Post-Minimal Museums: Reprehensible?

“After encountering so many bare walls and open spaces, after examining so many amalgams of photography, altered objects, seductive materials and conceptual puzzles awaiting deciphering, I started to feel as if it were all part of a big-box chain featuring only one brand.

The goal in organizing museum exhibitions, as in collecting, running a gallery and — to cite the most obvious example — being an artist, should be individuation and difference, finding a voice of your own. Instead we’re getting example after example of squeaky-clean, well-made, intellectually decorous takes on that unruly early ’70s mix of Conceptual, Process, Performance, installation and language-based art that is most associated with the label Post-Minimalism.”

Thus Roberta Smith, in New York Times article Post Minimal to the Max, begins to delve into what she would like to see the museums of New York begin doing in their shows. Hint: the key word is differentiation. The recent shows of Gabriel Orozco at MoMA, Tino Sehgal at the Guggenhiem, and Urs Fischer at the New Museum might be zeitgeist in action rather than reprehensible, but Smith argues that focusing on one thing creates a simplified art history by that very action. She points to artists, often those whose work is hand made or seems personally driven, who might merit a show that would be more than blank walls.

These recent exhibitions have much the same feel, and Smith’s point that it is at the expense of other aesthetics and styles. Ben Wadler at Artcards describes the situation as “reminiscent of one recently put forth by the White House, attributing the success of Fox News to the simple fact that it is selling the clearest narrative for people to follow. So too in the Art world do we want clarity, and the more others are following something, the less likely will it be a waste of our time to do the same.” I’m not sure exactly what the solution is, but I agree that something is wrong when Smith could write that;

“the idea of seeing a survey of contemporary painting at the Modern makes me squirm. It would look — I don’t know — too messy and emotional, too flat, too un-MoMA.”

Certainly the image we have of a museum ought to be one that reflects all the art in its mission. I would enjoy it if museums presented smaller, more intimate exhibitions for two reasons. It would allow for more, different work to be seen. Big exhibitions often have a big wow! factor, but not as much depth–or perhaps I am simply too overwhelmed and distracted to appreciate the nuances. However, change could be even simpler: as Smith asks, and obviously I’m biased, but why hasn’t a NY museum arranged to take on the new Chris Ofili retrospective currently in London?

Curators are under pressure to make sure their exhibitions succeed, and the exhibitions listed are certainly popular. More than that, they are good in their own right. So how do you ask a museum to change its curatorial program? Do the collective museums of New York have a duty to present a comprehensive view of art?


2 thoughts on “Post-Minimal Museums: Reprehensible?

  1. This is tangential, but it seemed beautiful to me. I read on a Minneapolis blog that once every ten years, the museum shows one 12 x 12 inch work of every artist who signs up.

    More to the point, oh, coherence of the narrative, this is true not only in the art world, we live in chaos, and people with money who buy art probably want to be reassured of safety in buying a clear narrative when they purchase art. I appreciate the parallel with Fox News you cite.

    I liked this recent post on design which I think relates on another blog:

  2. Thanks for stopping by and sharing!

    Not only is that a way to show many local, living artists but what a different way of experiencing art…I think that could be lovely.

    I’ll have a look at the link.

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