Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Unfortunate Side Effect of Art's Popularity Open Thread

The Academy is too large and too vulgar. Whenever I have gone there, there have been either so many people that I have not been able to see the pictures, which was dreadful, or so many pictures that I have not been able to see the people, which was worse.
--Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray.
I was reminded of that quote while reading Michael Kimmelman's article on the renovations and expansion of the Prado in Madrid. From The New York Times:

For many years, the Prado was almost a secret in plain sight. Years of Spanish isolation, neglect under Franco, then institutional incompetence, compounded the impression of narcolepsy. Melancholy reports of leaks in the ceiling, or yet another director promising change before evaporating, overshadowed the odd loan exhibition. Save for busloads of Japanese tourists, the world simply seemed to pass the Prado by.

Truth be told, it was nice. While every other museum concocted Monet blockbusters and fancy new buildings by celebrity architects to name after trustees and satisfy the bean counters who judge success by the number of visitors through the turnstiles rather than by the quality and care of the collection, the Prado stuck with Velázquez and Goya and Titian and Tintoretto in rooms of increasingly shabby grandeur. Before such pictures, nothing else really mattered.
I've only ever visited the Prado during the ARCO art fair, but still (even with all those extra art lovers in town) it struck me as a refreshingly uncrowded break from the hordes I've found when visiting the Louvre or Uffizi or even the Tate Modern (and don't even get me started on the mob that seems to be ever-present at New York's museums [I swear it's the same ten thousand people every time I go]). Given the number of legendary works of art at the Prado and the ease with which one could move from one to the next (other than in the Vermeer exhibition, that is), I received news of the Prado's strategy to increase attendance even more with mixed emotion. Clearly the collection deserves to be seen by as many people as possible. Ten minutes before Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights could replace the entire first year of instruction in most universities' painting departments IMHO. But still, I hate to see every museum reach Disneyland-like lines. Alas, time marches on:
The Prado has in the last several years hired a crew of gifted young curators under an ambitious young director with Byronic good looks named Miguel Zugaza. Now there’s a serious and world-class exhibition program, more than two million visitors annually (this year a record number is expected) — and, just opening, a 237,000-square-foot extension.
Folks who work in museums I like tell me there are times when it's not so crowded, but they never seem to be the times I'm free to attend. Normally I'm attending an opening or squeezing in a visit during a business trip or, even more likely, trying to see a show on its last day. Back when I was just out of college, some family member asked me what the Mona Lisa looked like the first time I came home from Paris. "Like the backs of a lot of other tourists' heads," I reported. Sadly, that pretty much sums up my typical museum experience any more.

I don't know, short of perfecting my cat burglar skills so that I could enter any museum after hours (yes, I suffer from TCFS [Thomas Crown Fantasy Syndrome]), what to do about this. The opposite situation (where few people were attending museums) is not an attractive alternative.

I don't have any answers here, btw. Just musing. Consider this an open thread.

Labels: art viewing, open thread


Blogger achristian said...

It's off topic but are you aware of what's going on with Randolph college?
here's the Washington Post's account:

Here's a small piece I got in an email from a colleague written by Ellen Agnew, the Museum's former Associate Director. I can post more if people are interested.

(Monday, 1 October 2007): "College officials and a lawyer for Randolph College from McGuire Woods came to the Maier Museum of Art at 4:55 this afternoon unannounced. Four paintings were de-installed (two actually from display in the galleries), wrapped by 'qualified art handlers,' loaded into an unmarked rental truck, and left the premises. The paintings taken were by George Bellows, Edward Hicks, Rufino Tamayo, and Ernest Martin Hennings. College personnel on-site during the removal included John Klein (President), Chris Burnley (VP for finance), Dixie Sakolosky (Assistant to the President), Sharon Saunders (Director of Human Resources), Brenda Edson (Strategic Communications Manager), Kris Irwin (Director of Security), Bobby Bennett (Head of Buildings and Grounds), and at least two city police officers. Passers-by were told that there was a bomb threat at the Museum and to leave the area. The road at the corner of Norfolk Ave and Quinlan St. was blocked. Words cannot express my anger, dismay, and disgust over the actions of this Board of Trustees and Administration. This cowardly act is proof yet again of the secrecy, lack of transparency and complete lack of ethics that has become a hallmark of this Board."

10/31/2007 11:38:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

That's an incredible story, achristian. Yes, please do share any other information you might have.

10/31/2007 11:48:00 AM  
Blogger achristian said...

this is from a post on the AAMC (the association of art museum curators) discussion boards.

"Addition details of the events at the Maier Museum of Art on Monday afternoon, October 1: No Maier Museum of Art employees or college faculty were notified in advance of this action. The Museum director stayed in the building. She refused to assist in the de-installation and packing of the works. She declined to witness the de-installation, packing, or loading of the works. She chose not to abandon the building. She was accompanied throughout the event by the college president, his assistant, and/or the college’s HR director. She learned later that phone service to the Museum and its computer (including e-mail) connections had been suspended for the duration of the event. One of her colleagues who attempted to enter the building during the event was prevented from doing so by the president of the college. It appeared that all four paintings were only soft-packed for their departure from the building. As far as is known, the Maier’s insurer was not notified of this action or of the transport. The paintings were apparently destined for Christie's in New York. Maier employees were not party to any decisions made regarding the paintings' sale, packing, insurance, or transit."

10/31/2007 11:58:00 AM  
Blogger Molly Stevens said...

Well, when you love something, people who don't love that something, or worse - don't care either way - are maddening. This is why I hate the popularity of art. This I say at the risk of sounding like a snob, and somehow, undemocratic. But, maybe neither are so bad after all?

10/31/2007 12:00:00 PM  
Blogger achristian said...

press release:

10/31/2007 12:05:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Thanks again, achristian. I'm still investigating this issue, and certainly am not taking sides (yet), but for the benefit of everyone reading did want to highlight this op-ed by the College's president of the board of trustees and the chairwoman of the board’s executive committee:

Randolph College Leaders Faced Tough Choices

10/31/2007 12:20:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...


try this link.

10/31/2007 12:21:00 PM  
Blogger achristian said...

"I'm still investigating this issue, and certainly am not taking sides (yet)"

agreed, there's certainly some good arguments on both sides and it's grounds for a great discussion.

What I found appalling was Ellen Agnew's account (if true) of how it all went down.

"Passers-by were told that there was a bomb threat at the Museum and to leave the area"

"phone service to the Museum and its computer (including e-mail) connections had been suspended for the duration of the event."

10/31/2007 12:34:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

What I found appalling was Ellen Agnew's account (if true) of how it all went down.

I agree...that's pretty phenomenal.

10/31/2007 01:57:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

If I was going to remove some work from a museum for sale at auction without fanfare, I would do it on a day when all the afore mentioned parties would be gone (or at night). Why all the drama? Couldn't get the truck after five? Sounds like incompetence to me.

The only other explanation is that this event was staged to generate buzz. That would be understandable, given the theatrics the art world has engaged in since employing a circus barker to publicize the original Armory Show. I'm still suspicious that he Mass MOCA affair wasn't an elaborate put on.

Long live the circus(exclamation mark removed by request)

10/31/2007 03:15:00 PM  

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