Day By Day

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Franz West at the BMA

Also this weekend "She Who Must Be Named" and I spent some time at the new Franz West show at the Baltimore Museum of Art. The exhibits are certainly eye-catching and there are some cute ideas on display, but I must confess that I just don't get what all the excitement is about. It all seems sorta adolescent to me.

One of the docents and I got into a long discussion as to whether or not the museum was subverting the artists' intentions. West always held that many of his works were meant to be inhabited -- that you could step inside them and experience them as an environment, but at the BMA they were strictly off limits. She finally admitted that the restrictions were not imposed by the museum, but by the private collectors who had lent the pieces.

Fair enough, but that raises the whole question of just how authentic museum exhibits are. Works are artificially presented and the decision of how they are to be seen and experienced is being made not made by the artist himself, but by patrons, collectors and museum directors. This points up an important understanding. Contrary to the romantic myth of the individual genius that informs so many works of art history, the manufacture and presentation of art has always been a collaborative enterprise [for a wonderful treatment of the subject read Lisa Jardine's magnificent interpretation of Renaissance culture, Worldly Goods -- it's one of the best history books I have ever encountered].

The West work isn't, to my mind, very good, but it shows flashes of ingenuity and viewing it gave me something interesting to think about -- and isn't that really a large part of why we go to galleries and museums in the first place?

We weren't supposed to take pictures of the works -- the picture above is a partial view from outside the exhibit hall. Here, however, is a posting by someone who took a camera into the opening reception and snapped away with abandon. Next week we will be back there attending a director's tour and I'll try to get some better pictures then.