Five museums across the United States will each receive a $10,000 grant from comedian John Oliver’s HBO series Last Week Tonight in return for hosting his “weird art” collection, starting next month.
The five museums were selected from a pool of 1,000 applicants to Oliver’s “weird art” competition, also called “Last Week Tonight’s Masterpiece Gallery” and “Last Week Tonight’s Gallery for Cultural Enrichment.” The contest was launched in October 2020 to highlight the plight of museums across the country that struggled to stay afloat during the extended COVID-19 closures. Museums were invited to submit entries stating their needs with ideas on how to display Oliver’s proposed artworks.
In a segment on the show yesterday, August 25, Oliver announced the winning museums and tour dates: The Judy Garland Museum in Minnesota (September 7-28); the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago (October 5-26); the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore (November 1-22); the William V. Banks Broadcast Museum and Media Center in Detriot (November 30-December 21); and the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco (January 4-25).
Assuming the character of a pompous art historian, Oliver described the three “masterpieces” in his collection, which he said were collected over the course of a “very weird” year. The largest piece in the collection is a painting from 2020 by an unknown artist depicting TV host Wendy Williams eating a lamb chop with a big smile on her face. Second is a small painting titled “Ties” (date unknown), made by visual artist Judith Kudlow (the former wife of Larry Kudlow, who served as the director of the National Economic Council during Donald Trump’s presidency). The painting depicts a bundle of colorful ties resting on a desk with an empty silver cup in the fore. According to Oliver, Kudlow’s painting “explor[es] the absence of her husband Larry.” Lastly, Brian Swords’s 1992 painting “Stay Up Late” captures an intimate moment between two amorous rats on a bed. “Look at the brushstrokes there,” Oliver eulogized. “It’s like if Monet had a furry period.”
In addition to the cash prize, which is meant to support operational costs at the selected museums, the TV show will also donate an additional $10,000 to a local food bank in the area.
In a statement today, Rebecca Hoffberger, founder of Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum, divulged that her museum’s winning proposal included an image of Oliver’s face photoshopped into a classic photo of Oscar Wilde.
“I wanted this to pop out and make Mr. Oliver smile with our thanks!” Hoffberger said in her statament. “The cherry on top is that our local Maryland Food Bank also gets his help for their good work by our win.”
In spite of the lighthearted competition, the crisis afflicting museums in the US and around the world is no laughing matter. A survey by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) from July 2020 found that one-third of US museums may never reopen post-Covid-19. Based on responses from 760 museum directors, the survey found that 33% of respondents were not confident they could survive without additional financial support from the government.
“Museum revenue disappeared overnight when the pandemic closed all cultural institutions,” said Laura Lott, president and CEO of AAM, “and sadly, many will never recover.”