the ARTistry of ARThistory occasionally done ARTfully

Guardian Art Critic Only Wants Confirmed Masterpieces on Show When He’s in Town

Posted by gninja on August 9, 2007


(The museum ideal for some.)

I just can’t get away from Rudolf Stingel lately.

Writing for the Guardian UK’s arts and architecture blog, Guy Dammann expresses his scorn for the Whitney’s use of too much gallery space devoted to new exhibitions. He complains that,

When at home, it tends to be temporary exhibitions that draw me through museum gates. In foreign cities, though, where the sense of novelty is more pervasive – and the words “new” or “just-opened” consequently lose their purchase – I prefer to stick with a museum’s permanent collection

Speaking of New York’s Whitney Museum, devoted to American art:

The shame, then, is all the greater when the museum gives over so much of its space to temporary exhibitions. Covering two of the five floors, the current exhibition on 60s psychedelia – The Summer of Love – is in itself at least well worth the ticket price. But further squeezing the permanent collection onto a single floor, the enormous space wasted on Rudolf Stingel is difficult to stomach.

So, in short, Dammann wants museums 1) to cater to tourists and 2) to afford only a sliver of space to new artists while reinforcing the already prominent reputations of the old (and new) masters.

Even his final concession is a bit strange:

Of course, the changes aren’t permanent, but the imbalance betrays some seriously skewed priorities. And there are ways round the issue, as the Guggenheim, just a few blocks a way, shows. As you explore its headline exhibition, The Shapes of Space which unfolds up Frank Lloyd Wright’s glorious, but amusingly canvas-unfriendly spiral ramp, you soon realise most of the works are drawn from its permanent collection.

He knows full well that the temporary exhibitions will soon pack up and leave town and that other pieces from the permanent collection will be back on the Whitney’s walls. Which leads me to believe Dammann just wants the Hoppers, de Koonings, and Pollocks out for his spin ’round New York, then once he’s gone we NYers are welcome to have all the temporary exhibitions we like. Lovely. What an adventurous art critic.

Moreover, the comparison made between the Guggenheim’s use of a temporary exhibition that works symbiotically with the permanent collection is a fatuous one, considering that the Shapes of Space is comprised of works from the permanent collection. This kind of exhibition– a thematic one that uses material already in the possession of the museum– is entirely different from the kind of exhibition which assembles works from exterior sources. Dammann’s analogy is made even worse by the fact that not only is the Guggenheim’s show about the artists’ conception of space but about their notion of the gallery space as well. The works presented are, by and large, dependent upon their presence among other works.

Ultimately, I’m not entirely unsympathetic to his complaint. If I were in Florence, I’d like to see the holdings from the Uffizi’s permanent collection. But I’m also aware that the summer season is the season for new exhibitions. Especially here in New York. As a professional arts writer, I’d be taking my summer vacation to see these new exhibitions and to write up reviews of them. I appreciate that Dammann did not respond well to Stingel’s show. But he would have done a lot better to review the show (poorly or otherwise) than to complain that it, for the period of a few months, impedes him from getting to see some Pollocks.

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