I know little to nothing about curatorial practice. After reading about the Austin Museum of Art’s new building, I started thinking about the number and type of shows that they put on each year, how many have been retrospectives of well-established artists or “blockbuster” shows designed to lure in the art-timid. That’s probably overly cynical, and I really appreciate their ongoing “20 to Watch / New Art in Austin” triennial series, but we’ve definitely had a healthy dose of traveling Warhols, Lichtensteins, Christo + Jean-Claudes, etc. Who can blame them? With only four shows a year in a rather tiny space, a self-described “modest” permanent collection, and a need to draw visitors from a state where art isn’t exactly on the forefront of civic spending, I’m glad that they feature less-known and local artists at all. Hopefully their new permanent space, smaller than proposed a few years back but still more than double their current size, will help them put on more challenging shows.
An article on Bloomberg.com celebrates the recent resignation of the Guggenheim’s director, Thomas Krens. Under his watch, the museum expanded into “franchises” around the world, from the well-received Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain to the less-appreciated Guggenheim Las Vegas. It sounds like the spreading of their collection worldwide is what did him in, with members of the foundation decrying the lack of attention being paid to New York and their collection there (not to mention the building’s crumbling façade). Also contentious were the party-like exhibits being thrown, and commercial-heavy shows like “The Art of the Motorcycle”. Will toning down the hype help focus on curating good contemporary art? I didn’t get the impression that the other peripheral museums will be closing down, and the one slated for the UAE is still forthcoming, so how will they beef up a collection that’s spread amongst so many campuses?
Over in London, the new director of the National Gallery had this to say: “The responsibility of a major gallery is to show people something they haven’t seen before … A major national institution should be one that proves a constant attraction to the public. What is important is encouraging historical and visual curiosity in the general public.” This approach brings up some interesting issues about a museum or gallery’s role in modern life. What’s the right balance of crowd-pleasing and crowd-challenging? There’s an interesting quote from the director in this article in the Times in which he says that 20 years ago people expected to be introduced to new art by an exhibition. How widely spread is that sentiment today, and has it been stymied by these big blockbuster shows, or is contemporary art too alien (unpleasant?) for the public, or is something else at play?