanitation," is part of the Whitney Museum of American Art's biennial survey of contemporary art that opens March 23.
"Sanitation" consists of a wall of garbage cans with speakers blaring the sound of marching jackboots.
Above the cans, written in the Gothic typescript favored by Hitler, are quotations from Giuliani, Sen. Jesse Helms, Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson disparaging contemporary art.
Whitney, who is the widow of Cornelius Vanderbuilt Whitney, son of Whitney Museum founder Gertrude Vanderbuilt Whitney, said she was troubled that Haacke's work mixed art and politics and that the museum had selected a foreigner to participate in a show intended to present the best of American art.
Neither of these arguments seems very convincing. American artists have been critical of the powers that be for much of the last 30 years.
Moreover, though born in Germany, Haacke has lived in New York since the 1960s. The museum has often presented foreign-born artists who have created significant works in this country.
So I think there are at least two possibilities for what's going on. One is that Mrs. Whitney is being coy about her real agenda, which has to do with local Republican politics and the mayor's upcoming Senate race in New York.
In that case, I can imagine her saying something like this:
"Max, you know and I know I've got other irons in the fire that depend on Rudy's good will, so I'm outta here on this, at least publicly.
"I'll complain to the papers and tell them I'm not giving my $1 million.
"I'll also resign from the national fund-raising committee and tell them that's worth a few million more, even though we only took in $300,000 last year. You take the heat, dahling, and when it's all over you come see me at tea exactly as before."
On the other hand, it is possible Marylou really doesn't have a clue:
"Max, I'm shocked, just shocked that you would would invite a cutting-edge artist like Haacke into a show of cutting-edge American art.
"Don't you remember that time he embarrassed the Guggenheim Museum with his muckraking exhibit about how all its big donors were actually Harlem slumlords?
"Why, he actually has the gall to criticize the rich!
"What could you possibly have been thinking when you accepted anything from that awful, awful man?"
Mrs. Whitney clearly is in a position to play it both ways, leaving the door open for an eventual reconciliation and return to the fold.
It's also worth noting that the two most active members of the Whitney family, Flora Miller Biddle and Fiona Donovan, Gertrude Whitney's granddaughter and great-granddaughter, both have said they strongly support the museum's action.
Copeland joins Walters
The Walters Art Gallery has announced the appointment of Jacqueline Tibbs Copeland as its new director of education and public programs.
Copeland will be responsible for all the museum's education-related activities, resource materials and tours and its programs for adults, families and school children as the museum moves toward the reopening of its 1974 building and new Family Art Center in 2001.
Copeland has been associate director of education and community programs at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minn., since 1990. There she organized an African-American Contemporary Arts Forum to educate beginning collectors and developed a Black History Month brochure for gallery visitors.
Copeland is a graduate of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., and earned a master's degree in art history from the University of Rochester in New York.
Perlman marks career
Baltimore artist Bennard Perlman will mark the end of a 58-year career with a one-man show at the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation's Hoffberger Gallery April 2-23.
Perlman is a native Baltimorean whose career began at age 13 in 1941, when the Walters Art Gallery exhibited one of his works. The following year he became the youngest winner ever in the Evening Sun's annual sketch contest.
Perlman taught art and art history at Baltimore City Community College, Towson University, Goucher and Loyola colleges and at Oxford University in England.
Eastern European ceramics
The Maryland Institute, College of Art presents "From Tallininn to Vilnius," an exhibition of five Eastern European ceramic artists at the Pinkard Gallery in the Bunting Center. The show opens this Friday and runs through April 23.
The artists represented include Aldona Salteniene, Wladyslaw Garnik, Anita Milbreta, Orest Mysjko and Annika Teder. All the works in the show were created during the artists' residencies at MICA.