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Art is not dead


I make no secret that I am an art museum junkie.  Whenever I travel for work or pleasure, I try to carve out time to visit a local exhibit, museum, or commercial gallery.  Most of the time I find the experience calming, challenging, reflective, and immensely enjoyable — especially at smaller museums or galleries.  Other times — especially at the best-known museums — I find the very opposite.  The crowds of trophy seekers (you know, the ones who visit the Louvre just to see the Mona Lisa, crowd the room, the leave) make the experience crass and commercialized.  Instead of trying to explore new ways of visualizing and interpreting the world of the artist, so many people want to check the box, take a pic, then chase the next conquest.  

If I am in the National Gallery in DC (although I much prefer the Phillips Collection or the Hirshhorn), I spend my time with the Dutch Masters or the Raphaels and skip the Impressionists.  Nothing personal, Monsieur Monet, but I still have bruises from the babey strollers from my last attempt to see your work.  MOMA has a stunning collection of modern art trophies that are very well curated, displayed, and explained, but I dare you to try to look at a Van Gogh without having a mobile phone blocking your view.  The Phillips has three Van Goghs by the way, hanging quietly in an old sitting room with maybe 2-3 people looking at them — a much more pleasant experience.


So does that mean art is becoming just another tourist attraction?  I used to fear that, but I saw an announcement from an artist collective in England featuring Banksy and (meh) Damien Hirst that gives me great hope.  Set up in the town of Weston-super-Mare, Dismaland is an art exhibit laid out like a theme park that features “amusement and anarchism.”  A look at some of the news articles (such as this one from The Guardian) give you an idea of what he (and they) have designed, but this is a tremendousely exciting development.  Art is big, it is out of the marble and Doric columned museums, it is away from the million-dollar auctions with bidding hedge fund managers, and it is pushing the boundaries without relying on cheap shocks.


Art is most definitely not dead — it is simply thriving away from the traditional palaces where the trophy hunters roam.

P.S.  One day after posting this, the Atlanta Journal Constitution published this article on the lack of decorum in major art museums.  Remember, you heard it here first! 

© Steve Ritchie 2018