Thursday, December 28, 2006

Year-End Outbursts from Times Critics

In the final ten days of 2006, some art critics at the New York Times were getting testy.

Michael Kimmelman
“And is there any way to describe the escalating orgy of spending on art this year but as obscene? Collectors were paying upward of $130 million for Pollocks and Klimts, sums that make a skeptic ponder the other uses to which such fortunes could be put. The art world seems content, damn the potential long-term cost of being reduced to a mere investment vehicle.” (12/24/06)

Roberta Smith
Matt Greene’s paintings “seem conservative, thin and calculated to appeal to young, straight, male hedge-fund managers with a yen for lap dances and a taste for magazine illustrations from the 1960s.” (12/22/06)

Holland Cotter
“So maybe we should stop pestering art to be some utopian undertaking, some zone for alternative thoughts and forms, and just enjoy it for the high-energy, no-impact game of trivial pursuit it has become.” (12/24/06)

[The image of the Ren character is borrowed from John Kricfalusi's website, titled "all kinds of stuff."]


John said...

Kimmelman has a point.

A couple of weeks ago, I toured the museums of San Antonio and encountered the obligatory videos extolling the virtues of the philanthropists who created the collections. But it is really that virtuous to build up collections of pretty things, even if they are accessible to the general public? I'm glad that other people have created such institutions, but if I had a few million dollars lying around, I'd feel morally icky if I spent it on snarfing up a Bouguereau.

It's good that people acquire and display great works of art, but they shouldn't be lauded as great humanitarians.

Bob said...

Museums depend on gifts, so there is a lot of fawning and diplomacy surrounding donors and potential donors. It can seem nauseating or comical, depending on your mood—like observing Hollywood rituals. The real danger, a constant danger, lies in the potential distortions of a museum’s mission as a result of kowtowing to donors. A relevant instance surfaced recently in Boston. In a review in the Boston Globe (12/29/06), Ken Johnson lambasted the city’s Museum of Fine Arts for a mishmash exhibition of work collected by a donor, Scott M. Black. And at the opening of the new contemporary wing of the Portland Art Museum last year, I wondered if donor pressure (or donor agreements) could explain why there were roomfuls of bad paintings, while some good work was poorly situated. (There was a Tony Smith sculpture crammed under a stairway.)

I’m sure most museum curators pray that their donors are not armed with paintings by Bouguereau, as in the case you mentioned. But I’m sure there’s a museum somewhere that would consider the Sylvester Stallone collection—he collects Bouguereau!