Thursday, December 4, 2008

Oh, Now I Got Myself All Upset

MAN posted some advise for helping out the ailing art institutions of DC. In the weeks since, I have been muling over some of his points, most-with the exception of expansion idea- I agree with, but I have an additional beef. Somewhat related to shortcomings in administrative / curatorial thought.

My problem is with how the art is treated/functions in museum exhibitions. Instead of the work being presented as a potential conduit through time, experience and meaning; it is exhibited as an art history checklist, or textbook. Which is actually okay for nerds, like myself, but I am not convinced that audiences are permitted this access by the exhibitions as they are currently mounted and discussed. An access that we educated, art-insidery types take for granted. I get the feeling that audiences aren't brought along on the ride. They are left to spectate.

There have been some important exceptions (DADA, Puryear, Tillmans, Rousseau...I am not going to pretend this list is exhaustive) where there was greater freedom to explore the work in a context of the work's own making. And in the case of DADA and Rousseau, the connections were spelled out; but illuminating all the same. But one came out of those show, I felt, with a better understanding of the work, it's context and how it fits into one's experiences.

The point is that everyone can stand to learn how to look and think better. It is especially critical as we don't learn the same as we did even ten years ago. But museums have maintained the same "art in the dark" exhibition approach. To broaden audiences, you have to invite them to the table. If they aren't "on the level" of the work, "or getting it" it is the responsibility of the museum to get them there. Because, let's face it, as it is now people/tourists scoff and blast through collections and exhibitions in DC! Everywhere for that matter. Even Rothko! Broadening the audience is kind of the goal, no?

In the case of the Corcoran and its Banjo Art; the "Detritus of Warhol" shows; and other "packaged" fare...well...they are aiming really low. Disrespectfully low. I thought Modernism would kind of lift the Corcoran out of its slump, but alas I am mistaken. They have Colescott, K-Jam, a Joan Mitchell Mural, Applebroog why don't we get surveys of these artists' work? My thought is because they think we can't take it, or that DAR is actually pulling the curatorial strings around here.


tim said...

The Corocoran has always seemed to me to be in that weird zone where we can't really tell what the point is. What I mean is that neither the art school nor the museum seem to have a clear direction these days. And as someone who once lived in DC and frequented the museums there, it has a lot to compete against; the permanent collection could never pull me from places like the NGA or the Phillips (and many other places I haven't named), and the special exhibitions always seemed....well, random. Unfocused and unrelated.

Reading the post in MAN, I felt a bit of excitement stirring, at the idea that one school in DC could have both a substantial and reputable BFA program, and an advanced graduate program. Or even a School of Art within one of the Universities. But the work involved in merging institutions, especially considering the amount of red-tape in DC (and the antics that have mucked development at the Katzen) would take years, with the risk of a finished product not-worth-waiting-for.

Are there any institutions out there that have successfully balanced their roles as both schools and museums?

Matthew Mann - Pittore said...

I think that the Hirshhorn is striking the right balance between focused, interesting shows and programming (education). There is really something for everyone there. Old Docents as well as hipsters.

They will never be a "museum school" like Chicago Art Institute, which by the way, is the only successful school and museum that I can think of.

Matthew Mann - Pittore said...

Oh, Wait! and Pennsylvania Academy of course.