Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Puzzling Paradox of Broad’s Basement

"If 90% of your work is in storage you need to begin lending it to other institutions. Get art out of the basements."
—Eli Broad, speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association of Museums, New York

The Hilbert Hotel is always full, yet it always has room for one more guest. It appears that Eli Broad has taken a leaf from this famous paradox (or maybe he saw Inception). Broad has an equally mind-bending plan for getting all the nation's art out of museum basements. Just lend it to other museums.
Museum #1 wants to show the great art it's got in storage. To do that, it must find a place to put the art it's already displaying in its exhibition galleries. It lends that art to Museum #2. This means that Museum #2 needs to free up space, so it lends the art it was exhibiting to Museum #3. And so on, and so on.
This isn't Broad's idea, it's David Hilbert's. His hotelkeeper can always free up a room by moving every guest from room N to room N+1. Needless to say, Hilbert was a mathematician, not a hotelkeeper. There's a fairly serious catch. Hilbert's scheme works only when the hotel has an infinite number of rooms.
Broad has long struck the quasi-populist note that evil, elitist museum directors are scheming to put art (Broad's art!) in storage. He's used this versatile talking point to justify yanking his collection from BCAM and building yet another museum to house it. (The new museum will reportedly be smaller than BCAM: Broad is a man of many paradoxes.) Broad talks as if everything in his 2000-piece collection can and must eventually be on permanent view. The art that's not in his planned museum will be lent out, notwithstanding the fact that this would require the equivalent of about ten Whitney Museums, sitting empty out in the hinterlands.
The bottom line is that there is more art than museum space to show it. Thus museum installations, particularly of contemporary art, are ever-changing and (to use the fashionable term) "curated." What's so bad about that?

2 comments:

Donald Frazell said...

There has been an explosion of art museum building for the last two decades. Colleges, government and personal mausoleums have gone up everywhere, and public entities bowed over to take these local bigwigs demands, and pay for much of the infrastructure and huge tax breaks. It has contributed to our national, state, and local debt, and overbuilding in wealthy areas, while neglecting our overall peoples economic, physical, and spiritual health. All to please potential political donors, who have evaded their civic duty with the Bush tax cuts and other loopholes to create a divide between the monetarily overvalued top and bottom as big as ever in our history. With little to show for their supposed superiority, airheads on enormous scale, as contempt art has blown up into vacuous surfaces of shiny puppies and pickled critters. Though the puppies are kina cool, in a daycare center kind of way.

But the age of excess is over, and time to put aside childish things. It is time to find a bonding of humanity, large tasks lay ahead, and the art world loves to point finger, at everyone but themselves, they are their masters elves, and toys their main concern to get their attention, and supposed largesse.

There is far more wasted white walls than at any point in human history, curators leave yards between neurotic pieces of psychobabble and academic illustrations, attempting to give them some sort of gravitas, which they lack completely. Use the walls you got, not being pompous and pretending the meaningless globs are precious, as investment their only worth, one gone with the latest economic debacle, which is far from over. Except for the filthy rich, they will play on, and build more playpens for their supposed grandeur.

Save the Watts/Rodia Towers, Nuestro Pueblo, tear down the rotten Ivories

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