Friday, July 13, 2012

Recommended: New Yorker profile of Nicholas Serota

I feel like I'm probably the last person in the world with an interest in museums to have read the Nicholas Serota profile in the July 2 New Yorker. I finally read it today (or in the terminology I like to use here more of late, I fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinally read it today) and recommend it.

If you have trouble tracking a copy down, you can find a link to a PDF here at Real Clear Arts.

One thing the story definitely comes back to again and again (as does the Real Clear Arts post) is the spectrum of opinion that exists in the art world about whether museums should be lively, casual, community friendly spaces or not. One of the big arguments against that comes up is that this type of space is not adequately reverential towards the art itself, or doesn't encourage a reverence or deep engagement--that it ultimately distracts from the art.

Personally, I think even in a quiet, reverential environment, many people spend only a few moments looking at most of the art. A reverential environment does not in itself guarantee reverence in the viewer, in my opinion.

Of course, I can be reasonable about this and say that there are limits--that a lot of noise and distraction is not conducive to a very deep art experience either. But if distraction and noise and crowds themselves are verboten to these types of museum critics, why do very respected museums manage to maintain that respect while hosting huge parties, galas and openings? Why do so few critics object to art being a backdrop at those types of experience? Or why is that not such a big deal to them?

I'm going down the rabbit hole of imagined argument a bit here.

To step back and summarize, I have to say I find Serota and Tate's commitment to public access and friendliness inspiring. And I was very impressed to learn in this article that their free collection admission is still maintained with just 40% of its funding coming from the government. By comparison, the National Gallery of Canada has been receiving roughly 80% of its funding from the government, and the permanent collection costs money to see most hours of the week.

I also appreciate that the article/Serota also pointed out that it's not just free admission, but strong exhibitions, that also make a museum popular. And that artists are to be integrated into the process of developing the museum too, or shaping it. 

(Image of Tate Modern by Michael Reeve from Wikimedia)

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