Thursday, July 2, 2009

Out today: Review of George Ohr @ the Gardiner Museum

One show Toronto's Gardiner Museum has been promoting like crazy this summer is a touring exhibition on turn-of-the-century Mississippi ceramicist George Ohr.

Problem: While the advertising is blockbuster, the size of the show is most certainly not. It's about 30 objects or so, and located for the most part in the museum's "Focus Gallery" -- a quite small grouping of vitrines in the middle of a historical ceramics floor.

As I indicated in a review out today in NOW, I mostly enjoyed the show.

But I have a few issues with pumping up a small show to superstar status like this. At first I was uncertain about this assertion, but after digging up Roberta Smith's 1989 NYT review of an Ohr show, I felt more certain. In her review, Smith states, "The exhibition of 91 examples of Ohr's work that has just opened at the American Craft Museum could be larger and more complete." [bold mine]. If 91 works aren't enough, 30 sure ain't.

My feeling is that when a museum puts a lot of promotional hoo-ha into an exhibition, prompting someone to pay $12 to see it, the person paying that money is inevitably going to feel shortchanged if said exhibition can fit into one small room. And they'll ultimately feel worse about the museum no matter how interesting or historically important that little show is.

Granted, there is a lot of other great stuff to see at the Gardiner besides this show. But even though I'm generally a fan, I must note the walls in the contemporary collections area were a bit marked up and graffiti'd, the video booth darkened and turned off, and the presentation on the shabby side on my latest visit.

It's an unseemly time to get down on the Gardiner, with it being its 25th anniversary and all. And you don't need to be a genius to know them getting rid of their free Fridays--as well as many reciprocal admission agreements with other museums--that the institution is needing more financial support right now than press critique.

But I say it because I'm concerned -- what can the Gardiner to do to get honest with its patrons and back on track? It remains to be seen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are absolutely on point. Thirty George Ohr works of art is an unfair show to both the viewing public and the artist as well. Ohr was asked to send twelve pots to the Degado Museum (now the New Orleans Museum) for their permanent collection. He sent fifty to them. Ohr said " You can not judge Shakespeare by reading one line". The museum sent all fifty back to the potter. You cheat the art loving public from having and sharing a magnificant and unforgetable viewing experience.