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terence riley talks to

Post #709 • January 16, 2006, 10:21 AM • 35 Comments

Backstory here. People have debated about the relationship between the building and the collection at MAM. MAM has said for a long time that a new building will make it possible to expand the collection; detractors have insisted that the miniscule collection hardly justifies a new building and they're putting the cart before the horse. How would you convince the detractors?

Terence Riley: Despite my love of architecture, if you can only have one, I think it is more important for a museum to have a good collection than a good building. But I also think a good building for art is part of a whole range of assets that makes a museum appealing for not only the public but for collectors as well. We've heard quite a bit about the new building but have not heard much about your artistic or curatorial intentions for MAM. How would you describe your aesthetic when it comes to art? What are your criteria for the hiring of new curators? How do you plan to alter the programming at MAM, if at all?

Terence Riley: I am still deep in the learning curve as far as all of these questions. As far as an underlying philosophy that might guide all of these decisions in the future, I would point to Italo Calvino's characterization of contemporary culture from his Six Memos for the Next Millennium: "The heavy machines still exist but now they obey the commands of weightless bits." In other words, we are now at a moment where the culture is formed by two poles: a 20th Century legacy that defines us in many ways as well as a nascent future with its own paradigm that promises to be as eventful as the near past. This "in between-ness" is not something that is going to pass in a few years and it has influenced the way I think about many contemporary cultural topics. You said in your interview with Tyler Green, "What I find interesting is that Miami's success is of course going to depend on support from local community." What does "support from local community" mean to you, and how do you plan to cultivate that support?

Terence Riley: As with politics, all museums are local. They are frequently populated by tourists but they can't really survive without local support: from civic and community leaders, from collectors and patrons, from the public, etc. Support can be a bond issue, donations, attendance - all of it contributes to the fiscal as well as civic health of a public institution. The tone of the communication coming out of MAM seems to presuppose that the Museum Park scenario is a foregone conclusion. As far as I know, MAM still has to raise somewhere between $100 million and $200 million from a possibly unsympathetic public and collector base. It also has to win approval from the public to convert the open parkland into a museum site. In your estimation, what are the chances of Museum Park happening, on a percentage scale? What's the backup plan?

Terence Riley: Without underestimating the amount of hard work necessary to see the museum project through to completion, as well as the twists and turns that inevitably lie in the road ahead, I am convinced of the viability and the potential for great success in the Museum Park plans. MAM press materials (PDF) say that you "will develop an ambitious permanent collection strategy through a sound, strategic approach to growth." Realizing that you haven't developed it yet, how would you describe your collecting priorities in broad terms? Hypothetically, given the ability to acquire anything at all, what are the first three objects you would select?

Terence Riley: Again, a bit premature in terms of getting specific about policies but I think that three works that are emblematic of Calvino's characterization of the New Millennium might be Torqued Ellipse by Richard Serra, Reticularea by Gego and virtually anything by Gerhard Richter.




January 16, 2006, 11:24 AM

Very illuminating, Franklin, especially the last question.

Gego? Lord save us.



January 16, 2006, 11:28 AM

Interesting . . . he's understandably reluctant to commit to particulars. the fact that he was willing to talk to you is perhaps more significant then anything in particular he said.

I can't imagine that the "Real Painting" crowd would be encouraged by the three examples, or by the "in-betweenness" of heavy machines and little bits, although it sounds like a reasonable starting point to me.



January 16, 2006, 12:02 PM

So, Alesh, do you go for the "nascent futures" "paradigms" and those "two poles" (who are they anyway?) who are "forming culture"? Is this how you talk about art to your colleagues? I don't think so.

This problem is not about whether you are a "real painter" or not. It is way beyond mere partisanship.



January 16, 2006, 12:51 PM

Re #2:

he's understandably reluctant to commit to particulars. The fact that he was willing to talk to you is perhaps more significant then anything in particular he said.

Tell me, Alesh, if this were George Bush and not Riley, would you say the same thing? If not, please explain. I mention Bush, by the way, because this interview is the sort of thing one would get from a politician, i.e., mostly PR-speak and evasion.

I can't imagine that the "Real Painting" crowd would be the "in-betweenness" of heavy machines and little bits, although it sounds like a reasonable starting point to me.

I'm happy for you, but this is precisely not the sort of gobbledygook I want to hear from a museum director--or anybody, for that matter.

As for the three choices, they are indeed illuminating. I'm thrilled. NOT.



January 16, 2006, 1:15 PM

On Riley's suggestions for art collection: Serra is his heavy duty art mechanic/engineer; Richter the darling crafter of weightless bits of sweetmeat-theory; and Gego somewhere inbetween nothing and nowhere.

Illuminating, indeed.



January 16, 2006, 1:20 PM

He said he was "still deep in the learning curve..."



January 16, 2006, 1:41 PM

Once again I've been busy commenting, and others have slipped something in while I was composing. I also read Riley's comments as political doublespeak (more rightly described as nothingspeak). I initially deleted the following from #5 because it was overly sarcastic and incomprehensible, but now in light of #3 and #4 I'll paste it back in:

"On his underlying philosophy: this new millennium will undoubtedly be overflowing with even more meaning than the last, heavy with social portent, pregnant with cultural relevance, and dripping with personal significance. We are, at this crossroads of millennia, democratically beholden to take the middle path for it is the most inbetween, the most heavily trodden, the smoothest, the broadest, and the most popular - it is the route we must take. Let's be clear... Make no mistake..."

Hii-yi-yi. Neither hot nor cold, makes me want to spit.



January 16, 2006, 1:48 PM

he should have made sure everyone
remembers Italo Calvino
renounced Communism in '57

nothingspeak & gobbleygook
not required...



January 16, 2006, 1:59 PM

He says he is deep in the learning curve, FRC, but he doesn't say which way it is headed.



January 16, 2006, 2:24 PM

MAM "will develop an ambitious permanent collection strategy through a sound, strategic approach to growth."

That reminds me of that wonderful (Dell, Gateway?) ad with John Cleese where he has bought all the wrong computers for his business and when reminded of this he replies "Our reasoning was very sound. Wrong, but very sound."



January 16, 2006, 5:04 PM

Well, I left the house. It's a lovely day out; I had a nice hot chocolate with churros smothered in sugar, and I was waited on by a spry old lady who's always cheerful and infinitely preferable to any number of sullen young waitpersons. I felt better.

OK. Riley's got the job. The MAM outfit is what it is. Theoretically, it's possible he'll do significantly better than the available evidence indicates; only time will tell. I suppose there will have to be some improvement. As Franklin has noted, his choice of curatorial staff will make a big difference, assuming their hands aren't tied by him and/or the board. We'll see, but I'm not exactly holding my breath. I think I need more churros.


James W. Bailey

January 16, 2006, 8:09 PM

Dear Franklin,

Question: was your interview conducted in person and transcribed for publication, or was it done by email? I'm just curious. Even Bush looks good in email interviews (which are usually answered by his staff!) Assuming it was an email interview, and further assuming that Riley actually answered these easy questions himself, he sounds absolutely ridiculous.

This project will never get off the ground if the leader of the campaign is going to be so openly, and brazenly, evasive with the very community that will be tapped to support it.

Aside from the art, here are some questions that ought to be asked of Riley (these questions need to be asked and answered if for no other reason than because MAM's 2004 IRS Form 990 is not currently published on - MAM's 2004 tax return should have long ago been filed and made available for public inspection; more importantly, MAM's 2005 tax return (due this year) should be made availalbe for public inspection as soon as possible, preferbly by the deadline.):

1.) Inclusive of architectural fees to whatever big name architect that signs on to this project, what is the top dollar amount that MAM will legally assume to raise for the construction of this new museum?

2.) Will or will not MAM hold legal title to the new museum building when completed? If not, will or will not MAM agree to sign a lease to occupy and manage the new museum building that would provide for ANY content, subject matter or curatorial restrictions on what CAN be exhibited or what MUST be exhibited in the new museum?

3.) Exactly how much money does MAM currently have sitting in the bank (or by way of being pledged) to fund the construction of this project?

4.) Exactly how much money does MAM currently have sitting in the bank (or by way of being pledged) to fund the following:

a. Operations and maintenance endowment?

b. Acquisitions endowment?

c. Capital campaign endowment for future expansion?

5.) What is the funding mechanism that will be implemented to obtain these needed operational and maintenance funds? What is the total amount of operational funds that are currently being committed by governmental entities to the current MAM? Have of have not these governmental entities agreed to provide the additional needed funds to successfully operate and maintain the new MAM?

Once you get past Riley actually answering some hard-ball bottom line dollar questions (that I haven't seen Tyler or anyone else ask yet), then you can start exploring Riley's aesthetic dreams. (By "you", I don't mean you or anyone else commenting on this matter personally - "you" means the potential supporters of this project, most of whom will no doubt live and breathe the bond issue air that hovers over the potential of this new museum in the Miami area.

My sense (especially after reading his patently silly answers to your questions) is that Riley assumes most of the people in Miami don't understand how little things like building a new expensive museum work in the "real" world of MoMA.

One of the nice things about bond-funded cultural dreams is that if they become too expansive, unworkable and unfundable (operationally) as the "dream" matures into financial reality, the bond commission can always refuse to issue the bonds, order everybody back to the drawing board to design a realistic plan that the community will actually rally behind and support!

My professional opinion is that Riley should immediately start assuming that his Miami audience for the new MAM is smarter than he apparently realizes - I think many of the comments on this post reflect the fact that people aren't so easily duped with pro- Iraq war political b.s., or "Brownie, you're doin' a heckava job" b.s. or spend the taxpayer's money to build-a-museum-church-that-multi-millionaire/billionaire-collectors-will-find-worthy-to-receive-the-donation-of-my-art-collection cultural master plan, b.s these days. Washington, D.C., I hope, learned its lesson about not asking the hard-ball questions with respect to David Levy and his wishful cultural master plan fantasy concerning the Gehry addition to the Corcoran. A plan that was to include a highly controversial TIF (tax increment financing) district. I have no doubt that Miami must be looking into establishing a TIF district as well as a funding mechanism for this project.

Don't know what a TIF is? Read this:

D.C. had lots of red flags with Levy and the Corcoran and ignored them.

Here's a red flag for Miami:

"But I also think a good building for art is part of a whole range of assets that makes a museum appealing for not only the public but for collectors as well." Terrence Riley

"...appealing for not only the public but for collectors as well." Well, I respectfully, and professionally, disagree with that b.s. If multi-millionaires and billionaires want to place their art in a museum, they shouild do it the old fashioned way - build it with their own money and not ask the taxpayers to subsidize via bond money their (rich collectors) tax deductible donations of art to a museum paid for and operated by to a great extent the taxpayers.




January 16, 2006, 8:26 PM

James, he answered questions via e-mail. Thanks for your analysis - you sound like an old hand at this.



January 16, 2006, 8:46 PM

Well, James, I'd talked myself into calming down a bit--you know, the fatalist dodge--but I'm not so calm any more. I don't think the MAM people are ever going to give straight answers to the obviously highly relevant and valid questions you raise unless they're left no choice but to do so by people they can't dance around. The fact their tax return is not posted is a case in point.

Why isn't the Miami Herald all over this? Or are they only interested in German transvestites prancing around during Art Basel?


moustache anear

January 16, 2006, 9:02 PM

It's interesting that Riley mentioned Calvino''s six memo's for the next millenium.....atleast what you mangobrains refer to as gobbleteygook (??) has a background in solid ideas.

real painters indeed...



January 16, 2006, 9:30 PM

Very interesting interview, Franklin.

Makes me all the more glad that I live in the outback (Nashville, TN) where area artists only have to deal with monoliths like the "Frist Center For The Visual Arts" (think Senate Majority Leader, Bill Frist.) The 'gift' of a wad of dough from his family's all-very-honorable involvement in a humongous HMO helped turn our old post office building into a really pretentious and crypt-like shelter for occasionally worth looking at art. The facility is staffed by earnest politically correct types who speak almost exactly like Mr. Riley.

Beware, Will Robinson, beware. It looks to be not as it is represented...



January 16, 2006, 10:06 PM

"we are now at a moment where the culture is formed by two poles: a 20th Century legacy that defines us in many ways as well as a nascent future with its own paradigm that promises to be as eventful as the near past."

Ladies & gentlemen,
looks like WE need
a new paradigm!

The title theme of the 1978 classic film "Convoy"
pops in my head at this point...



January 16, 2006, 10:12 PM

"a background in solid ideas," moustache anear? Do you think Calvino would have referred to his own ideas of "Lightness," "Quickness," "Exactitude," "Visibility," "Multiplicity" and "Consistency" as "solid?" Maybe, but if so then only to achieve an understanding of their ultimate fluidity.

I suppose, for your sake, that there are mangobrains - just that some are more over-ripe than others. The over-ripe ones don't seem able to read very accurately.



January 16, 2006, 10:19 PM

i get the impression that he is using this position as a stepping stone into early retirement, or onto other pursuits. how could he not have any curatorial intentions? he seemed to give more detailed anwers in the artsjournal q&a, so hopefully he was just dumbing himself down for us. i think his focus lies in creating a particular identity for the museum (of which it lacks) so that the art world and curators take notice. which would bring him notariety in the end, and then he could disappear into early retirement and take on special projects when he wasn't working on his tan. i hope i am wrong.


moustache anear

January 16, 2006, 10:58 PM

solid, meaning worth delving into,meaning of substance (even though that substance is made of vapors like Calvino's...)...

Mangobrains indeed.



January 16, 2006, 11:31 PM

- of complaing here folks, so today children, lets look at/ for brighter things in this sun filled town...



January 16, 2006, 11:33 PM

Mange of the Brain.
Man Gone Braying.
My Main Mang O'Brian.
Man Gob Rains.

Oldpro, wanna try your hand at a word-scramble? I think moustache anear is asking for it.


irish cream

January 16, 2006, 11:36 PM

- you could benefit Baily by showing Terence your paintings and paving the way for the rest of us. Thanks.



January 16, 2006, 11:41 PM

OK Ahab, how about




January 16, 2006, 11:45 PM

I think Mr Riley might want to hire Mr Bailey. Pretty soon.


missed the

January 16, 2006, 11:49 PM

- e, sorry James W.



January 17, 2006, 1:00 AM

Italo Calvino. Six Memos for the Next Millennium 1984

These were written to be read as part of the Norton Lectures at Harvard in 1985-86, Italo Calvino died before he was able to finish all six. The five chapters he completed were:
Consistency was to be the sixth

From chapter 1, Lightness:
"Then we have computer science. It is true that software cannot exercise its powers of lightness except through the weight of hardware. But it is software that gives the orders, acting on the outside world and on machines that exist only as functions of software and evolve so they can work out ever more complex programs. The second industrial revolution, unlike the first, does not present us with such crushing images as rolling mills and molten steel, but with "bits" in a flow of information traveling along circuits in the form of electronic impulses. The iron machines still exist, but they obey the orders of weightless bits."
[Calvino p. 8, emphasis mine]

This is a great work of literature.



January 17, 2006, 7:49 AM

I read up on it a little yesterday, George, and it does indeed sound like a great work of literature. But how do you go from that, to Riley liking it, to figuring out how his liking it would play a role in his running the museum? That's a lot of filters.


moustache anear

January 17, 2006, 9:19 AM

Real Painters and Their Associates

Sounds like he's using it as a guiding reference, a raison d'etre for the museums new direction.'Just because people like him speak in a convoluted fashion with a dictum worthy of Bush and every other head of corporation or state imaginable doesn't invalidate his position or disqualify him from being able to better the situation at MAM.

Give the guy a chance.
Just forreferencing Calvino the guy should get a few points.
Atleast George seems to get it.



January 17, 2006, 9:33 AM

Calvino's ideas are not hard to "get", Moustache. The discussion here is about their applicability, which is another matter.

Sorry, when I hear doubletalk I do not trust the doubletalker, politics, art, whatever.

As for giving him a chance, that is not up to us. He has his chance.



January 17, 2006, 10:02 AM

"The iron machines still exist, but they obey the orders of weightless bits."

They always did, George, the "rolling mills and molten steel" were always acted upon and activated by "a flow of information traveling along circuits in the form of electronic impulses," called the brain, or mangobrain if you will. Calvino's is an arbitrary designation for yet another historical revolutionary era, which is necessarily obscured by the fact that we are yet in the midst of it, as we humans have been since the iron age, at least. Congratulations may be in order for Calvino, but only for describing the moment and not for hearkening "nascent futures."

I understand that George would especially appreciate the propping up of a computer science revolution, but even accurate 10-20 year forecasts of such do not automatically merit labeling as "great works of literature." And do speeches count as literature, anyway? I guess so. The flags always go up when George seems to get it.


James W. Bailey

January 17, 2006, 10:24 AM

To Franklin and his Miami contributors,

Every successful capital campaign project I've been associated with (successful meaning on time/on budget with all targeted funds raised and in the bank) was preceded by a detailed feasibility study/economic impact statement.

The feasibility study ultimately leads to a detailed master plan/program plan for the new museum. The program plan should (indeed, I would argue MUST) have broad and diverse input from the community.

I regularly follow this blog. The incredible reputation that Franklin’s blog holds for being an important venue to discover deep insight into the world of art speaks for itself. I would submit to the Board of Directors of MAM and to Terrence Riley that if there were ever a case that an art blog (Franklin's should play a key role in helping to provide input on the master plan/program plan for a new museum, then it would be with this project. I am serious., and its Miami-based contributors, should be asked to come to the table and help provide input on defining the shape of the new MAM. If I could speak personally to Riley, this would be my first suggestion.

There is a great deal of been-around-the-block wisdom that is to be found on this blog. I am unaware that an art blog has ever been invited to play a role in defining the mission of a new cultural facility. There is no doubt in my mind that this is a case where one should.


P.S. Mr. Old Pro: Man, I'd love to move to Miami! There's no going back home to New Orleans (my studio and all my alternative exhibiting venues have been destroyed), and the weather (not to mention many of the people) are too damn cold up here in D.C.! Give me some place that's got some heat and passion. You'd have to set off a thermo-nuclear bomb in D.C. to generate some fire under the feet of a lot of people of here!


Marc Country

January 17, 2006, 10:55 AM

Re: A Chosen Amateur post #29
"Give the guy a chance.
Just forreferencing Calvino the guy should get a few points.
Atleast George seems to get it."

I'm sure that's exactly what Riley thought too... "Hmmm... just referencing Calvino, I should get a few points.."
I guess there are always a few suckers for Italian Futuristism out there.

Ahab, thanks for your words on the "weightless bits" sliding through the juices of our mangos... then of course, there's the "weightlessness" of the mysteries of the laws of physics; all those invisible forces that work unseen on those heavy iron machines, and everthing else, and always have, and always will... Oh, and the bit about "The flags always go up when George seems to get it."... Hallelujah! I'm beginning to think the same truism could apply to A Chosen Amateur.

It's puzzling (or maybe just hypocritical) that A Chosen Amateur would suggest that we shouldn't judge Riley negatively because of his views, as presented by himself, but we should judge him favorably because he references some other, only vaguely relevant views, presented by someone else (20 years ago).

Mangobrains indeed.



January 17, 2006, 11:34 AM

As Alesh said early on "the fact that he [Riley] was willing
to talk to you [Einspruch] is perhaps more significant then
anything in particular he said." (#2)

I know Real painters, unreal painters, designers,
art whores, lawyers, educators, architechts,
writers, filmakers, sculptors, and even Republicans
who follow this blog - we don't always agree.
Some never comment.

So now is part of the process.

Design Editor
Accent Miami Magazine



January 19, 2006, 1:16 PM

I missed reading #31-#34 on until now. Excellent posts. Please keep it up everyone.

And Mr Bailey, it would be great to have you down here. But don't judge the "art scene" by all the pro & con activity on this blog. This seems to be the only place it is happening.



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