Friday, September 17, 2010

A Season of Shame? Tyler Green calling out LACMA & Art Institute of Chicago by Emily Larsen

In a blog post earlier today, Tyler Green, author of Artinfo's Modern Art Notes, criticized the LA County Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago for putting forth exhibitions focused solely on the collections of some of their donors. You can find the post here.

What do you think of his accusations?

Personally, I do not know if I feel as strongly about the issue as Green does, but, I do know that I appreciate thesis driven exhibitions, which explore new ideas, themes, or patterns that have previously been ignored much more so than a show that is simply a display of one person's (or couple's) personal taste.


  1. The MOA is doing this now in our own backyard. The new Southwest art show that opened last night is almost entirely based on a couple's private collection. I don't think their donors per se, but I think it's safe to say that the MOA is hoping that they will become donors in some sense of the word. It is a beautiful exhibition.

  2. Green's objections do seem strong. Although I understand his points, I wonder if these types of shows, 1) aren't sometimes appropriate, and 2) have some sort of art historical precedent. Here's what I mean. In the 18th century it was common for travelers to tour the homes of the rich and view their collections. Some of the world's greatest permanent collections are the result of donations of these collections to "the public." So, if privileging private collecting is wrong, the entire museum system is flawed. Also, in today's increasingly private society, it is no longer possible for most people to tour private collections. Thus, these types of shows often provide the only means for members of the public to view these works (which are none-the-less important for their being owned privately. While the works could be exhibited piecemeal as exhibitions collected them, I think that it is insightful to see the private collecting practices of those who, let's face it, are driving the art market forward. Frankly I find them at least as interesting as retrospectives.

    So, I agree that curators could probably do better, that thesis driven shows are best, and that public funded institutions should consider carefully the way they spend their funds. But I also wonder if these shows have a place as long as they don't become the standard, instead of the exception.

    Larger question: Does your average museum goer care?

  3. P.S. I didn't want to be the first to say it... but good point Caitlin. Thanks for keeping us honest. I know that all the MOAs shows are supposed to be thesis driven. For those of you who have seen the show: do you recognize the thesis? (If you haven't seen it, the show opened yesterday, and as Caitlin noted, includes many BEAUTIFUL pieces. Check it out and tell us what you think.) I wonder if there are any curators out there who would offer an opinion?

  4. I wonder if the objections you have to this aren't a little bit elitist (take that with a grain of salt, please)...
    While I understand that the practice of showing singularly collection based shows limits the theoretical practice of Art History (proper name intentionally used here), don't they open up more access to the arts?
    While Green comments to the "little people who should apparently be grateful to see the shopping lists of the rich and well-connected," I fear that the argument is a little misguided as an elitist bombast to public access to art.

    What is the function of a museum?

    Is it not to provide access to art on a grand scale?

    Can't art historians theoretically approach the preferences of an individual collector as well? Is our purview so singularly limited to specific theories and objects, or can we open our discussion of art to reception culture, as a marker of the pulse of trends in taste?

    We dance on a knife's edge.

  5. I agree with all of you.

    This might not have come across as I intended it. I mostly thought it was an interesting blog post and wanted to see others opinions.

    I don't have problems with showing a collector's collection if there is a larger thesis driving it and it is worthwhile and contributing something to the conversation of art history - and not just a thank you to a donor or trying to please a board member, etc.

    While those things are important, and will always be an important aspect of running a museum, I do agree with Green that we need to keep it in check - and ask the motives and goals of any exhibitions that are planned.

    He is obviously biased and being quite harsh on LACMA and AIC - but I think it is important that he is asking the question, "why?". Why are these shows being exhibited over other works of art - is the primary reason to please a donor? Or is that a secondary benefit to an exhibition meant to explore or inform other ideas?

    Anyways, I walked through "Wide Open Spaces" this afternoon and am happy to say, that, although the works in the MOA's latest exhibition are largely from a private collection - the show is thought provoking, beautiful and interesting - much more than just a "showcase" of the private collection.