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Annie Ross, Jazz Vocalist of ‘Twisted’ Renown, Dies at 89


Annie Ross, who rose to fame as a jazz singer in the 1950s, struggled with personal problems in the ’60s, faded from the spotlight in the ’70s, re-emerged as a successful character actress in the ’80s and finished her career as a cabaret mainstay, died on Tuesday at her home in Manhattan. She was 89.

Her death was confirmed by her former manager, Jim Coleman.

Ms. Ross acted on stage, screen and television and recorded several well-received albums under her own name. But she remained best known for her tenure, from 1958 to 1962, as the high voice of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, probably the most successful vocal group in the history of jazz.

Lambert, Hendricks and Ross were unusual in that they derived most of their repertoire not from Tin Pan Alley but from jazz itself. The group’s specialty was putting lyrics to previously recorded jazz instrumentals, a practice known as vocalese.

In witty and somewhat surreal words carefully matched to the jagged contours of the original recording, “Twisted,” which begins with the memorable lines “My analyst told me/That I was right out of my head,” tells the first-person story of a neurotic patient who is convinced that she is wiser than her psychiatrist (because, among other reasons, “Instead of one head/I got two”).

Despite its unorthodox subject matter, “Twisted” was one of the most popular numbers in the Lambert, Hendricks and Ross repertoire, and probably the most frequently covered: It has been recorded by Joni Mitchell, Bette Midler, Mark Murphy and others. In 1997, Ms. Ross was heard singing the song over the closing credits of Woody Allen’s film “Deconstructing Harry.”

The critic Leonard Feather called Ms. Ross “the most remarkable female vocalist in jazz since Ella Fitzgerald.” Few others went that far, but her voice, which could slip comfortably from a smoky contralto to a giddy soprano, proved ideal for handling parts that had originally been played by pianos or trumpets. It provided an attractive contrast to the gruff timbres of Dave Lambert and Mr. Hendricks, while her polished and glamorous stage presence was an important factor in the group’s appeal to audiences otherwise uninterested in jazz.

Annie Ross was born Annabelle Macauley Allan Short on July 25, 1930, in Mitcham, a town in Surrey, England, into a theatrical family. Her parents, Jack and Mary Short, were a Scottish vaudeville team; she claimed that her mother gave birth to her immediately after finishing a performance at a London music hall.

When she was 3 she was sent to Los Angeles to live with an aunt, the singer and actress Ella Logan. She made her movie debut in 1938 in an “Our Gang” comedy short and graduated to feature films in 1943, playing Judy Garland’s younger sister in “Presenting Lily Mars.”

She later moved frequently — first to New York, where she studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts; then to London, where she took the name Annie Ross and worked as a singer and actress; then to Paris, where she came under the spell of jazz, performing and recording with a number of expatriate American musicians. One of them, the drummer Kenny Clarke, became her companion and the father of her only child, Kenny Clarke Jr., who survives her. Survivors also include her companion, Dave Usher.

Ms. Ross recorded “Twisted” for the Prestige label during a brief return to New York in 1952. It became a minor hit, but she did not stick around long enough to savor its success, instead returning to Europe in 1953 to tour with Lionel Hampton’s band and then settling again in London.

She went back to New York to appear on Broadway in the British revue “Cranks,” and in 1957 she joined forces with Mr. Hendricks and Mr. Lambert to record the album “Sing a Song of Basie,” on which they sang Mr. Hendricks’s lyrics to some of the Count Basie big band’s most celebrated recordings, using multiple overdubs to make their three voices sound like a dozen. The album was a hit, and the three vocalists decided to make their partnership permanent.

For four years, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross were a worldwide sensation, and Ms. Ross became a model for a new breed of jazz singers who could sing rapid-fire, tongue-twisting words with precision and clarity. But despite the group’s success, she quit in 1962.

At the time, her departure was attributed to poor health. In later years she acknowledged that it had been fueled partly by friction with Mr. Hendricks, but mostly by her increasing dependence on heroin.

“Yeah, I had a hangup,” she told The New York Times in 1993. “A little bit here, a little bit there, and that was it. It was the culture of the time — the long hours, having to produce every night, needing stimulation. I guess you’re young and fearless and think you’re going to live forever.”

After Lambert, Hendricks and Ross finished a club date in London in May 1962, Ms. Ross stayed behind. “I kind of knew that if I came back to America I might die,” she said. The group continued with other female singers.

Dave Lambert died in a highway accident in 1966. Jon Hendricks died in 2017.

Gradually, Ms. Ross straightened out her life. She married an English actor, Sean Lynch, with whom she briefly ran a London nightclub, Annie’s Room. But by 1975 she had declared bankruptcy, lost her home and divorced Mr. Lynch, who died soon after in a car crash. The work had dried up as well.

“They say that each of these is a traumatic thing — well, boy, I had ’em all,” she observed in 1993.

With singing jobs scarce, Ms. Ross shifted her focus to acting. From the mid-’70s until she returned to the United States in 1985, she appeared frequently on the London stage, in plays like “A View From the Bridge” as well as in musical productions like “The Threepenny Opera” and “The Pirates of Penzance.” She also became a familiar face on British television. A role in the 1979 movie “Yanks” led to other film parts, including turns as a histrionic villain in “Superman III” (1983), an addled writing student in “Throw Momma From the Train” (1987) and an aging and temperamental jazz singer in Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts” (1993).

“Short Cuts” and its soundtrack album offered Ms. Ross wider exposure as a singer than she had enjoyed since her days with Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. But her singing voice was now harsh and ravaged, in stark contrast to the limber instrument for which she had once been known.

No longer a virtuoso vocalist, she developed an act that relied primarily on her acting skills. While her contributions to jazz were not forgotten — the National Endowment for the Arts named her a Jazz Master in 2010 — she reinvented herself as an intimate and witty cabaret artist.

Reviewing her performance at the Metropolitan Room in Manhattan in 2007, Stephen Holden of The Times praised her performance in general and her rendition of “I Got Rhythm” in particular. “If you’ve got as much rhythm in your body and music in your head as Ms. Ross does at 76,” he wrote, “who indeed could ask for anything more?”

Ms. Ross performed regularly at the Metropolitan Room until it closed in 2017. In 2014 she released the album “To Lady With Love,” a tribute to Billie Holiday.

Through all the ups and downs of Ms. Ross’s career, her sense of humor remained intact.

During one tour in the 1990s, a reporter asked her what “an old Annie Ross fan” could expect to hear at her show. Without missing a beat, she answered, “An old Annie Ross, I guess.”



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‘Amulet’ Review: A Man in Dark Times and Deep Trouble


When Tomaz digs a small figurine out of the rich, dark earth in “Amulet,” he has no sense of the trouble it will bring. Students of the cinematic supernatural will know better, given the fantastic objects scattered throughout the horror genre, with its demonic dolls, cursed videotapes and enchanted fetishes. The object here is worn and pale as bone, with breasts and a shell-like disc fanning above its head like a mantilla.

Tomaz (Alec Secareanu) enters, wreathed in mystery and isolated in deep woods. The storybook setting makes a curious fit with his rifle, uniform and the roadblock he guards (sometimes while reading Hannah Arendt’s “On Violence”). My, what big eyes and brain you have, viewers may think, as they wonder where he is and what he’s doing there. The writer-director Romola Garai, though, keeps his background and the larger picture blurred, allowing your imagination to roam free as the trees rustle and the camera glides. That he’s a soldier without an obvious cause or country only adds to the spooky, anxious vibe.

A malevolent fairy tale about men and women, violence and power (and things that go eek in the night), “Amulet” frays your nerves beautifully for its first creepy hour. Working with a crack team both in front of the camera and behind it, Garai teases the story slowly, sprinkling in sharp, resonant details amid wails from a banshee chorus (courtesy of the composer Sarah Angliss). When Tomaz takes out a straight razor to shave, the moment sets off Chekhovian-Hitchcockian alarms in one wittily economic image. The brandished blade also suggests, simply by association, that Tomaz has something to do with the abrupt edits and destabilizing narrative fragmentation.

The plot thickens after Tomaz unearths the figurine, which is followed by a shot of him gasping awake as if from a nightmare. Now bearded and living in London, he seems to be a stray, though it’s initially unclear whether this is the present or another period. He flops at what looks like a squat, works in construction and seems wholly adrift, a meander that ends when he meets a solicitous nun, Sister Claire (Imelda Staunton, in a brief, delicious turn). In short order, she delivers him to one of those creaking, squeaking houses with peeling walls and alarming stains, an apparent damsel in distress, Magda (Carla Juri), and a shrieking enigma inhabiting the top floor.

As Tomaz settles into his odd new digs, Garai regularly cuts to his time in the woods. There, after digging up the amulet, he meets a stranger (Angeliki Papoulia), who takes refuge with him, an arrangement that seems to mirror his relationship with Magda. Garai shifts back and forth smoothly between these parallel stories, giving each a distinct look and uneasy tone. She has invoked touchstones like Jennifer Kent’s claustrophobic freakout “The Babadook,” and, by extension, she’s also indebted to Roman Polanski and the diabolical Davids, Lynch and Cronenberg. (She also tosses in an albino critter that seems to have flown out of Roberto Bolaño’s novel “Amulet.”)

This is Garai’s feature directing debut, and it is as satisfying as it is promising, despite an unfortunate wind down. She has a great eye — and a real feel for the power of silence and visual textures — but she stumbles when she explains too much. An actress-turned-filmmaker whose credits include “Atonement,” Garai is clearly invested in creating juicy, complex gender roles. But her try at a gynocentric mythology falls lamentably short (and turns silly), even if her explorations of body horror and pulsating red walls have their perverse pleasures. Like a lot of filmmakers, she works too hard to make sense of a mystery that would be better left to fester and throb.

Amulet
Rated R for washes of blood and sexual violence. Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes. Rent or buy on iTunes, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.



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Remembering the Time Meat Fell From the Sky


[ Read an excerpt from “The Unidentified.” ]

But in Dickey’s fascinating, troubling, compassionate and — in the end — deeply thoughtful narrative, he also makes the case for why people like Fort wield so much influence. Dickey has explored occult territory before, in books like “Ghostland” (2016), but this time he sets himself the goal of trying to explain why so many find paranormal events and ideas so persuasively real. Surveys show that, between 2015 and 2018, belief in Bigfoot grew from 11 percent of the American population to 21 percent, and acceptance of alien visitations rose from 20 percent to 41 percent. “We are more and more ignoring ‘experts’ and embracing the kinds of beliefs that were once relegated to cults,” Dickey writes.

To understand why, he carefully traces lines of influence between early flame-fanners like Fort and the earnest believers of today. Dickey’s story emphasizes the potency of the 19th century, a time when lovers of myth and mystery, alienated by the rise of Darwinian science, proposed possibilities of vanished civilizations like Atlantis or lost landscapes of large aliens and small lemurs, like Lemuria. Many of us may not have considered, or even heard of, Lemurian possibilities. But Dickey details the history of the idea, following it from a 19th-century glimmer of a thought to its still faithful followers in Northern California, who hold tight to the belief that Lemurians shelter in caverns under Mount Shasta.

This is natural territory, of course, for curiosities. I also had no idea that, until the 1860s, reputable scientists considered pandas a ridiculous myth. Or that the American government was hunting Yeti through the Himalayas in the 1950s, spooking the Soviets into accusations that our monster hunt was all about espionage. Or even that New York’s old, acclaimed, alternative weekly, The Village Voice, once fostered the idea of alien abductions.

Dickey uses such incidents not merely to tell good campfire stories but to illustrate their shared darker themes — a deep distrust of science and government, amplified both by self-promoters and by conspiracy lovers. And he notes that scientific arrogance and excessive government secrecy have fueled these fires. The military’s heavy-handed classification of U.F.O. information, for instance, was a treasured gift to those weaving tales of federal cover-ups and hidden spacecraft.

There’s nothing startlingly new or transformative in these conclusions. But Dickey’s sense of history reminds us of the complex reasons our odder beliefs endure. It’s not that we necessarily want weirdness, he suggests, but we do want wonder, we want the freedom of possibility. So there’s beauty and even comfort in the idea of “a world beyond our understanding, a world we can glimpse here and there but never fully see.”



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Don’t Believe History Repeats Itself? Read This Book


THE PULL OF THE STARS
By Emma Donoghue

In Emma Donoghue’s arresting new page-turner of a novel, “The Pull of the Stars,” an urban hospital is overwhelmed by victims of a cruel new disease. The sounds of wracking coughs cut through the air as medical supplies run short, and face masks become commonplace in the streets. Meanwhile, the government touts false cures and contends that the epidemic is under control.

The parallels to 2020 are uncanny, but this is history, not prescience. The year is 1918, and the illness, of course, is influenza. As Donoghue writes in an author’s note, “‘The Pull of the Stars’ is fiction pinned together with facts.”

When the novel opens, the pandemic has left one Dublin hospital with “more than twice as many patients as usual and a quarter the staff.” Julia Power, a 29-year-old midwife, suddenly finds herself the only nurse on duty overnight in the “fever/maternity” ward, the makeshift section of the hospital set aside for influenza patients who also happen to be pregnant.

[ Read an excerpt from “The Pull of the Stars.” ]

Readers familiar with Donoghue’s masterly 2010 best seller, “Room,” will recall the focused intensity she can bring to bear on constricted spaces. Like “Room,” “The Pull of the Stars” takes place almost entirely in a single room and unfolds at the pace of a thriller. Over the course of three harrowing days in this “small square of the plague-ridden, war-weary world,” Julia dashes from patient to patient administering what little treatment there is: mostly whiskey and chloroform. A good day is one when nobody dies.

So desperate is the hospital for doctors that the higher-ups soon call in Dr. Kathleen Lynn, a rare female physician (and real historical figure) who is considered a wanted criminal by the Dublin police, for her role in Sinn Fein’s 1916 uprising. Brilliant and iconoclastic, Dr. Lynn eventually inspires a kind of political awakening in the practically minded Julia.

Joining Julia and Dr. Lynn is a young volunteer, Bridie Sweeney, the product of an orphanage so neglectful that she does not even know her exact age. What Bridie lacks in medical experience she makes up for in tenderness and good judgment.

Together, these capable women leap from crisis to crisis: life-threatening hemorrhages, skyrocketing fevers that lead to convulsions, a horrifyingly rapid case of influenza that progresses to cyanosis (a bluish discoloration of the skin) in mere hours, and multiple premature labors, an apparent side effect of the 1918 influenza strain. Their lives are intertwined in the constant struggle against the “bone man” — Julia’s childhood nickname for death.

The narrow aperture of the maternity ward allows Donoghue to focus on one of the novel’s most compelling preoccupations: the lives and bodies of women. Donoghue goes into great physical detail as women labor and deliver, as their skin tears and bleeds, as they vomit and urinate and breast-feed — and, in some cases, as they die. Even in Julia’s slightly euphemistic voice, the sheer attention devoted to these descriptions functions as a kind of unadorned reverence for the work and pain and strength of women — and how the paths of their lives are so often defined by the workings of their bodies.

The scenes in the “fever/maternity” ward are so enthralling that the novel loses a bit of its fire — and realism — whenever it leaves that room, but these departures are thankfully rare. Donoghue seems most interested in the dramas of this one space — with which she manages to make clear the broader constrictions and injustices of an entire Irish society.

Among the ward’s patients is an unwed mother from a “mother/baby home,” whose baby will be confiscated by Ireland’s system of Catholic orphanages as soon as he is weaned. Another patient, delirious from fever, is pregnant with her 12th child, which reminds Julia of an apparently common saying: “She doesn’t love him unless she gives him 12.” The ward’s youngest patient is 17 and lost her own mother in childbirth; this girl arrives eight months pregnant but so uneducated about the female reproductive system that she expects her baby to emerge from her navel.

At one point, Dr. Lynn notes that the word “influenza” comes from the Italian phrase “influenza delle stelle,” the influence of the stars. But this affecting novel suggests that the courses of these women’s lives are ruled not so much by the heavens but by poverty, misogyny and abuse — and a culture that forces women to bear burdens that should be shared by men, with children left to suffer the consequences.

Julia describes one of her doomed patients this way: “Mother of five by the age of 24, an underfed daughter of underfed generations, white as paper, red-rimmed eyes, flat bosom, fallen arches, twig limbs with veins that were tangles of blue twine. Eileen Devine had walked along a cliff edge all her grown life, and this flu had only tipped her over.”

At one point in “The Pull of the Stars,” as Dr. Lynn criticizes the government for Dublin’s high rates of poverty and infant mortality, an exhausted Julia insists that she doesn’t have time for politics. But Dr. Lynn shoots back with a sentiment that seems as relevant to our own time as to hers: “Oh, but everything’s politics, don’t you know?”

What she means is what we also know: that bad health outcomes are not simply parceled out by the stars. Instead they fall most heavily on the groups that a society has mistreated and neglected. America’s disproportionate rates of death from Covid-19 in the Black and Latinx communities come to mind. As we are being reminded now, a pandemic can expose the political order and the political choices that have marked many of the sick or dying long before the disease arrived.



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Phyllis Somerville, Busy Stage and Screen Actress, Dies at 76


Phyllis Somerville, whose scores of stage, television and film roles included a cranky bigot in the 2018 Broadway adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and a cranky neighbor of the main character in the Showtime series “The Big C,” died on Thursday at her home in Manhattan. She was 76.

Paul Hilepo, her manager, announced the death. No cause was specified.

Ms. Somerville, though rarely the lead, thrived in secondary roles and ensemble work. She began turning up on New York stages in the 1970s, making her Broadway debut in “Over Here!,” a musical about life on the home front during World War II. She was rarely idle for long over the next 45 years.

She made her film debut in 1981 in a small role in “Arthur,” the Dudley Moore-Liza Minnelli vehicle, and beginning in the early 1990s she turned up regularly on television, appearing in episodes of “NYPD Blue,” “The Sopranos,” “Kidnapped” and other series.

Her character, Marlene, was featured in all four seasons of “The Big C,” the acclaimed comic drama that starred Laura Linney as a cancer patient. Mary McNamara, a television critic at The Los Angeles Times, said that Ms. Somerville “inevitably steals every scene she’s in.”

She also had a recurring role on the WGN America series “Outsiders,” which ran for two seasons beginning in 2016.

In one of her last roles, in the 2019 film “Poms,” she was among a group of women in a retirement village who start a cheerleading club. She may have been able to tap some long-ago firsthand experience for that role. In a 2007 interview with The Waterloo Courier of Iowa, she mentioned that she had spent her high school years in Cresco, Iowa.

“Great wrestling town,” she said. “I know that because I was a cheerleader.”

Phyllis Jeanne Somerville was born on Dec. 12, 1943, in Iowa City. Her father, Paul, was a Methodist minister, and her mother, Lefa Mary Pash Somerville, was a librarian.

Ms. Somerville graduated from the University of Northern Iowa in 1966 and, having been involved in theater since high school, eventually made her way to Manhattan and settled in the East Village.

She became a favorite of the director Tom Moore, who after casting her in “Over Here!” also gave her a role in “Once in a Lifetime,” the 1978 Broadway revival of a Moss Hart-George S. Kaufman comedy, starring John Lithgow.

In 1983 Mr. Moore made her the standby for Kathy Bates in the Broadway production of “’night, Mother,” Marsha Norman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama. The next year, he cast her in Ms. Norma’s follow-up, “Traveler in the Dark,” at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass., in a cast that also included Hume Cronyn and Sam Waterston.

Ms. Somerville’s only other Broadway credit was in “Mockingbird,” in which she played Mrs. Dubose, a virulent racist. She was better known Off Broadway and in regional theaters.

She had a rare star turn in 1987 in an unusual production at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, playing the artist Georgia O’Keeffe in a one-woman show by Constance Congdon, created in conjunction with an art exhibition there.

Ms. Somerville worked several times with Playwrights Horizons in Manhattan, including in 2001, when she played the owner of the title establishment in “The Spitfire Grill,” a musical based on the film of the same title.

Her movie work included the Todd Field film “Little Children” (2006), in which she played the protective mother of a pedophile.

“As a preacher’s kid from Iowa,” she told The Courier, “ I find it a film that has a lot to say about atonement and forgiveness.”

Ms. Somerville’s marriage to David Darlow ended in divorce. No immediate family members survive.



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Four Art Gallery Shows to See Right Now


Through Oct. 11. Participant Inc.; participantinc.org.

“An introduction to Nameless Love,” Jonathan Berger’s large, text-based installation at Participant Inc., is one of the sleeping beauties of the New York gallery lockdown. Luckily, it will reawaken Sept. 9 for a month.

I saw it during its initial opening five months ago, and was dazzled by its silvery texts, seeming to hang in midair and surrounded by darkness. They have stayed in my mind, aided by the wise and generous love-knows-no-bounds title; the crucial phrase is Allen Ginsberg’s, from a 1974 interview. The pieces make us privy to six unconventional relationships detailed in carefully culled words, and reiterated more abstractly in two tenderly handled complementary materials.

The show is an extensive collaboration, most of all between Mr. Berger and the people writing or talking about their own relationships or those they have witnessed. He knows most of them well, and participated in the creation of their texts, as did other friends, acting as facilitators or editors.

Made of one-inch letters punched out in a combination of tin and nickel, some of the texts are the size of walls; others aren’t much bigger than the tops of card tables; one is in the shape of a sphere. The words pull you in. “My aunt Rhoda died at the age of thirty-seven when I was fifteen years old,” begins a bit of memoir from Mady Schutzman’s book “Behold the Elusive Night Parrot.” She describes how inheriting and using her aunt’s clothing, jewelry and artworks led her to become a “living archive.”

An expanse of words in the shape of a towering gateway presents “The Tunnel,” in which Maria A. Prado is interviewed by Margaret Morton, known for documenting the homeless, with Esther Kaplan, the executive editor of the Reveal Center for Investigative Reporting. Ms. Prado, a former resident of New York City’s underground homeless community, describes how the experience shaped, and maybe saved, her life, making her more sensitive to others and also more assertive.

The turtle conservationist Richard Ogust recounts the chance meeting with a diamondback terrapin — a true romance in many ways — that set him on course to gather and oversee the second largest captive group of endangered turtles in the country. We also hear from the Shaker Brother Arnold Hadd; the autistic writer and philosopher Mark Utter; and former assistants of the dynamic design duo Ray and Charles Eames, about whom Michael Stipe has written a song — “My Name is Ray” — whose lyrics surround the sculptural sphere.

The darkness enveloping all this shimmering language is most notable for a mysterious floor that seems covered entirely with tiny black tiles, strangely soft and a little dusty looking. They are actually small cubes of charcoal. This expanse of beautiful, immediate, absorbent, dumb material couldn’t be more different from the equally beautiful noise above. Constructed with great care — and no adhesives — the floor is a palpable act of love that, despite its muteness, amplifies the entire show as such. ROBERTA SMITH


The Beijing-based painter Liu Xiaodong first won international attention in the 1990s for his fresh depictions of an emergent China, drawing on the frank modernity of Manet and Courbet as much as the socialist realist tradition, and often executed en plein air. He has painted these genre scenes across his country, as well as in Greece, Cuba, Israel and Palestine — and now New York, where he has been on a protracted stay ever since flights home were canceled.

“Spring in New York,” an online exhibition of Mr. Liu’s recent watercolors at Lisson Gallery, presents some of the finest artistic representations I’ve seen of the pandemic-gripped city: small, ardent paintings of empty streets and budding trees, whose delicacy gives them astonishing authority. (The exhibition officially “closed” on July 12 but remains on view in full online.) Initial pictures of the view from Mr. Liu’s balcony precede cannily spare watercolors of an empty park, a lone pedestrian, or a hand truck laden with Amazon deliveries, mostly painted in the West Village under an electric blue sky. Yu Hong, Mr. Liu’s wife and a fellow painter, walks with another artist under a flowering magnolia tree, its rich pink leaves complementing the light blue of their face masks. By June, Mr. Liu is painting a Black Lives Matter protest as a spare panorama specked with gray, and gents sunbathing at what looks like the Greenwich Village riverfront, their half-dressed picnic explicitly recalling Manet’s 1863 “Déjeuner sur l’Herbe.”

Online, Lisson is presenting these watercolors (as well as a few acrylics painted atop photographs, not as rewarding) alongside the artist’s diary entries from the days of sheltering in place, plus a film of Mr. Liu walking through Manhattan with his sketchbook and iPhone. The reproductions aren’t high-resolution, and so these paintings can’t be fully judged and appreciated. But somehow it feels appropriate that Mr. Liu’s pandemic works, shot through with tenderness and gratitude, can still be encountered only from a distance. JASON FARAGO

Through July 31, by appointment. Fierman, 127 Henry Street, Manhattan; 917-593-4086, fierman.nyc.

Galleries are slowly opening again, some with a promise to limit attendance and others by appointment only, and I, personally, can’t look at my computer screen for one more second. So last week, in mask and gloves, I visited a few shows, most notably Cristine Brache’s “Commit Me, Commit to Me (Cázame, Cásame)” at Fierman.

The installation, largely visible from the street once the window gate is raised, is a sculptural interpretation of Remedios Varo’s 1958 painting “Papilla estelar,” in which a slender, golden-haired woman feeds porridge to a caged crescent moon. Stripping the image of its whimsy, Ms. Brache reveals a disturbing subtext: The woman becomes a mute piece of furniture with a bowed, featureless head, her body upholstered in the same floral-pattern fabric as the chair she’s sitting on. The moon, blue and electric, is plugged in between two fluorescent lights on the gallery’s peeling, stamped-tin ceiling. The walls are covered with hospital curtains.

The argument is that women are the real Surrealists — not only the artists, like Varo, edged out by more famous men, but any woman who can evade the brutal censors of both society at large and her own conscious mind. But the mise-en-scène, which makes it impossible to tune out the work’s physical context in the way we habitually do with paintings, feels particularly appropriate to the experience of viewing art now, too. It still seems sequestered and unreal, like a stage set with the house lights on. WILL HEINRICH


Through Aug. 2, by appointment. Deli Gallery, 110 Waterbury Street, Brooklyn; 646-634-1997, deligallery.com.

In “Balsam,” Vanessa Thill’s solo show at Deli Gallery (which can be viewed by appointment or online), three sculptures stand in a semicircle. Lit dramatically, the works comprise thin, vertical, oblong strips with patches and swirls of caked-on, muddy color, as if they were excavated from the earth. They’re suspended in frames of wiry, blackened branches. They remind me of the three witches in “Macbeth”: seeming to hail from the spirit world but showing up in our own to deliver a message.

Over the past few years, Ms. Thill has developed a process for making sculptures that appear simultaneously base and preternatural, dirty and beautiful, messy and smooth. She dips strips of paper in mixtures of ingredients that have included pigments, coffee and tea, fake blood, flies and locks of hair. After letting her concoctions pool on the paper and evaporate, she covers the pieces in resin and finds ways to hang and suspend them. The finished works have a distinctive look but aren’t uniform, recalling, variously, slabs of meat, fossils and clothing.

The products of this method in her current exhibition — there are six in all, plus a pair of works on paper and two other sculptures — are called “Portals.” It’s a fitting name. Sitting at my computer, I imagined myself standing in front of one: The encounter would mimic looking in a mirror, except instead of my own reflection, I’d be staring at a handmade landscape, its marks and traces mapping depths beyond the surface. JILLIAN STEINHAUER



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Tony Elliott, Whose Time Out Clued Readers in, Dies at 73


The magazines started the careers of mostly young writers, some of whom got old with Time Out. “Stephin Merritt wrote ‘69 Love Songs’ when he was our copy editor,” Ms. Stivers said, referring to the leader of the band Magnetic Fields.

Anthony Michael Manton Elliott was born on Jan. 7, 1947, in Redding, England, to Alan and Dr. Katherine Elliott. His father was managing director of a food distribution company; his mother was assistant medical director of the CIBA Foundation. The family moved to London during his second year.

He attended Stowe School, then went on to Keele University in the Midlands city of Keele, north of London, where he edited a student arts magazine called Unit, which ran features and interviews with Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Returning to London during a school break, he found that the local listings in the mainstream and alternative press were thin guides to all that was going on in Swinging London. He felt he could do better.

“In 1968 he came into the Black Dwarf, a radical magazine I was editing, and said he loved the paper, and why don’t we have a supplement that is essentially listings?” said Tariq Ali, a writer and historian who became a columnist at Time Out. “I burst out laughing.”

His original name for the magazine, abandoned days before it went to press, was Where It’s At. Instead, Mr. Elliott borrowed the name Time Out from a Dave Brubeck album. The initial print run of 5,000 copies rolled off a press owned by the local Communist Party.

He was 21.

A pause here to consider Mr. Elliott’s one idea, which seems obvious now. At the time, most publications’ event listings were simply rewritten news releases, presented dutifully. Mr. Elliott and his founding partner, Bob Harris, licensed his staff to be opinionated, funny and idiosyncratic. He demanded absolute consistency of format, typeface and style, “but you could say whatever you wanted,” Ms. Stivers said.



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Firing of Museum Director Stirs Debate and an Official Inquiry


Nathalie Bondil, the first female director of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, is credited by some to have put the museum on the map internationally.

She has worked there for more than two decades, rising to become a high-profile leader in the art world while maintaining close ties with art museums in Europe where she once worked.

It is perhaps not surprising, then, that the minister of culture and communications for the province of Quebec would declare earlier this month, when Ms. Bondil’s job security was questioned, that “the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is Nathalie Bondil!”

But it did startle many in the art world when the museum announced three days later that Ms. Bondil’s contract had been terminated, effective immediately.

Her departure has unleashed a tempest in the art circles of Canada, where the Montreal museum is viewed as something of a national treasure; the debate over why she was let go has led to such confusion and rancor that the government has stepped in to investigate.

Museum directors at the Musée d’Orsay and Palais de Tokyo in Paris denounced the board’s decision. The director of the Louvre told a French newspaper that “no head of a museum should be treated like this.” Some of the museum’s paying subscribers called for a special assembly at which they said they intend to pull back the curtain on Ms. Bondil’s dismissal.

“I always say that I wanted to end on a high note,” Ms. Bondil said in an interview. “This isn’t a high note — it’s an explosive note.”

As for the reasons for Ms. Bondil’s firing, there seem to be two competing narratives.

The president of the board of trustees, Michel de la Chenelière, has said Ms. Bondil, 53, was unwilling to take steps to address complaints of a “toxic” work environment at the museum — some of which, he said, she had been responsible for fostering.

Ms. Bondil, on the other hand, said it was her unwillingness to publicly praise a recruiting process that resulted in the promotion of Mary-Dailey Desmarais to the role of a “director of the curatorial division.”

The Canadian press has questioned whether the elevation of Ms. Desmarais, a respected curator, was influenced by her family’s wealth. Ms. Bondil has not embraced that view, but she has said that her support for another candidate was seen as “insubordination” and led to her dismissal.

Both sides say the other is constructing a story to distract from what really happened. Both have welcomed the government’s investigation as an opportunity to air out the truth.

“The president rules the museum and does not respect checks and balances,” Ms. Bondil said. “The investigation will help us understand the true reason for the firing decision.”

According to Mr. de la Chenelière’s account, the chain of events that ultimately led to Ms. Bondil’s termination on July 13 began with the union that represents museum employees approaching the board last year with complaints about the workplace environment. The museum then hired an outside human resources management consultant to assess the situation, according to the news release that accompanied the announcement that Ms. Bondil had been let go. The consultant reported back a “significant and multilayered deterioration of the workplace climate, described by some employees as ‘toxic,’” the release said.

Mr. de la Chenelière said in an interview that the thrust of the complaints was that there was too much pressure on the employees in the curatorial department, and that pressure came, in good part, from Ms. Bondil. The board’s solution, he said, was to introduce a position called director of the curatorial division, which was intended to lighten Ms. Bondil’s workload. (Ms. Bondil’s held two titles: both director general and chief curator of the museum.)

“It was also to put somebody between Ms. Bondil and the 70 people of this department,” he said, “to have somebody to settle the problems.”

Enter Ms. Desmarais, the curator of international modern art. A committee of the museum’s board selected her as their choice for the curatorial position, and the museum said that the full board of trustees approved the choice unanimously.

But days after the promotion was publicized, a Montreal newspaper reviewed an internal scorecard that assessed the candidates for the job, including Ms. Desmarais. She had been given the lowest score of the four contenders, the newspaper said.

Ms. Bondil has said that she did not see Ms. Desmarais as the best person for the job; instead, she wanted the new position to be split into two and for Ms. Desmarais to occupy a deputy role.

The museum has vigorously defended its decision to appoint Ms. Desmarais. They have pointed to her Ph.D. in art history from Yale and her years of experience in the museum’s curatorial department, starting with her position as an associate curator in 2014. It put forward a declaration of support for Ms. Desmarais signed by 11 employees who make up the main curatorial team.

The Canadian press, though, raised the question of Ms. Desmarais’s connections.

In 2008, Ms. Desmarais, 39, became part of one of the richest families in Canada when she married Paul Desmarais III, the grandson of Paul Desmarais Sr., a deceased financier who had close ties to Canadian prime ministers, including Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

The museum’s Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion, which opened in 1991, is named, in part, after Paul Desmarais Sr. His son, André Desmarais, has been involved with fund-raising for the museum.

Ms. Desmarais did not respond to a request for comment.

The museum’s board president said he laments that Ms. Desmarais has been “caught in the crossfire” of the institution’s public feud with its former director. Ms. Bondil said she also thought it was unfortunate that Ms. Desmarais had become part of the conversation, saying she has nothing against her.

But she said that she believes her dismissal was precipitated by her unwillingness to endorse an announcement that described the search as rigorous.

Ms. Bondil said that when Mr. de la Chenelière asked her to endorse such a statement, “I could not agree.”

“I said, ‘I can’t write that,’” she continued. She said that she and other museum staff members had been excluded during the decision making process.

Mr. de la Chenelière acknowledged that there was a disagreement about what Ms. Bondil would say in the announcement about the promotion but that it had nothing to do with her termination several days later.

“It was a consequence of her management style,” Mr. de la Chenelière said.

The inquiry by the Quebec government will be conducted by an outside firm and is expected to take three to four weeks, Mr. de la Chenelière said. The investigators will interview museum employees, members of the board and former employees who left the museum because, he said, they wanted to escape the workplace culture.

The province’s culture ministry has justified its intervention by pointing out that the government of Quebec is the museum’s largest funder. Nathalie Roy has asked for access to the human resources report that was used to help explain Ms. Bondil’s dismissal, but the museum has refused, citing promises of confidentiality to the participants.

With the outpouring of support from museum leaders, Ms. Bondil is expected to land easily at her next job. Still, she didn’t plan to end her 13-year tenure as museum director in a public battle with the institution where she has spent a good part of her career. She said that she sees the whole mess as, partly, a result of muddled communication and lack of person-to-person contact because of teleworking during the coronavirus lockdown.

“I do think that there is something with Covid that has created an unusual emotional and professional environment,” she said. “There is something with these virtual interactions which show the necessity of having direct connection.”



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Marciano Foundation Settles Lawsuit Over Layoffs


The Marciano Art Foundation in Los Angeles, which closed its doors last year in the midst of a labor dispute, has settled a lawsuit saying it broke the law by laying off 70 part-time employees, union officials said on Wednesday.

The dismissals came abruptly in November, after District Council 36 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board seeking to represent docents and visitors services employees at the privately owned museum, which was opened in 2017 by two brothers who had co-founded the Guess jeans empire.

Soon after the layoffs, a former employee filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court in Los Angeles. The complaint asked for class certification and said that the foundation and the brothers, Paul and Maurice Marciano, had violated a law that requires certain employers to provide employees and government officials at least 60 days written notice before ordering a mass layoff.

A document provided by the plaintiffs in the case said the foundation had agreed to pay just over $205,000 to the 70 former employees and $70,000 in legal fees, a portion of those accrued. Each of the former workers is expected to receive about 10 weeks of pay, said Daniel B. Rojas, one of the lawyers who represented them.

“We are confident that further litigation would have demonstrated that the Marcianos’ conduct was unlawful and motivated, at least in part, by illegal, anti-union animus,” Mr. Rojas said in a statement, adding: “The reality of our legal system is that the ultrawealthy can drag the process out to the detriment of parties with lesser means.”

A lawyer for the foundation and its owners did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The former employee who brought the suit, Kenneth Moffitt, said that he hoped the Marciano brothers would learn “empathy for other people” but added, “I’m not convinced it’s possible.”

As part of the settlement agreement, District Council 36 dropped a charge of unfair labor practices filed with the labor board, said a union official, Lylwyn Esangga.

The foundation, which is housed inside a 90,000-square-foot former Masonic Temple on Wilshire Boulevard and whose collection includes works by Cindy Sherman, David Hammons and Damien Hirst, has been closed to the public since the dispute began.

When the employees announced their plans for a union last fall, they said they wanted to address pay conditions at the museum, where the starting wage for visitors services associates was set at the Los Angeles minimum of $14.25 an hour.

That unionization attempt was seen as part of a wave of similar efforts at institutions including the New Museum and the Guggenheim in New York, and the Frye Art Museum in Seattle.

The foundation responded initially with a statement saying it was supportive of ideas to improve the workplace and would “give this careful attention as we begin our discussions.”

Four days later, however, employees received email messages from the foundation announcing that current exhibitions would close early and adding: “We will be laying off all of the Visitors Services Associates.”

The foundation cited “low attendance the past few weeks” in those emails. But union officials called the dismissals “retaliatory” and asked the labor board to order the foundation to reinstate the employees and reopen the museum.

Some former museum employees said the layoffs and closing echoed a series of events in the 1990s when Guess fired garment workers in Los Angeles who had tried to start a union.

The company took back those workers to head off a complaint by the labor board, which was about to accuse Guess of illegally firing the workers in retaliation for their union activities, according to reporting at the time. Under the terms of a settlement the company acknowledged no wrongdoing.

Around the same time, Guess said it was moving most of its manufacturing from Southern California to Mexico and South America.

Soon after the Marciano foundation layoffs, ex-workers held demonstrations outside, demanding to be allowed back in. But the museum’s website stated: “The foundation will remain closed to the public until further notice.”

Then, in early December, the foundation said that it had no intention of reopening.

“The Marciano Art Foundation will remain closed permanently,” the foundation said in an email message to reporters, adding that its “only goal was to give back to Greater Los Angeles by fostering an appreciation of the arts accessible to everyone and free to the public.”



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Its Top Curator Gone, SFMOMA Reviews Its Record on Race


SAN FRANCISCO — The meeting was about safety protocols in the time of coronavirus. There was talk of masks, sanitizers and Plexiglas barriers. But that is not what people will remember about the all-staff Zoom call at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on Tuesday, July 7.

In its waning moments, during a Q. and A. part of the call, Gary Garrels, the museum’s longest-tenured curator, was asked about comments attributed to him in a @changethemuseum Instagram post in June. The post recounted that when Mr. Garrels had earlier spoken about “acquisitions by POC artists,” he had added, “Don’t worry, we will definitely still continue to collect white artists.”

Mr. Garrels responded to this on July 7, saying that his comments were “a little bit skewed.” He then explained efforts on “broadly diversifying the collection.”

“We have put a lot of focus,” he continued, “on collecting women, Black artists, first nation, Native, L.G.B.T.Q., Latino and so on.”

He added: “I’m certainly not a believer in any kind of discrimination. And there are many white artists, many men who are making wonderful, wonderful work.”

When a staff member suggested that Mr. Garrels’s comment was equivalent to saying, “All lives matter,” Mr. Garrels responded: “I’m sorry, I don’t agree. I think reverse discrimination — —”

What he said after that was drowned out by gasps and someone saying, “He didn’t say that!”

Five days later, Mr. Garrels, 63, senior curator of painting and sculpture, resigned. It is a decision that has drawn criticism from his many defenders in the art world, cheers from many in a museum staff that declared him a symbol of an objectionable status quo and a renewed focus on the term “reverse discrimination.”

Popularized by opponents of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the expression, said Justin Gomer, assistant professor of American studies at California State University at Long Beach, “has been one of the most effective ways to undercut efforts to achieve racial equality.”

Leigh Raiford, associate professor of African-American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, called the term “the hollow cry of the privileged when they find themselves challenged to share power.”

And even some of Mr. Garrels defenders are surprised he used it.

Kevin Beasley, a Black artist who views Mr. Garrels as a supporter, and credits him with collecting his work for the museum, said that when he heard Mr. Garrels’s comment he “was shocked,” and wondered, “Is this Gary? It didn’t make sense.”

But supporters of the curator say that his use of the term, which Mr. Garrels has apologized for, did not warrant his abrupt departure from a post in which he had a record of supporting artists of color and others. Just last year, in a move he championed, the museum sold a Mark Rothko painting for $50.1 million and used the money to acquire works by women and people of color including Frank Bowling, Alma Thomas, Sam Gilliam and Mickalene Thomas.

Credit…J. Emilio Flores for The New York Times

“I am deeply saddened that Gary is viewed as having any racial prejudice toward artists,” said Komal Shah, a museum trustee who said Mr. Garrels had helped establish many young artists of color in the collection. “In my experience it simply isn’t true.”

Support came from outside the museum as well.

“Gary Garrels is not a white supremacist,” Tom Eccles, executive director of the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, said. “He has championed the voices of those who were in the margins.”

But others say Mr. Garrels did not just momentarily misspeak. Many staff members say they recalled remarks he made during a panel discussion about female artists in January in which he spoke about “parity” for women and that it would take time — and added: “The other thing I have to say is I reassured artists we will continue to collect white men. There are a lot of great women artists but also still a lot of great men out there as well.”

Aruna D’Souza, the author of “Whitewalling: Art, Race & Protest in 3 Acts,” said in an interview that Mr. Garrels’s remark “wasn’t just a slip of the tongue.”

His message, she said, was: “‘Don’t worry, we can keep collecting men, too. Things aren’t going to change that much.’”

“Gary Garrels’s comment,” she continued, “was upsetting because he was making it explicit, whiteness will still be at the center of the institution.”

Mr. Garrels is perhaps the most prominent figure to tumble so far as art museums around the country, including the Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art grapple with cultural tumult amid nationwide unrest after the death of George Floyd. In addition to Mr. Garrels’s 19 years at SFMOMA, he had also been a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

After the Zoom meeting, an anonymous group of former museum employees calling themselves xSFMOMA started a petition that drew several hundred supporters and called out Mr. Garrels for using “white supremacist and racist language.” The petition demanded he resign.

Then the museum’s store employees sent an email to the executive staff denouncing Mr. Garrels’s comments as racist. “We are not asking for an apology we’re asking for action and accountability,” the letter said.

The next day, Mr. Garrels lost some essential support when an unsigned email to staff from “Members of the Curatorial Division” was sent, saying they “collectively” disavowed Mr. Garrels’s reverse discrimination comments. They added,

“We will no longer accept such racism denial; unilateral power over systems, money and colleagues; and comments, made publicly and internally, that are offensive and reckless.”

It demanded “actions and accountability for Gary’s conduct.”

Mr. Garrels resigned the next day, apologizing to the museum staff for using “an offensive term.” He wrote, “I believe that true diversity and the fight for real and meaningful equality is the important battle of our time.” Then he said, “I can no longer effectively work at SFMOMA and so I have offered my resignation.”

One museum employee of color who asked to not be named because of fears of losing a job said it felt like time for Mr. Garrels to leave.

“We were trying to make all these changes,” the employee said. “He was an obstacle to that. We were working so hard for so long and for him to make these statements, it was so disheartening.”

Mr. Garrels’s departure was part of an ongoing debate about racial equality in the staffing and the collecting at the museum, which draws close to one million visitors annually. The staff, which numbered nearly 500 before a coronavirus closure and layoffs, was 59 percent white, 16 percent Latino, 12 percent Asian and 4 percent Black (the remaining staffers identified with two or more races), a spokeswoman said.

Maria Jenson, executive director of SOMArts, a San Francisco organization that supports art for social change, and a former SFMOMA public partnerships manager, said the resignation was a “reflection of much larger issues.”

“The same types of people keep getting hired for key leadership roles — namely people who are white and privileged,” she said. “Meetings feel like a social club.”

Last year, the museum staff went through racial equity training. But incidents still occurred. At the height of Black Lives Matter protests, SFMOMA had blocked from view a critical comment by a Black former museum employee, Taylor Brandon, who called museum officials “profiteers of racism.”

No Neutral Alliance, a coalition of artists of color, was participating in the museum’s online exhibitions, but because of the way Ms. Brandon was treated, some of the artists are now boycotting the museum. The Alliance is making demands that include the resignation of the director, Neal Benezra, who has retained the support of the museum board.

Mr. Benezra issued a public apology after the incident and the museum’s deputy director of external relations left her job. He and Mr. Garrels both declined to be interviewed for this article.

If Mr. Garrels had hoped to weather the storm of protest that followed his remarks on Zoom, the pressure on him only built, as the letter from employees of the museum store and from curators were sent.

Since his resignation, the museum has outlined a number of steps it is taking in response to the criticism. Last week, it announced it will be hiring a director of diversity. It also promised to investigate new and old discrimination complaints, and to revise the exhibition review process to consider diversity, equity and inclusion.

Last Thursday, the museum curators, who had denounced Mr. Garrels, sent a letter to Mr. Benezra in which they said, “We write to voice our support for you and your understanding of the need for change.”

On Tuesday, the museum’s board chairman, Robert J. Fisher, sent an email to his staff in which he said the board supports Mr. Benezra, who, he wrote, “is committed to transforming SFMOMA into an anti-racist institution.”

“Our staff is hurt, exhausted and frustrated,” Mr. Fisher said. “They have been courageous in voicing their experiences of racism and inequity. We are deeply sorry for the pain and anger this has caused our wonderful team and our community.”

“We hear your calls for change,” he continued, “and are united in the commitment to respond with action.”

Some of the announced plans address demands made by No Neutral Alliance and the museum said it was trying to schedule a meeting with members of the group.

And for now, there are no more Zoom meetings. Last week, Davida Lindsay-Bell, the museum’s human resources director, sent an email saying all-staff Zoom meetings would be postponed “until we resolve and improve format and logistics.”





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Firing of Museum Director Stirs Debate and an Official Inquiry


Nathalie Bondil, the first female director of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, is credited by some to have put the museum on the map internationally.

She has worked there for more than two decades, rising to become a high-profile leader in the art world while maintaining close ties with art museums in Europe where she once worked.

It is perhaps not surprising, then, that the minister of culture and communications for the province of Quebec would declare earlier this month, when Ms. Bondil’s job security was questioned, that “the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is Nathalie Bondil!”

But it did startle many in the art world when the museum announced three days later that Ms. Bondil’s contract had been terminated, effective immediately.

Her departure has unleashed a tempest in the art circles of Canada, where the Montreal museum is viewed as something of a national treasure; the debate over why she was let go has led to such confusion and rancor that the government has stepped in to investigate.

Museum directors at the Musée d’Orsay and Palais de Tokyo in Paris denounced the board’s decision. The director of the Louvre told a French newspaper that “no head of a museum should be treated like this.” Some of the museum’s paying subscribers called for a special assembly at which they said they intend to pull back the curtain on Ms. Bondil’s dismissal.

“I always say that I wanted to end on a high note,” Ms. Bondil said in an interview. “This isn’t a high note — it’s an explosive note.”

As for the reasons for Ms. Bondil’s firing, there seem to be two competing narratives.

The president of the board of trustees, Michel de la Chenelière, has said Ms. Bondil, 53, was unwilling to take steps to address complaints of a “toxic” work environment at the museum — some of which, he said, she had been responsible for fostering.

Ms. Bondil, on the other hand, said it was her unwillingness to publicly praise a recruiting process that resulted in the promotion of Mary-Dailey Desmarais to the role of a “director of the curatorial division.”

The Canadian press has questioned whether the elevation of Ms. Desmarais, a respected curator, was influenced by her family’s wealth. Ms. Bondil has not embraced that view, but she has said that her support for another candidate was seen as “insubordination” and led to her dismissal.

Both sides say the other is constructing a story to distract from what really happened. Both have welcomed the government’s investigation as an opportunity to air out the truth.

“The president rules the museum and does not respect checks and balances,” Ms. Bondil said. “The investigation will help us understand the true reason for the firing decision.”

According to Mr. de la Chenelière’s account, the chain of events that ultimately led to Ms. Bondil’s termination on July 13 began with the union that represents museum employees approaching the board last year with complaints about the workplace environment. The museum then hired an outside human resources management consultant to assess the situation, according to the news release that accompanied the announcement that Ms. Bondil had been let go. The consultant reported back a “significant and multilayered deterioration of the workplace climate, described by some employees as ‘toxic,’” the release said.

Mr. de la Chenelière said in an interview that the thrust of the complaints was that there was too much pressure on the employees in the curatorial department, and that pressure came, in good part, from Ms. Bondil. The board’s solution, he said, was to introduce a position called director of the curatorial division, which was intended to lighten Ms. Bondil’s workload. (Ms. Bondil’s held two titles: both director general and chief curator of the museum.)

“It was also to put somebody between Ms. Bondil and the 70 people of this department,” he said, “to have somebody to settle the problems.”

Enter Ms. Desmarais, the curator of international modern art. A committee of the museum’s board selected her as their choice for the curatorial position, and the museum said that the full board of trustees approved the choice unanimously.

But days after the promotion was publicized, a Montreal newspaper reviewed an internal scorecard that assessed the candidates for the job, including Ms. Desmarais. She had been given the lowest score of the four contenders, the newspaper said.

Ms. Bondil has said that she did not see Ms. Desmarais as the best person for the job; instead, she wanted the new position to be split into two and for Ms. Desmarais to occupy a deputy role.

The museum has vigorously defended its decision to appoint Ms. Desmarais. They have pointed to her Ph.D. in art history from Yale and her years of experience in the museum’s curatorial department, starting with her position as an associate curator in 2014. It put forward a declaration of support for Ms. Desmarais signed by 11 employees who make up the main curatorial team.

The Canadian press, though, raised the question of Ms. Desmarais’s connections.

In 2008, Ms. Desmarais, 39, became part of one of the richest families in Canada when she married Paul Desmarais III, the grandson of Paul Desmarais Sr., a deceased financier who had close ties to Canadian prime ministers, including Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

The museum’s Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion, which opened in 1991, is named, in part, after Paul Desmarais Sr. His son, André Desmarais, has been involved with fund-raising for the museum.

Ms. Desmarais did not respond to a request for comment.

The museum’s board president said he laments that Ms. Desmarais has been “caught in the crossfire” of the institution’s public feud with its former director. Ms. Bondil said she also thought it was unfortunate that Ms. Desmarais had become part of the conversation, saying she has nothing against her.

But she said that she believes her dismissal was precipitated by her unwillingness to endorse an announcement that described the search as rigorous.

Ms. Bondil said that when Mr. de la Chenelière asked her to endorse such a statement, “I could not agree.”

“I said, ‘I can’t write that,’” she continued. She said that she and other museum staff members had been excluded during the decision making process.

Mr. de la Chenelière acknowledged that there was a disagreement about what Ms. Bondil would say in the announcement about the promotion but that it had nothing to do with her termination several days later.

“It was a consequence of her management style,” Mr. de la Chenelière said.

The inquiry by the Quebec government will be conducted by an outside firm and is expected to take three to four weeks, Mr. de la Chenelière said. The investigators will interview museum employees, members of the board and former employees who left the museum because, he said, they wanted to escape the workplace culture.

The province’s culture ministry has justified its intervention by pointing out that the government of Quebec is the museum’s largest funder. Nathalie Roy has asked for access to the human resources report that was used to help explain Ms. Bondil’s dismissal, but the museum has refused, citing promises of confidentiality to the participants.

With the outpouring of support from museum leaders, Ms. Bondil is expected to land easily at her next job. Still, she didn’t plan to end her 13-year tenure as museum director in a public battle with the institution where she has spent a good part of her career. She said that she sees the whole mess as, partly, a result of muddled communication and lack of person-to-person contact because of teleworking during the coronavirus lockdown.

“I do think that there is something with Covid that has created an unusual emotional and professional environment,” she said. “There is something with these virtual interactions which show the necessity of having direct connection.”



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Museum Directors Fear Permanent Closure, an Alliance Survey Shows


In an American Alliance of Museums survey published Wednesday, 16 percent of American museum directors who responded to it said there was a high risk that their museums could close in the next 16 months if they do not find additional funding.

Another 17 percent said they did not know if they would survive without further financial help from governments and private donors, according to the survey.

“Museum revenue disappeared overnight when the pandemic closed all cultural institutions, and sadly, many will never recover,” Laura Lott, the alliance’s president and chief executive, said in a news release. “Even with a partial reopening in the coming months, costs will outweigh revenue and there is no financial safety net for many museums.”

The country’s museums have been casualties of the coronavirus, incurring steep financial hits. Museums in the United States are vulnerable because they rely heavily on earned income and philanthropy, and they receive fewer government subsidies than European institutions.

As behemoths like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York have closed their doors, their ticket revenue has been shut off.

The Met has announced that it would reopen on Aug. 29, but this depends on the virus situation in the city and is subject to state and city approval.

While many museums are already planning measures to protect visitors once they are allowed to return, many institutions have not publicly announced reopening plans.

The museum alliance said that 760 museum directors responded to the survey, which was carried out in June.

It found that 39 percent had not set a target date for reopening and that 35 percent had laid off or furloughed up to 20 percent of their staff members during the crisis. A further 21 percent had laid off or furloughed 21 percent to 40 percent of their staff.

Half said they expected to reopen with a reduced work force. And even once reopened, they would be in a weak position: With a little over half reporting having less than six months operating reserves remaining, nearly two-thirds said they expected to have to cut back on education, programming and other services.

The museum alliance said programs like the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program “has served as a lifeline for many museums,” but they need more.

“Money from public and private sources is crucial to saving the museum field,” Ms. Lott said.



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