Are blockbuster art exhibitions doing more damage than good?

April 4th, 2013

Click here to read a though provoking article by Blake Gopnik on the current state of temporary art exhibitions. Fundamentally in line with Mr. Gopnik’s take, I wrote him the following email:

Dear Mr. Gopnik,
Thank you for the thoughtful and well written article. A personal experience if I may.

canwereallylook

A moment of “calm” during a blockbuster
exhibition. Islooking at pictures this way
really doing any good?

The most memorable Vermeer exhibition I have ever attended was held in Modena Italy (2007), and featured, perhaps, Vermeer’s “worst” work: the National Gallery Lady Seated at the Virginals. Vermeer’s small picture was flanked by Dirck van Baburen’s Procuress (which appears in the background of Vermeer’s composition), a select few Dutch paintings, period instruments similar to those found in Vermeer’s painting, a few pieces of Delft ceramics and silence, a great deal of it. Witnessing one-to-one how Vermeer had transformed the seedy creatures of Baburen’s bordello scene, a few hand-carved wooden instruments, humble ceramic tiles and genre interiors depicted by modest artists, was moving.

The expert choice and physical proximity of the objects exhibited, both humble and lofty, made one another resonate. Obviously, the exhibition did not transform the late Vermeer into a masterwork, but it afforded insight (I would imagine rather inexpensively) not only about how the artist digested the world in which he lived and bizarrely elaborated it in paint, but something about the peculiar artist himself. Thanks to the curator Bert W. Meijer, this exhibition showed me something about the faint gray Lady Seated at the Virginals  that had always escaped me when I encountered her in the halls of National Gallery.

My best,
Jonathan Janson

2 Responses to “Are blockbuster art exhibitions doing more damage than good?”

  1. art exhibitions

    A well known art dealer Ivan Lindsay states that “Even if reports of the death of the blockbuster exhibition are somewhat exaggerated, it’s true that galleries are having to change the way they stage big shows” .

  2. Jonathan Janson

    One gets the feeling that blockbuster art exhibitions are better to looked at from a distance than experienced. But by now, the self-feeding cycle is will not be easy to break. Probably a matter of finding a more sustainable model and reshaping of the museums’ goals.

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