Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Art: Let Museums Leave Room for the Troublemakers

A very good essay by Holland Cotter in the NY Times criticizing the state of museums and the art market in the US: Let Museums Leave Room for the Troublemakers

"A similar trick of illusion surrounds the vaunted populism of museums. Every American city, to be a proper city, now needs to have its own jewel-box art museum. Any existing museum anywhere needs to be expanded expensively. Thanks to all this stretching, art and its institutions have, we are told, grown increasingly democratic, more accessible to all.
In fact, the more successful a museum grows, the more elitist it tends to become. Social distinctions based on money and patronage can assume the intricate gradings of court protocol. At street level, admission prices climb, reinforcing existing socioeconomic barriers. Programming grows more cautious. If you're laying out $20, you want to see ''the best'' art, which often means art that adheres to conventional versions of beauty, authority, ''genius'' (white and male) set in a reassuringly familiar context.
Give the art world a break. It can't help being a miniature version of the culture that made it. What can it do about that?
One thing it can do -- that museums can do -- is clear an alternative space in that culture, a zone of moral inquiry, intellectual contrariness, crazy beauty. In this space, artists can simultaneously hold a magnifying glass up to something called ''America'' and also train a telescope on it: probe its innards and view it from afar, see it as others see it. From these perspectives, they might come up with models of a cosmopolitan, leveled-out society for a country in solidarity with the world, in contrast to the provincial, hierarchical, self-isolating one that exists today."