Wednesday, January 10, 2007

dumbing down art

I think have to agree with Hill and do believe there are other ways to attract young and new art goers that don't involve gaudy banners and gimmicky shows. Detroit isn't ny or la but maybe others will take us serious when we start to take ourselves seriously! But check out the story for yourself!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gimmicky installations such as the ballet barre are definitely awful but I think we have to wait and see what Mr. Beal means when he says "interactive installations."

If this means a computer installed in the gallery that has a touch screen illustrating biographical information of an artist, how he or she fits into history, influences, etc., I think that could be very nice depending on how it is done with minimal intrusion.

This could be beneficial to those people not steeped in art history and I personally get tired of reading paragraphs and paragraphs of text in every room.

But, if Beal means more installations such as those Christina cited then I don't blame her for leaving the DIA.

3:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! What an article! I have to agree with Christina, although I have not stepped foot into the DIA in about 2 years (which is rather pathetic seeing as how I live less than a half mile from it).
If patrons want a hands-on experience they can walk around the corner to the Science Museum, simple as that.
Brian's idea of a "touch screen" with misc info on the art/artist is a great idea, but I think it could be incorperated in a better way. Those touch-screens would get trashed darn fast!
I think I'll head over there tomorrow before I say anything else : )

7:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I very much enjoyed Hill's article and hope that it is the catylist for many more voices to assert an end to these rather inane practices. The Whistler exhibition, the Daimler Chrysler Corp's Minimalism Collection exhibition...these were outstanding shows that rival any museum exhibit ive seen in New York, Chicago, Europe... They did well(very well) without hands on entertainment.

Don't Eat the Pictures.... NO NO NO
Don't Touch the Statues..... NO NO NO
Don't Put up Playgrounds.... NOOO

10:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I generally agree with Hill on this; however, I just read a farily pertainent article that discusses the fact that our cultural institutions (museums, academia, etc..) are doing a poor job of reflecting "culture." It certainly begs the question: when more people are voting on American Idol than going to museums or reading contemporary lit., what is defined as culture? Is "culture" reserved for the educated eliete? Does interactivity negate culture?

Well, here is the article:

its a bit dry and academic at parts, but short and definetly worth checking out. Again, I don't necessarily agree w/ the author's assertion, but its certainly an interesting debate.

In the context of the DIA, there's not an inherent problem w/ interactivity and educational elements that explore materials and process, but they needs to be displayed seperate from the work itself. I.E. coordinate a fabric painting class to run in tandem with the Borch show, though as a seperate operation, in a seperate part of the building. If done tactfully, this will bring people in, and have them leaving with a fuller experience.

Perhaps the DIA should consider showing some more contemporary artists that utilize interactive elements in their work. Hint, hint, Matthew Ritchie retrospective, hint, hint.

9:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cooper: As much as I would like to see a Ritchie retrospective (somehwere) the DIA only goes for the blockbuster stuff(impressionism, classical, gold, egypt, etc.). The big money makers.

I believe the last time they had a contemporary or modern exhibit was the collection of DaimlerChrysler a couple years back, which was fairly strong but its pretty obvious why they put on that show.

Once the whole museum is open again they should at least consider staging smaller shows of contemporary art. The Indianapolis Museum of Art does this very well.

I wonder when the last time the DIA even curated a contemporary exhibit in house that travelled?

I know they were looking for an associate contemporary curator so maybe this is something they are working towards? My fingers are crossed.

10:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Art doesn't reflect culture, it is our culture. And it isn't a popularity contest with American Idol.
Attendance at art museums has skyrocketed in the last few years - elsewhere. And without all the gimmicks.
At New York's MOMA, despite the huge increase in entrance fees. And off the charts in England, where they've done away with entrance fees altogether.

11:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Yea, it's kind of a strange situation. The DIA does definetly have a tendancy to show "big names" in the larger historical sense because most patrons have heard of Degas, and feel much more compelled to go as a result of that recognition. However, I think the "schtickyness" is a result of some people feeling disengaged from the work. This disengagement is a result of many "average" people not having the broader historical context of this work.

So the DIA promotes shows of artists that everyone has heard of, and though many of these people might not have the full story on the work, these artists have made it into the history books because art critics and historians (w/ perhaps a fuller context) have recognized them. So (presumably) the DIA sets up these shows to bring patrons in based off of name recognition, but (presumbably) patrons feel disengaged, and as a result of this disengagement, the DIA has to suppliment the show w/ some silly displays to keep people's attention.

I sincerely think that if promoted correctly, the DIA could sucessfully host a show of an artist(s) of lesser "historical recognition" that features interactive/multimedia art, and circumvents the entire disengagement issue.

p.s. I just got the catalogue from the Print show in New Jersey. Your piece looked great!

11:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris D:

Agreed, art does not reflect culture it is cutlture. Its these institutions (museums, etc.) that should be reflecting culture.

I think the overarching issue is that some people feel that the DIA is not accuratly reflecting contemporary culture, and feels the need to "flair up" the classics.

So if you think of a museum as a vessle of culture, you can (kind of) equate it with a radio station. The DIA is like a radio station that only plays Romantic Classical music. Now that certainly IS culture, but it's geared towards a very specific audience and rather than integrating some comtempoary classical music (or any other genre) to the mix, the dia is essentially supplementing Rachminanov w/ a loud silly DJ.

...........and loud silly DJ's are culture too, but should probably have a different time slot than the classics.

12:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cooper: Whose print are you referring to?

12:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I was referring to Brian Barr's monotype in a show we were in a little while ago.

I totally got confused.

sorry about that


1:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"in Los Angeles, the museum has actually become the scene for young hipsters on Saturday nights, with videos, DJs and drinks — which is, importantly, an appeal to the audience's sophistication and not their stupidity." Yes, because young "hipsters" out for the liquor is a reflection of their SOPHISTICATION.

Congradulations to Bael for thinking outside the norm. Did it occur to Christina that LA and NY don't have the same CHALLENGES that the DIA has here? It has nothing to do with sophistication, but you can't deny the facts that Detroit attendance to the DIA is low (and lower than other cities' attendance to their institutions). So, they should just keep doing what's not working...? Stupid.

This article is an abhorrent example of exactly the snobby attitude that is driving these types of institutions into the ground. If a ballet installation brings in guests, or helps them to reflect (haha) on Degas--- how the hell is that a bad thing?! If you think it's too "low-brow" there's a whole gallery for you to explore: skip that part.

The Field Museum in Chicago I hold as an excellent example of a diversified museum. I am an Egyptian afficianado: can't get enough. Their exhibit is the most excellent in the country. But next door is an exhibit about bugs: giant life size bugs. Bugs don't really do it for me. Definitly not for hours on end. So, I skip that. I don't go around saying "I can't believe the Field museum would sink to exhibiting BUGS".

Christine makes the stand that the DIA should have everything for her--- and not something for everyone. Dissapointing.

And then there are these comments about : art doesn't reflect culture, art IS culture. LOL. And talk about "average" people. What fucking elitism. It makes me sick. Cultural institutions should be for everyone: imagine if our libraries only catered to Literature PhDs.

Though it doesn't surprise me that Detroit would fail to appreciate a Ballet Barre. Detroit is one of the few cities without a Ballet Performing Troupe, and the Symphony Orchestra isn't do so hot, either. I remember being able to get tickets to the American Ballet Company when they toured to Det. for $15 (what would have cost me $150 in NY) and the theatre was half empty! And the performance was a mazing! So, cheers to the DIA for exposing Detroiters to something very few have seen: a Ballet Barre. Can you appreciate Degas if you can't grasp the subject matter (skill aside)? Can you appreciate the subject matter (ballet) if you have never BEEN to a ballet, stood at a barre? Afterall, Degas sat in Ballet Studios, contemplating not just the dancers but their surrounding. I would think what is good enough for Degas would be good enough for Detroiters...

I can't beleive there would be this backlash and elitist disgust for someone who tried to do something engaging. Christine goes on and on about how it's insulting, how clearly Beal thinks Detroiters are stupid, when all he seems to be trying to do is engage more people in a new way and give them a fuller experience. And I would argue that this type of multi-layers prescence is more sophisticated on the part of the museum--- but, I know, that would be an unpopular stance.

Go see "La danseuse aux chaussons" at the DIA. Then go home and listen to Tchaikovsky. Then go out and get yourself a ballet ticket. You can get them in Detroit. Cheap.

Isn't this the type of chain of events that would truly make art = culture?

2:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So there is no doubt an aire of elitism in the article (especially in her dislike for the overweight and hyperactive), but more importantly it raises the question of what a museum does to increase patronage. Do these activities distract us from the art? I have no problem w/ a museum trying to broaden its appeal to a larger group of people, its commendable, but doing so requires tact, and that's the issue.

I also think we are assuming an awfully negative stigma upon the word "average" when in fact no one is uber-knowledgable about everything.

M. mentions the ballet.

When it comes to the ballet I would consider myself an "average" person. I know very little about ballet and I have a minimal motivation to go to the ballet. However, if the ballet has some sort of hip-hop battle rap in it, I might be more interested. Does this mean that the ballet should consider battle rap interludes to bring in more people? If they did, you could possibly understand why "traditional" patrons would see this as distracting and diluting the performance. And that's what all the huff is about.

Ok, so admittedly the battle rap ballet is a bit absurd, but consider that it is possible to have sensory overload. That all of these supplementary elements may be distracting us from the work and essentially self-defeating if not implemented carefully.

4:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm only going to talk about contemporary art. i don't need a ballet barre to engage with it. in fact, it may even have such a barre embedded in it - a la installation or whatever. or even a loud silly dj as part of a performance.
you don't have to geek it up with booze and reggae bands - it's entertainment enough.
barbara kruger thinks viewing new art is like reading the day's newspaper. we don't need someone else to read it for us, to explain what we're reading/viewing/living. we either can engage or not - depending on the success of the work.
the chapman brothers view new art as fetishes.
either way, i find it wonderful.

12:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't find Hill's article elitist at all. She's addressing the art to be viewed. As art, straight on.
I find other writers' comments here the result of promotional tactics pumped into their brains: The idea that we have to trick people into looking at art.

12:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't need to take a botany class to appreciate Monet's Waterlilies. I saw repros in books, and thought ho-hum. Then I saw them in person - knocked me down.
I never took an Art class, history or otherwise, in my life. That doesn't make me an elitist for enjoying Van Gogh or Seurat, or even Hirst sometimes.
Part of what's wrong with the Art system is the belief that you have to be educated in the arts or its history to even view them. And that's where the intimidation factor comes in.
The idea that we have to make art "fun" and accessible for the general public. Disneyfication.
I remember listening to some famous conductor on NPR about ten years ago, saying the general public couldn't truly enjoy music like he did, or like musicians do. I thought that was a stupid elitist statement. I've since grown up and learned to play several instruments, and composed and had my own band. I enjoy music for all the same reasons as before.
Saying that every and anyone can enjoy art without sideshows isn't elitist. Quite the opposite.

I think my grandfather would've called such strategies "hucksterism." I'm not sure what that means, but maybe has something to do with snake oil.

10:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These comments (and the article, which I found ridiculous) reflect a group of people locked up in their own microchosm that can't see, much less appreciate, the bigger picture.

What M. failed to mention, but I think might have been hinting at, is the raw numbers involved here. NYC: population of 8million. Detroit: population of 800,000. The cross-section of individuals who can appreciate art in the way the author expects is, maybe, 1% (for arguements sake. It's probably less). 1% in NYC is 80,000 patrons. 1% in Detroit is 8,000. When you're talking about the reality of what it requires to keep a metropolitan gallery running: salaries, aquisitions, maintenance, it becomes obvious that Detroit has to find a way to appeal to more than just the echelon of people who have been trained (formally in school, or informally at home/self) to sit and appreciate art in the traditional sense.

Now you can pose further arguements that a public institutions is (should be) culturally obligated to serve more than just a thin eschelon of persons (I like the comparison to the library offering only the classics and not magazines, pulp fiction, etc., but M. has appearantly not stepped into a Detroit library recently, becuse s/he would have found that that is an institution that is all but gone already, a discussion for another forum).

The author is an Art Historian. Most of the posters on this blog are art students, or recent grads. What's dissapointing is the lack of willingness to consider how an art institution might engage with the "average" visitor to the DIA who is not an Art Historian or an Art student. That's the point the author fails to give creedance to, and should be praising the DIA administration for. Now, could the "interactive" elements be better. Maybe. But to say that they should not exist at all is disturbingly shortsighted.

11:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nolan: True, but the difference is that most people have seen flowers (even waterlillies) without the aid of a botany class. Ballet is a less universal subject matter. Which was NOT the case when Degas was alive: Ballet was a much more universal entertainment. And I'm not saying that you can't appreciate the work knowing nothing of ballet: you can. But it's so much more when you know the subject matter, as with anything. So why get down on the DIA for trying to help its patrons understand the subject matter better so they can appreciate the art more?

Cooper: obviously you know nothing of modern Ballet. Ballet - Rap has been done for almost a decade. Here's an example:
Ballet has always been beautifully flexible and as an artform has thrived because of that breadth of flexibility. In this I would say Fine Art could learn a thing or two. In the performing arts you have to be conscious of your audience in a way that visual artists are never trained to be (and shouldn't be!) but that Art institutions like the DIA MUST be. There is so much more than "The Nutracker" every xmas. In fact, I (and many ballet afficiandos) would argue that it's the clutching to traditional ballets like "the nutracker" that really dilutes the catalogue.

Anon- I'm a she, thanks. And I've never been that great at actual numbers, but yes I figured it was something like 9-10%, I was just too lazy to go out and find the facts.

11:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

m: As I mentioned previously, I know nothing about ballet. How was that obvious? By my already admitting it?

More importantly, I think we are again confusing the art w/ the venue. M's example actually reinforces my point.

So imagine that there is a ballet house that wants to broaden the demographic of its audience. And said ballet house does some research to find that many of their potential patrons love rap music. Should the ballet house interject the nutcracker (old classic) w/ some rap music ? or try featuring something like "Preadator's Ball" from the Times article?

I personally love the classics, but if the DIA is looking to reach out to a broader audience, I think that putting some bells and whisles on a Rembrant is the wrong way of going about it. It's especially absured when you know that plenty of more contemporary art is itself interactive with the audience but not being shown at the DIA.

I do certainly agree that a cultural institution not considering a broader audience is shortsighted and irresponsible, but I think this is best done by revaluating the art that is featured rather than with rediculious banners and the like.

1:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

cooper- i agree with your last point. but then wouldn't the DIA and MOCAD be overlapping? And your assertion that these two things: contemporary art & interaction / historical art & hushed silence are mutually exclusive. What is the real hangup with bringing historical art into a modern context (modern context meaning displayed in a way that appeals to our modern mode of comprehensive experience)?

Please don't get me wrong, I am genuinly trying to understand. Because it seems to me that there is the throw-back idea that we must be Victorian (quiet, hands in pockets, contemplative) to appreciate art. The entire gallery system of expectations in this sense is a reflection of Victorian era values and ideas of proper, parlour behavior. We have overthrown those ideas in realms of education, museums, social life, etc.... and yet it persists in Art Galleries, theatres.

What about viewing art REQUIRES silence, zen, empty benches, with only the peice of art in view and isolated...? Is it possible that we are clinging to a status quo modus operendi for the sake of it?

What is it about the ballet barre that is distracting: what is it that makes the traditional art-goers so uncomfortable with a diverse (the disnification of the ballet barre) and in some ways more commercialized approach (the banners)?

4:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So let's hand out swords to the audience before a Shakespeare play! So they can really appreciate it. The play's not the thing after all.
And before a ballet have everyone dress up in a swan dress like Bjork so's we can understand what it means to be a bird who can dance.

12:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know it's apples and oranges, but I've been to gallery shows here that were swamped with people of all ages and demographics (rich to poor, young to old). No bands, no alcohol, no ballet barres -- just art.
So it can happen at the gallery level (for whatever reasons).

Maybe the DIA just doesn't have a great collection after all. Most the paintings seem decorative - those at least pre-19th century. Maybe they should just sell-off the purely dry historical stuff by unknown artists and invest that money in some knockout work.

11:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I still don't understand how putting a ballet barre next to a Degas painting educates anyone about ballet, let alone expands their experience of dance itself -- forget the art of painting.

They should dole out tickets to the next ballet performance at the Music Hall or Max, or have RED SHOES playing in a nearby gallery.

Juvenile thinking behind such tactics!

10:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The DIA should be more like the DAM

7:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Up until the mid-19th century, art was about Christianity and Greek mythology. Should we have catechism classes at the DIA so that we can appreciate a great painting when we see it?! Should we make everyone convert to Christianity, at least for the day?
Or even a booth staffed by a moyl to explain why those images with the infant Christ show him circumcised?

And in the contemporary galleries in order to view a Kara Walker we'll need to have a certificate proving we've had sex with a dead Confederate soldier.

12:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm just still so surprised by the vehemenance against doing something that's out of the norm for Art Galleries and yet old hat for similar institutions like Museums.

You can come up with as many absurd examples as you want. But I encourage you to bend your mind instead around the potential of a well-integrated add-on, and the POV of someone without an art degree to whom art is not quite so sacred to begin with.

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"SmartWorlds collaborates with HP, Bill Perry of and Prosum Inc., and Boston's Nature and Inquiry artists group, to create the first integration of Flash, GPS and PocketPC in a location-aware art exhibit. Visitors borrow an HP iPAQ 5450 from the Copley Society of Art on Newbury Street and walk through the Boston Public Garden and Common. As they walk content is triggered based on their longitude and latitude and they see and hear ideas on the PDA. Once they return to the gallery the tracings of their walks are uploaded and displayed on a map of the area. Invisible Ideas was awarded First Jurors Prize by the Copley Society of Art!"

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My point being that add-on items that broaden the experience can be integrated quite sophisticatedly. Perhaps the DIA has not. But at least they're trying to create a more layered experience to engage both novice and seasoned visitors.

The zeal with which you all want to dictate how is the RIGHT way to view/appreciate art (quietly sitting on a bench in silence) is really surprising to me.

If you wanted to push the absurd extream even further you could have argued against including tags as viewers should KNOW the work they are seeing, and complimentary wine&cheese is equally superfluous if we're solely attending for the ART, only.

You can embrace change, or you can struggle against it (and pull your measly annual donation to the DIA in distaste like the author did). But the fact is that our cultural institutions are in a constant state of evolution, and art museums/galleries are no sacred exception. You can open a dialogue with the DIA and try to encourage them down a more sophisticated path, but you can't put your fists on your hips and say "I want the gallery to stay the way (i think) it's always been, or I'm stomping home". Well, I guess you can, but it sounds juvenile, doesn't it?

Which was how this article came across, and a lot of the comments.

1:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

M. is so misguided in his insulated world that doesn't allow art in -- without some magical key. The article wasn't saying that art is only for an initiated few, quite the opposite.

M. seems insulated by the need for add-ons, interpreters, gizmos, plug-ins to communicate with his world. Is this the "change" we all crave? Helpless without them. Frightened to approach art alone, unfettered. There is no right or wrong way to view art.

And it's a joke to think the DIA is disneyfying the experience for any other reason than to pull more numbers at the gate. It has nothing to do with the real experience. Nothing to do with educating people about art, about ballet, or whatever.

M. is saying only educated people can approach a painting without some sort of info wizard in hand.

What a loss for any real interaction!

5:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

aaron: that's not what I'm saying at all. (and, I'm a girl. And, I have an arts management degree, and I interact with art plenty, including collecting it, and not just visual art: I'm also active in the worlds of publishing and performance so I have a broad perspective of these issues).

My point is, simply, if you don't need/want it--- why can't you just look past it, why turn your back on the DIA entirely? Why deny others an interactive experience because YOU need something linear?

A few weeks ago I flew to Chicago for the King Tut exhibit: they had these MP3 headphone things that narrated for you. I knew more about the exhibit than what was on the MP3 lecture, so I didn't use mine after about the 1st 5 minutes. But I was willing to try it. And I would NEVER deny the other patrons who knew less about the exhibit the benefit of that type of component. The only difference between the Tut exhibit at the Field and the Degas exhibit at the DIA is the perceived idea that "art is sacred". The fact is, it's only sacred to a very small sect. The majority of attendees who are not art majors, would greatly embrace and appreciate such add-ons. Those who don't want them shouldn't judge quite so harshly: I just don't understand why you would so vehemenantly denounce something that allows someone else to get more out of their experience.

And if the DIA doesn't pull more numbers at the gate, how do you expect them to stay open, out of curiosity? So, OF COURSE, everything they do has to require keeping that fact in mind. But I don't remember seeing a single advertisement that listed the Ballet Installation at all, much less as a "must-see": so how EXACTLY did that aspect pull more numbers at the gate? Clearly it was meant to enhance the experience of the patrons already there.

6:11 PM  

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