Although as early as 1930 (Italian Art 1200-1900, London) art exhibitions had begun to generate wide-reaching public acclaim, the term “blockbuster” became associated with special and spectacular exhibitions in a museum or art gallery in the 1980s.
Whether sanctified or demonized, blockbuster art exhibitions are not going to go away any time in the near future and will likewise become increasingly controversial among professionals in the field. Museums claim that despite their high costs and nightmarish organizational logistics, blockbusters bring the uninitiated public closer to the art experience, keep regulars coming back and gather critical finances necessary to keep them running. Detractors, who are routinely accused of snobbery, hold the blockbuster has more to do with fast food than haute cuisine and, in real measurable terms, do not benefit the public: on the contrary. In any case, some specialists have begun to hypothesize that the era of blockbuster shows is coming to an end if not for other than the for fact that the business model on which the are based may be ultimately unsustainable.
Here’s a brief rundown of the principal pros and cons of the blockbuster exhibiton and below a few intersting articles.
1.Blockbuster exhibitions draw an extraordinary number of visitors to art museums and greatly increase public appreciation of art.
1. The success of blockbusters lead to such congested viewing conditions that the visitor’s contact with unfamiliar works of art is actually impoverished. Overcrowding may force museums to limit admission. Blockbusters do not educate but lead to a “dumbing down” of the museum and its message. Artists become celebrities like sport and movie stars.
2. Visitors see many artworks that otherwise they would have never been able to have seen. Blockbusters, which generally display numerous works of art, are the best possible chance to understand a particular artist, group of artists or period in art.
2. Blockbusters discourage the public from actively seeking out art and developing strong individual points of view. Visitors accustomed to blockbusters wait passively for prepackaged experiences to be delivered to their door. Many blockbusters present so many works or art that viewers fall victim to accute exhibition fatigue after the first gallery rooms and thereby neglect considerable parts of the exhibition.
3. Blockbusters create a once in a lifetime, eye opening experiences.
3. Since blockbusters become “unmissable” social events, they increase expectations and lay the groundwork for disappointment. Blockbusters are received as events to be witnessed undermining the notion that art necessitates prolonged contemplation to be fully experienced. The sensationalizing the art exhibition distracts from the nature of the artwork itself.
4. Blockbusters attract new visitors, who then go on to visit the rest of the museum and return.
4. The low quality of viewing experience during blockbusters may actually dissuade repeat visits to the museum. After being fed on blockbuster exhibitions even museum members, who are more connected to museums’ permanent collections than the general public, wind up responding only “blockbuster” stimuli.
5. Blockbusters stimulate scholarly research and produce high quality art publications. Many blockbusters are accompanied by weighty catalogues that contain informative critical essays that are illustrated lavishly with hundreds of state-the-art reproductions.
5. Reliance on high-level sponsorship to finance pricey blockbusters acts as a form of censorship. Because not all themes will appeal to sponsors, the museum cannot afford to stray outside of certain subject boundaries which are acceptable to sponsors. In order to maintain a steady flow of exhibition which viewers come to expect, catalogues must be written by many specialists. This discourages coherent views, original research or the expression of controversial ideas. The great part of blockbusters souvenir catalogues are intelligible only to specialists and some are simply too costly for a substantial part of museum goers.
6. Blockbuster exhibitions allow curators to bring into focus important artists and art movements that have not previously receive sufficient attention.
6. Since many of the works requested art treasures, loans are frequently refused affecting the fundamental thesis of the exhibition even though the exhibition is always presented as a disinterested expression of an argument. Art historians are forced to cultivate business and administration skills as much as art expertise.
7. Blockbusters are able to convince visitors to pay sizable admission fees enabling the museum to improve the rest of its service.
7. The high ticket cost of blockbuster exhibitions penalize individual citizens and especially large families belonging to lower economic classes who could, after all, most benefit from contact with artworks.
8. Blockbusters generate media coverage and attract sponsors raising the profile of the museum. By being associated with global brands, museums receive huge marketing benefits.
8. Spectacular blockbuster successes may persuade public funding bodies to reduce their support. Museum are no longer perceived as custodians and promoters of visual arts culture but cogs in the exhibition-industrial complex. Oppositely, commercial enterprises greatly enhance the prestige of their brand by associating with high-brow cultural organizations.
9. Money earned by blockbusters can be used to conserve precious works of art in permanent collections.
9. Fragile works of art may be damaged or even lost during shipping.
Here are some interesting articles on the subject:
- The rush to the box office: Museums are feeding an addiction for shows that put works of art at risk and allow visitors no time to reflect – The Art Newspaper, March 2013
- Top Ten Reasons why the Blockbuster Art Show is a Bad Idea – Art Smacked Feb 2012
- Death by Curation: Why the Special Exhibit Isn’t So Special Anymore (CASE STUDY) – Know Your Own Bone, March 2012
- Blockbusters: too big to fail? – The Art Newspaper, May 2011
- Is the blockbuster exhibition dead? – The Guardian May 2011
- Blockbuster art shows are no cash cows – The Australian, August 2010
- The CEO Art Museum Director: Business as Usual? – Transatlantica, Feb 2010
- To Blockbuster or to not Blockbuster – F Newsmagazing, April 2009
- Blockbuster Exhibitions – Why? – INTERCOM: International Committee on Management, October 2004
- The truth about those mega-exhibitions: the best works are absent, the curator has an axe to grind and you’ll learn nothing about the artist. – The Guardian, Jan 2001
- The trouble with blockbusters – The Economist, Nov 2000