Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Two Barely Related Ideas Schmushed into One Post

Coming on the heels of a New York Times report that the board of the Whitney Museum is in disagreement about whether to open a second location in the West Village...
On one side is the majority that favors the construction project, saying it is integral to the future of a renowned museum with a world-class collection of American art by the likes of Edward Hopper and Alexander Calder. On the other side is a handful of longtime members, including [Leonard A.] Lauder, the chairman emeritus, who view the plan as a vanity project the Whitney can ill afford. Also at stake is the fate of the signature building on the Upper East Side, designed by Marcel Breuer and synonymous with the Whitney since it opened, in 1966.
...today Roberta Smith offers some amazingly good and simple advice, which like most things simple seems obvious now that someone thought to point it out. Mostly side-stepping the "should they/shouldn't they" side of the ongoing discussion, Smith uses the example to highlight why far too many museum expansion projects have gone awry lately:
The success of an undertaking like this hinges not on the size but on the quality of the space, which is never thought about enough and never by the people who really know what they’re doing where museums are concerned. The idea that trustees have the final word on a museum’s design, considering all the atrocious buildings that have been erected in this country, is chilling. When will they ever learn to listen, and to people who have the right experience?
...enter the amazingly good and simple advice:
Whom should the people in charge of museums listen to? Perhaps to those who have consistently made art look best because they are most directly dependent on it looking best: artists and dealers. A well-chosen committee of such people would probably be able to pare down and improve Mr. Piano’s design even more.

Here’s a shocking idea: hire Larry Gagosian as a consultant. This could be seen as a more cautious, less desperate version of the move by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in hiring the dealer Jeffrey Deitch as its new director: maybe it’s outside-the-box thinking Manhattan-style. Such an idea might occur to anyone who saw the Gagosian Gallery’s recent exhibition of a mere four sculptures by Alexander Calder, which unfortunately closed on Saturday. It was a heart-stopping, art-loving show that rewired and strengthened both the sense of Calder’s greatness and one’s own personal ability to see art. Affirmations like that keep people coming back.
Indeed, Gagosian consistently puts on world-class exhibitions and I think Roberta nails the reason why: he and his artists most directly depend on the art looking its best.

Most of the conversations I've heard these days, from folks in just about any industry, be it journalism, commercial art [see yesterday's post], publishing, entertainment, education, etc. (gives you an idea of my circle of friends) center on the notion that none of these industries will look anything like they do today in a decade or so. Much of the focus of folks in these industries is on trying to anticipate how their quarter of the bold, new world is going to operate (obviously so they're prepared for it, if not indeed pioneering the way forward). It seems to me to be a bit of an international obsession at the moment, to be quite honest.

What it struck me recently we're not doing enough of, in this mad quest for anticipating the future, though, is living in the present. Roberta's observation about Gagosian's Calder exhibition, which has now closed, underscored this for me. I didn't get to see this show. I wish I had.

I'm still processing the nudging doubts percolating in the gray puddle that is my mind about all this (and you'll probably be 'treated' to more of it as I sort it out), but there's this tiny voice trying to be heard in there and it's saying something like "It's a trap...this constantly seeking out the bold new world becomes an end unto itself...a way of existing without really living...yes, yes, we've heard it before...the visionaries will rule tomorrow...and I do believe you must keep your mind open to new ideas...but if the next big thing ain't coming to you easily, then sorry Charlie, you're not yet a visionary...you're an average Joe and you'd better stop to smell the roses that are right beneath your feet before, well, before you're beneath them...."

I imagine that might be what Mr. Lauder is trying to get his fellow Whitney board members to understand.

Labels: art appreciation, art museums


Blogger Mark said...

She may be right. Just remembering how pleasantly surprised I was by the Calder exhibit LG may be, along with several others, a great idea.

Boards tend to be ego driven and spend way too much on architectural wad shots, putting our collective histories at risk.

4/13/2010 09:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

There is visionary and there is good common sense. Good common sense indicates that it'd be better to: either completely move the museum to a one larger space, or, buy the building around the Whitney and enlarge it (that's besides the problem of design).

Because who wants to visit 2 remote spaces of a same museum? Unless they are in different cities, that is (that's good for having our artists "network" a little).

Who visited Altria regurlaly? I did, but I had a lot of time to waste.


4/13/2010 10:13:00 AM  
Anonymous marcus said...

Too much of museum collections hide in storage.
I figure that museum exhibition space is analougus (sic?) to at-home closet space, there is never enough. Placing the blame on board members for bad design, seems a bit too easy, I think. The architect has the ultimate responsibilty to make the design work and to satisfy clients. While not an easy job, the architect holds the bag on these expansions. By the way, museum projects are not the only buildings that get f*cked-up.

4/13/2010 10:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

My vote goes for:

- You buy a large space next to the river.

- You launch an architectural contest for the design of the museum. Thematic is "We Need Space".

- You DON'T make the mistake of commanding the piece to a single architect. A whole civilization
might suffer.

- You invite Larry, Jerry, and Merry to decide for the best design.

- You move all the museum to the new space on the riverfront, and, when you need a temporal expansion for a really huge exhibit, you install a ready-to-wear floating platform right on the river.

Cedric c

4/13/2010 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

One gallerist with a true vision for gallery space is Doug Christmas (ACE in LA). Over the years he's had several different locations, all were exquisitely cobbled together into some sort of existing commercial shell. He's not as good a businessman as Larry but he's really a visionary.

4/13/2010 10:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

McLuhan pointed out that to understand the impact of a future technology, or even a prior one, what was important, was to understand how it was it used. What was to be the daily interaction with it.? How does it change how we live our lives? Living. The question posed was about its users, us, -how the technology impacted our daily lives. That was where one found the significance of any media, in its usage by someone.

So too with art. The idea that we need to, as Ed points out, stop and smell the roses, only puts emphasis on this insight of McLuhan's. Art is about how we interact with it. So, to build a museum here or there, the question that is posed is who is it for,and to do what with.

Heck if it was only about space, we could hang all the art from the ceiling and drop down only those we wanted to display that day, or if it was only about reaching a new neighborhood audience, we could hang/store all the artworks is subway cars, then in the morning, link together some chosen cars into a train and drive it around the metro. (take Chicago’s initiative a step further)

How did the old advert go …….. the audience is watching …. Who’s the audience, and how is it best to interact with the artwork for the desired experience? Same question McLuhan posed: how will the user interact with it, -what’s unique about that interaction?
Spin the inquiry around; don’t look to see what a new media’s impact is, but choose the usage desired to choose the technology required ( should it be a museum, a boutique, a café, a gallery, this neighborhood a vs neighborhood , tourists or scholars? )

Heck, on the daydreaming side, What if the museums assets were dispersed across the city and you had to go on a treasure hunt in order to find them. Use the free “rfid” tagging system from talesofthings.com to give substantial access to indepth critiques and backgrounder info.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lx5dr7xr7yk Link the gallery digitally across the metropol.

The question remains: which audience is doing what. If the board is split, its likely because they haven’t clarified that yet.

Regardless of the technology flux that drifts through our lives the same question remains for art. We use art in a specific manner, the best media for art access and ‘usage” reinforces and enhances that manner. Art does have a function. And as Ed points out, Art happens day to day. What that “happens” is, is decided by the media/technology we use.

Answer what the happen should be, decides the technology to use.

4/13/2010 11:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

If you overemphasizes what the building does, what's left for artists to say?

Should a museum be a supreme work of art in itself?


4/13/2010 05:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

here's a small way of smelling the roses in ones daily life .... obviously its not a full fragrance as being with the actual work, but it might be enjoyable just the same,


stumble across art via the atm, go online to discover about the artist

(i do believe art museums are about more then just stumbling across things)

4/14/2010 06:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

.. but there's this tiny voice trying to be heard in there and it's saying something like "It's a trap...this constantly seeking out the bold new world becomes an end unto itself...a way of existing without really living...

Ed, What is progress?

4/15/2010 09:25:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

What is progress?

On the little voice in my head, or as a construct?

4/15/2010 09:30:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Speaking of "progress."


4/15/2010 10:01:00 AM  
Anonymous John Legweak said...

It’s funny how a lot of art of the late last century was saying that there is no truth, and now we are living in a world where, increasingly, there really is no truth, just what people want to believe. Combine this with politics and you have a seriously dangerous situation.

Maybe art should get back to saying that there is truth after all and maybe take a shot at showing people what it is.

4/15/2010 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

I think the trap is the same as the one on reality shows like Project Runway. You have to surprise the judges. They are bored before you have your first line finished. One piece of clothing is a whole season to them. The next week you have to have another "new line" and be consistent.

For the museum, the space has to serve the function of showing art as well as satisfy the vocal minority of critics who will pan whatever is put up. You can't win. Something is compromised.

4/19/2010 06:23:00 PM  

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