There are several ways to put your name on a museum wall, the most obvious approach being to create a work of art that a museum might decide to exhibit. Unfortunately, that sometimes takes skill, but luckily there’s always another way: you can just donate a ton of money to the museum.
Of course, saying “yes” to those big checks can backfire on some institutions — just think of all the hallowed halls currently tearing the Sackler family apart. Last name outside the walls. Now, a college museum has been accused of taking the usual cash-for-naming-rights deal even further: Not only did Cal State Long Beach allegedly rename both its college museum and a gallery within it after a donor, but the museum has added over 150 of his (very bad) creations to its permanent collection and is currently displaying them in the gallery that bears his name. According to a report from Los Angeles Timethe world can now see the works of Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld at the Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld Museum of Contemporary Art Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld Gallery.
The Time‘ Christopher Knight writes that Kleefeld, a visual artist, poet and author of self-help books, presented a check for $10 million to California State University, Long Beach. Around the same time the school’s old university art museum got a name change and a makeover with all that money, he also decided to champion his little-known work. The director of the museum told the Time that “the artist approached the university to donate the paintings, and the school responded favorably, with a request for a cash donation”. At least they don’t beat around the bush for that! Thanks to this agreement, Kleefeld’s paintings now make up around 6% of the museum’s total collection.
It is important to note that this art is not good at all. Knight, Pulitzer Prize Winner critical, writes that the works are “frankly terrible – by far the worst I have seen exhibited in any serious exhibition venue, public or private, for-profit or non-profit, in years”. A university professor told the Time that if the exhibited work “were a student applicant’s portfolio, they would not be admitted to the program”. Picture the “acupuncturist’s waiting room setting” and you’ll get an idea of the style she works in.
In addition to his works of art, Kleefeld is also the author books like Immortal Seeds: Carry Gold from the Abyss and The alchemy of the possible: reinventing your personal mythology. Her late husband was apparently one of Christopher Walken’s stuntmen doubleand she is the daughter of another wealthy Californian patron of the arts.
The art may be bad, but the message the whole deal sends is even worse. “A permanent part of a public university’s tax-subsidized museum facilities and arts program has been effectively privatized to further the personal interests of a wealthy patron,” Knight writes, noting that CSULB students are shown “that private wealth will prevail in the public sphere, even in the absence of actual realization.
It all recalls a story from last fall, which saw the world react in horror to UC Santa Barbara. plans for a dystopia-like windowless dorm designed by billionaire donor Charlie Munger. Instead of windows, Munger thought, the dorms could have fake digital screens, like those found on Disney cruises, where “the starfish come in and wink at your children.” An architect hired as a consultant on the project wrote in his resignation that he believed “the basic concept of Munger Hall as a place for students to live is unbearable from my perspective as an architect, a parent, and a human being.”
From art to Twitter to outer space to public education, it seems nowhere is truly safe from the whims of the wealthy. I always felt sick to my stomach when I saw David Koch Last name on the dance theater at Lincoln Center, but really I should have thanked my lucky stars that at least Koch himself wasn’t strutting around on stage in a pair of tights.