As you know, I got a little agitated last week. Here are some of the more nuanced responses to last week’s New York Times piece on experience in (art) museums. If you’re a glutton for punishment, the Times has helpfully gathered together some of the letters to the editor about the article (complete with a lovely illustration of a blindfolded visitor whacking a Calder mobile with a stick. Way to keep it classy, New York!)
Samuel Basson (@samuelbasson)
The kind of quiet contemplation of objects she favors has its place in contemporary museums, and so does experience—sometimes even experiences that might seem on first glance frivolous.
We have found that one type of art does not cheapen the other. [Emphasis mine]
What Samuel has expressed is a truth that I think is hard for visitors to comprehend, and easy to ignore – the “museum audience” is a construct with little basis in reality. The motivations for visiting a museum are diverse, and our audiences often come with conflicting expectations. In Dobrzynski’s circles, the sentiment may be that art museums are catering less to their preferred way of experiencing art in favor of other ways.
Courtney Johnston, (@auchmill)
Best of 3: One foot in the art world
The Sleep No More phenomena – which had museum thinkers flogging themselves to think of ways to bring the aesthetic and involvement of interactive theatre into galleries – caused me to wonder whether museums and galleries have a quiet but deep envy of their more immediately, physically affecting cousins: dance, theatre and music.
At the same time, decrying the programming of a Martin Creed work as experience-seeking – a desire to ‘activate’ the museum – seems a little offbeam…
The Creed work Dobrzynski focuses on – Work No. 965: Half the Air in a Given Space -is interactive, experiential. That’s how the artist made it. That’s how the museum is obligated to show it. Any other decision would lose integrity. And that seems to me to be where Dobrzynski goes a little off-kilter here: it is not necessary (sic) the museum approach that has changed, but the art. [Emphasis mine] Sure, museums are responding to the reactions they see from audiences (who do, by and large, enjoy experiential works) but they are also responding to generations of artists who have decided to make the viewer or visitor part of the work.
Ah, Courtney! You have put your finger on something important. Is Dobrzynski’s concern misdirected, or is it just easier to point at art museums because they’re an easy, immobile target for a larger dislike of contemporary art?
This point is shared by a Daphpne Nash, a freelance writer in New York.
Is museum programming too “experiential”?
[E]xperiential events should not displace authoritative, educational programming. Really what Dobrzynski is talking about here are spectacles, performances and game-like adventures meant to entertain. Or at least that’s how she frames it up. But if “experiences” are a trend in our culture, it only makes sense that contemporary art would reflect this. [Emphasis mine] And museums, for the purposes of this post, are about art.
Have I missed anything else interesting?