Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Controversial Redesign Plan for the Hirshhorn Museum’s Sculpture Garden Get a Final Green Light

The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts has voted to approve Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto’s proposed redesign of the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.

The decision, made in a split 5–2 vote by a committee including four new Joe Biden appointees, none of whom are landscape architects, was not without controversy.

“The Hirshhorn benefitted at the Commission of Fine Arts today from the commissioners’ lack of experience, the commissioners’ lack of understanding of commission policies and procedures, and because for the first time in some 20 years, not one of the commissioners is a landscape architect,” Charles A. Birnbaum, CEO of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, told Midnight Publishing Group News in an email.

Sugimoto was tapped to lead the revitalization of the garden after putting his stamp on the institution through the recent renovation of its lobby. He called for expanding the museum’s historic reflecting pool to build a stage for performances.

The plan will include two new entrances and accessible paths throughout the garden, Beth Ziebarth, head of accessability at the Smithsonian, said at a public hearing held by the commission that was broadcast over Zoom.

“Universal accessibility is an overarching institutional initiative to provide equitable access to all visitors wherever possible,” she said.

Rendering of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s redesign of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Image courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.

Rendering of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s redesign of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Image courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.

But Sugimoto’s design hit a roadblock when Cultural Landscape Foundation voiced its opposition, claiming that the proposed changes would harm the visions of architect Gordon Bunshaft, who designed the museum in 1974, and landscape architect Lester Collins, who led a 1981 redesign of the grounds.

At issue, among other elements, were Sugimoto’s plans to add stone walls inspired by Japanese dry-stacking techniques to the garden.

The museum contended that Bunshaft and Collins drew on Japanese gardens for their original designs, but the Cultural Landscape Foundation said the stone would be a disruption of the Modernist aesthetic of the garden, which exclusively features aggregate concrete.

Rendering of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s redesign of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Image courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.

Rendering of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s redesign of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Image courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.

Although the redesign had received “concept approval” from the commission in 2019, Collins’s 1981 design had since become eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Cultural Landscape Foundation had hoped that the committee would reconsider preserving the property as work of art in its own right, as Bunshaft intended. (On its website, the Hirshorn says the architect imagined the space as “a large piece of functional sculpture.”)

But landscape architect Laurie Olin supported the redesign, writing in a report for the commission that the garden was “disjointed, tired, and in need of transformation,” and that Sugimoto’s design is “far superior” and “will add a worthy layer.”

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A Brussels Museum Backs Off Its Plan to Split Its Director Job Into Two After Activists Protested the Move as Sexist

The board of directors at a new art institution in Brussels has back-pedaled on a controversial decision to overrule the appointment of a female artistic director. Earlier this week, the board at Kanal-Centre Pompidou went against the wishes of an independent jury that voted for Kasia Redzisz, currently a senior curator at Tate Liverpool, to become its first artistic director.

In a surprise turn that prompted allegations of sexism and nepotism, the board decided to name Bernard Blistène to co-pilot the institution’s artistic direction with Redzisz. Blistène is a museum veteran who previously held a role at the French ministry of culture and is currently director of the Centre Pompidou’s Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris. The Paris institution is in the middle of a 10-year partnership with the Brussels Capital Region on the project, for which some €200 million of public funds have been earmarked. Blistène has been working to get the new Belgian institution off the ground during its “test drive” phase for the past three years.

The board’s naming a duo of artistic directors was heavily criticized in the press, with Flemish outlet De Standaard calling for Kanal director Yves Goldstein, a former politician, to resign. Nearly 800 members of the European art scene including gallerist Kristof De Clercq, collector Alain Servais, and artist Paulina Olowska signed an open letter decrying the board for its decision.

“Internationally renowned and appreciated, Kasia Redzisz has been selected by the jury for this job,” the open letter said. “She is a competent and experienced woman and there is not the slightest doubt that she would not be perfectly capable of doing this job on her own. Teaming her up with an older man is an offensive act of sexism and a blatant insult to her expertise and capacities.”

In response to the backlash, the Kanal Foundation released a statement today clarifying that the board’s decision to jointly appoint Redzisz and Blistène was made with the agreement of both parties. It also implied that the pair, who had initially been jointly appointed as artistic directors, will now create a new role for Blistène.

“It will be proposed that the collaboration fully integrates Kasia Redzisz as artistic director, while allowing the foundation to benefit from Bernard Blistène’s experience in the context of the Kanal’s partnership with the Centre Pompidou,” the statement said.

But not everyone is satisfied with this response. “The nomination does not change the reality of Blistène working alongside Kasia,” Anne Pontégnie, former chief curator at another Brussels institution and one of the signatories of the open letter told Midnight Publishing Group News, adding that the new arrangement was the “same situation” with “different words.”

The board will meet again before July 21 to finalize the division of tasks.

Bernard Blistène. Photo ©Thibauld Chapotot, courtesy Kanal-Centre Pompidou.

Bernard Blistène. Photo ©Thibauld Chapotot, courtesy Kanal-Centre Pompidou.

The controversy gives some insight into the inner workings of the European museum world, and the influence that city officials have behind the scenes of costly public institutions. Sources with knowledge of the jury proceedings told Midnight Publishing Group News that Redzisz’s proposal for the institution was the “most visionary,” and that thwarting her from fully realizing that project highlighted the difficult path facing institutions that want to break with the status quo.

The call-out letter claimed that the board’s decision to ensure Blistène’s place in the museum’s future did not come as a “surprise” to those familiar with it. “Many art professionals in Paris confirm that it was in fact an open secret that the job was promised to Blistène even before the procedure was put in place, and that he had an active say on the composition of the jury.” It added that the board’s decision was driven by Yves Goldstein.

A similar controversy erupted earlier this year in France when art critic Nicolas Bourriaud was ousted from the head of Montpellier Contemporain after the city’s new mayor called the institution “elitist” and cast doubt on the €6 million annual budget afforded to it by his predecessor. The ousting came after a divisive board meeting during which the city broke with the protocol that required a two-thirds majority to appoint a new director and named Numa Hambursin as his replacement.

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Activists’ Plan to Bring a March Against Toxic Philanthropy Inside MoMA Ended in Conflicting Accounts of Violence

An organized march against the Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) board ended in a heated standoff between demonstrators and security guards at the entrance to the institution last Friday, April 30. Two security guards and one protestor were reportedly injured in the incident.

The march marked the fourth in a series of 10 “Strike MoMA” demonstrations organized by a coalition of activist groups that have united under the name the International Imagination of Anti-National Anti-Imperialist Feelings (IIAAF). About 40 people took part, according to the New York Times

Accompanied by a police escort, the protestors marched through midtown New York, making stops in front of BlackRock, the investment company owned by controversial MoMA trustee Larry Fink, and the luxury residential buildings that make up “Billionaires’ Row,” before concluding at MoMA.

There, in a gesture against the museum’s $25 entrance fee, they attempted to enter the venue, but were denied by the venue’s security. 

“As we arrived, MoMA was converted into a high-security fortress,” the activist group said in an email. “Doors were locked from the inside by other guards. Outside guards used their bodies to obstruct the entrances. The reason we were given repeatedly is this, we quote: ‘We cannot permit you to protest inside.’”

Representatives from the group told Midnight Publishing Group News that they sent MoMA director Glenn Lowry a letter a week prior, warning museum administration of their plans to enter the building. (A copy of the letter was shared with Midnight Publishing Group News.) MoMA never responded to the letter, they said.

“We anticipated a peaceful protest,” a MoMA press officer told Midnight Publishing Group News, “and we were prepared to respect and accommodate the protesters’ activity, so long as they respected New York State’s and City’s COVID-19 health and safety requirements of masking, social-distancing, and temperature screening. They refused to do so, repeatedly threatened Museum frontline staff, and said they would force their way in. Museum security personnel closed the entrance in accordance with established safety protocols because the protesters chose not to act safely or peacefully.”

The representative said that two museum security officers were “seriously injured” during the altercation. One was hit with a stick and bitten, the museum alleges, while the other had to be hospitalized after being pushed into a revolving door. 

“The Museum will always act to protect the health and safety of our staff and visitors,” the representative added. “The actions we saw on Friday are never acceptable and will not be tolerated.”  

MoMA security officers blocking the door to the institution. Courtesy of Decolonize This Place via Twitter.

MoMA security officers blocking the door to the institution. Courtesy of Decolonize This Place via Twitter.

Hyperallergic reported that one protestor, who also worked as an educator at MoMA for eight years, said she was struck repeatedly in the face by a museum security guard. Asked by Midnight Publishing Group News about the incident, Strike MoMA wrote, “We have no additional details about any injuries sustained beyond what the media reported on.”

Strike MoMA was organized in opposition to the alleged “toxic philanthropy” of the museum’s trustees, including Black, who announced in March that he would not seek re-election as the museum’s chairman following a public controversy over his connections to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. 

Citing the research of MoMA Divest, Strike MoMA’s manifesto targets five museum board members—Steven Cohen, Glenn Dubin, Larry Fink, and Steven Tananbaum, in addition to Black—over their alleged “ties to war, racist prison and border enforcement systems, vulture fund exploitation, gentrification and displacement of the poor, extractivism and environmental degradation, and patriarchal forms of violence.” 

Six more demonstrations are scheduled, happening each Friday until June 11.

In a public statement issued by IIAAF this weekend, the group condemned “MoMA leadership’s attempt to distort the nature of the confrontation at the museum.”

“The supposed threat was a group of artist dissidents, acting in the spirit of creative revolt that the museum loves to celebrate on the walls of its galleries,” the statement went on. “It’s time to put an end to this hypocrisy. Too many in our arts communities have learned to turn a blind eye to the gruesome capture of the art world by financial high-rollers with low morals. It’s not too late to stop the plunder, and remember, the fish rots from the head down.”

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Legendary Gallerist Paula Cooper Cements a Succession Plan, Promoting Four Longtime Employees to Partner

A month after her 83rd birthday, art dealer Paula Cooper has named four partners to carry on her legacy at New York’s Paula Cooper Gallery.

Steve Henry, the gallery’s director since 1998, will be senior partner, and Lucas Cooper, the dealer’s son, who has worked at the gallery since 2013, will be managing partner.

Longtime employees Anthony Allen, who joined the gallery in 2000, and Alexis Johnson, who was on staff from 2010 to 2016 and returned earlier this year (after five years at Lévy Gorvy) will be partners. Collectively, the four employees boast 60 years experience at the gallery.

“It is with great enthusiasm that I welcome these four remarkable individuals as my partners,” Cooper said in a statement. “Their dedication and that of the staff, community of professionals, and collectors with whom we collaborate has made clear that there is a place for a focused, artist-driven gallery like ours—even in an art world that has continued to change dramatically since we opened our doors in 1968.”

The Paula Cooper Gallery at 155 Wooster Street, in SoHo, in 1973. Photo by Mates and Katz, courtesy of Paula Cooper Gallery.

The Paula Cooper Gallery at 155 Wooster Street, in SoHo, in 1973. Photo by Mates and Katz, courtesy of Paula Cooper Gallery.

Cooper has been at the forefront of change in the industry since the gallery moved from Soho to Chelsea in 1996 and, this year, opened its first outpost outside of New York, in Palm Beach, Florida. Henry, who spearheaded the space, will split his time between the two cities.

In New York, the gallery is currently renovating its primary location at 524 West 21st Street, which is slated to reopen late this year. In the meantime, it is holding exhibitions at 524 West 26th Street and on the second floor of 521 West 21st Street.

Cooper still isn’t retiring, but her succession plan will allow her to gradually hand over some of the day-to-day responsibilities of running the business, a process that has already begun.

Passing the reins of a long-running art business can prove challenging, as Janelle Reiring and Helene Winer recently noted in their announcement about the closure of their 40-year-old Chelsea gallery Metro Pictures at the end of 2021.

But Cooper is confident her hand-picked successors will be able to build on her success. “Lucas, Steve, Anthony, and Alexis understand what has made this gallery possible for 50 years,” she said. “They not only understand the culture, but also how to evolve in the next chapter.”

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New York’s Mayoral Race Is in Full Swing. We Asked Each Candidate How They Plan to Support Arts and Culture

New York City is heading into one of its most consequential elections in decades. And the pool of mayoral candidates, which once seemed impossibly large, has narrowed to a handful of hopefuls who have both the name recognition and financial resources to realistically secure the nomination. With June’s primary looming, their previously broad platforms are coalescing into more specific policies.

If members of New York’s arts community aren’t paying close attention to the race, they should be. The mayor can have a huge impact on everything from public art and arts education to funding for institutions like the Met and the Brooklyn Museum. 

It should be noted that many aspects of city governance have a direct impact on artists and art workers (think: housing, taxes, education, childcare… the list goes on). But for the purposes of this inquiry, we asked eight leading Democratic candidates to spell out their specific proposals for arts and culture in New York City. (The city is overwhelmingly Democratic, meaning one of the names below is likely to become the next mayor.)

Here are their responses. In the event that a candidate did not reply, we drew from their published policy plans and previous track records.


Kathryn Garcia

New York City Sanitation chief and mayoral candidate, Kathryn Garcia, speaks at the New York State Latino Restaurant, Bar, and Lounge Association restaurant rally in Times Square on December 15, 2020 in New York City. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images.

New York City Sanitation chief and mayoral candidate, Kathryn Garcia, speaks at a rally in Times Square on December 15, 2020. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images.

A spokesperson says Garcia’s local economic recovery plan, which campaign just released—Reopen to Stay Open—is “focused in large part on providing support for NYC’s arts and culture industries.” Highlights of the former Commissioner for the New York City Sanitation Department’s plan include:
  • Expanding public spaces to give artists and art organizations a bigger footprint in their communities. “Kathryn recognizes the success of outdoor dining (and the way it was stood up practically overnight) and aims to apply the model wider—to create opportunity for thousands of pop-up theater performances, art installations, and commercial markets,” the spokesperson says. To do so, she would reform the concessions and public-art permitting process to unlock hundreds of thousands of square feet of public space.
  • Developing a partnership with streaming services to livestream On and Off Broadway shows and other performance art to bring New York theater into the homes of all New Yorkers
  • Giving all local businesses (including art galleries) a full year of fine and fee relief during the first year of the administration and launching a Small Business Block Party series in every borough
  • Launching RediscoverNYC, a campaign encouraging New Yorkers to visit the beautiful parts of the city they have never been to


Ray McGuire

New York City Mayoral candidate Ray McGuire speaks during a press conference at the National Action Network's House of Justice to denounce the rise of attacks against Asian Americans on March 18, 2021 in New York City. Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images.

New York City Mayoral candidate Ray McGuire on March 18, 2021 in New York City. Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images.

Representatives from former Citigroup vice chairman Ray McGuire’s campaign did not respond to emails from Midnight Publishing Group News. But the candidate has a long history supporting the arts through private philanthropy and has, for years, been an avid collector. His notable achievements and policy plans, drawn from his bio and website, include:

  • Serving on the board of the Whitney Museum of American Art and as chairman of the Studio Museum in Harlem
  • Serving on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Cultural Affairs Advisory Commission
  • Cultivating a top-flight collection of work by Black artists, including examples by Glenn Ligon, Carrie Mae Weems, Sam Gilliam, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, and Roy DeCarava.
  • Joining the newly formed Black Trustee Alliance for Art Museums
  • Cultivating art collectors as campaign donors, including Aby Rosen and John Hess
  • Calling for a revamping of the Department of Cultural Affairs so it can function “more effectively and efficiently”
  • Encouraging leaders of the city’s 76 Business Investment Districts to expand support for local arts and arts education
  • Holding “the biggest festival the country has ever seen” once it is safe to do so, including “arts organizations from every borough”


Dianne Morales

Dianne Morales, 2021. Courtesy of Dianne Morales for NYC.

Dianne Morales, 2021. Courtesy of Dianne Morales for NYC.

“Dianne understands that NYC has lost nearly 35,000 jobs in the arts and culture industry since the pandemic began, which has devastated our economy and ravaged an industry that makes New York truly thrive,” a spokesperson for Morales’s campaign tells Midnight Publishing Group News. Morales wants to “prioritize supporting theaters and museums and their workers,” but also understands the role culture plays in education and mental health. “Her daughter was struggling until she found the arts in school so it’s something Dianne is very in tune with,” the spokesperson adds.  

Specifics from nonprofit executive Morales’s arts plan include:

  • Implementing the Open Culture Program approved by the City Council and permanently institutionalizing the program for years to come
  • Strengthening the capacity of Small Business Services, including bolstering a new division specifically for small arts and cultural venues across the five boroughs 
  • Increasing investment in programs like Curtains Up NYC, which help struggling arts venues apply to federal grants
  • Establishing a “New Deal-style program inspired by the Public Works Administration to put artists who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic to work while providing arts education in schools and creating public-facing art.” Funding “could come from taxing the rich at the state level…and by defunding the police in NYC by at least $3 billion.”
  • Working with the federal government to gain access to more grant money for programs like Save Our Stages and the Shuttered Venue Operators grant


Scott Stringer

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer speaks as he joins hundreds of residents, children, activists and politicians for a March for Safe Streets following a recent accident where two small children were killed by a car driver on March 12, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer speaks as at a March for Safe Streets on March 12, 2018 in Brooklyn. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

“There will be no recovery for NYC without a vibrant arts and culture industry,” a spokesman for Stringer, New York City’s current comptroller, says. “New York City’s arts, culture, and entertainment are essential to New York City’s future and we need to aggressively focus on stabilizing and growing the industry, while supporting our artist community, as we continue to fight off this pandemic.”

Highlights of Stringer’s plan include:

  • Investing in open space and outdoor performances to bring together workers, unions, neighborhood BIDs, open and green space advocates, and other members of the community to hit the ground running. “We should use the full force of the City’s media resources to promote local entertainment in a coordinated way,” the representative says. 
  • Taking inspiration from the city’s post-9/11 response to purchase over 100,000 tickets for theater performances (not just on Broadway) and distributing those tickets to frontline workers, school children, and others
  • Exploring the feasibility of opening access to the Theatre on Film and Tape (ToFT) at Lincoln Center to fund worker relief. “The ToFT should be free and digitally accessible to all New York City residents, and should sell subscriptions to outside the City…to fund a short-term benefit for out-of-work performers and venue workers,” the plan states.
  • Developing new partnerships for providing arts exposure to more New Yorkers
  • Leveraging City dollars to support the city’s local venues
  • Overhauling the Department of Cultural Affairs’ granting process to provide direct assistance to individual artists and grants for operating expenses, as well as investing capital dollars to equipment, not just new venues
  • Working with ConEd to expand their nonprofit assistance program, providing lower electricity rates for performance venues, and exploring options for opening up public school gymnasiums and auditoriums so that artists can use them as free and reduced rate rehearsal facilities


Maya Wiley

Candidate for mayor of NYC Maya Wiley speaks during Martin Luther King celebration at NAN headquarters. Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images.

Candidate for mayor of NYC Maya Wiley speaks during Martin Luther King celebration at NAN headquarters. Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images.

A spokesperson for the lawyer and civil rights activist‘s campaign points out that support for the arts is included in the candidate’s economic recovery plan, New Deal New York, which prioritizes investment in the city’s infrastructure. “In order to design a recovery that includes everyone, we must recognize that physical infrastructure can and must benefit social, cultural and civic infrastructure,” the spokesperson says. “Physical structures and facilities make it possible for our economy to function, and shared social, cultural, and civic structures enable all of us to fully and meaningfully participate in economic and public life.”

Highlights of Wiley’s arts platform include:

  • Designing a “Recovery for Artists and Culture Workers” plan, which would include $1 billion in new spending
  • Putting the city’s artists and performers back to work by “providing performance and studio spaces, and through other capital expenditures that support arts and culture in the city”


Andrew Yang

New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang holds up his campaign’s petition signatures as he speaks outside the NYC Board of Elections office on March 23, 2021 in New York City. Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images.

Andrew Yang holds up his campaign’s petition signatures outside the NYC Board of Elections office on March 23, 2021 in New York City. Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images.

Former presidential candidate and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang’s campaign did not respond to Midnight Publishing Group News’s request for information, but the “Culture, Society, and Nightlife” section of the candidate’s website details some of his plans for New York’s arts sector. Highlights include: 

  • Building on the legislation that established the Open Culture program, which temporarily allows eligible cultural and art institutions and venues to use approved open public street space for cultural events. “A Yang administration would look to make this program permanent and would promote performances through our NYC App so all New Yorkers are aware of the happenings in our city,” per the plan. 
  • Proposing a new program: Broadway to the People, which would give Broadway producers the opportunity to mount theater productions in public parks at reduced fees
  • Partnering with larger institutions to help subsidize rent for resident artists in buildings: “These up-and-coming creators deserve a place to cultivate their craft and the city has a role to play in supporting their dreams.”
  • Working to attract “content creator collectives, such as TikTok Hype Houses, where young artists collaborate. We need to help create similar artist collectives that utilize new technologies.”
  • Turning the city’s bridges, monuments, and buildings into “works of art by hosting vivid projection-mapping displays


Eric Adams

Eric Adams, Brooklyn Borough President, speaks during a Black Lives Matter mural event on June 26, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images.

Eric Adams, Brooklyn Borough President, speaks during a Black Lives Matter mural event on June 26, 2020 in Brooklyn. Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images.

The campaign for the former Brooklyn Borough President did not return Midnight Publishing Group News’s request for information on his arts record and there is little detail provided in his platform. His previous involvement with the arts includes: 

  • Allocating millions in capital funding for Brooklyn arts institutions such as the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Brooklyn Academy of Music


Shaun Donovan

New York City Mayoral candidate Shaun Donovan speaks during a press conference at the National Action Network's House of Justice to denounce the rise of attacks against Asian Americans on March 18, 2021 in New York City. Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images.

New York City Mayoral candidate Shaun Donovan on March 18, 2021 in New York City. Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images.

Shaun Donovan, the former United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, will be launching a 6,500+-word arts and culture platform at a press conference this Friday, April 2. According to a spokesperson, that plan involves:

  • Prioritizing “the safe and efficient use of space to revitalize our arts and culture sector and empower our artists” 
  • Considering the role of arts and culture in the “long-term strengthening of communities across our city and enrichment of all New Yorkers’ lives” while addressing the needs of arts organizations of all sizes, backgrounds, locations, and disciplines

We’ll update this article with Donovan’s full platform when it’s released to the public.

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