Monday, January 2, 2012

Hot Mess

This is from a blog post Aaron Betsky, the Cincinnati Art Museum Director, wrote concerning "The Collections:  6,000 Years of Art," a big new exhibit at the CAM:

"The one issue that will not be addressed through these additions is whether these new displays treat the works of art with appropriate respect. The Schmidlapp Gallery turns each work into an icon, and in so doing removes it from the historical context in which most art museums (including this one) usually show such artifacts. In The Collections, the opposite happens: you have to look at what we think is an important work of art without many of the usual framing devices. For us, the questions both of these approaches, as well as some of the others we will be unveiling over the next year or two, raise get to the point of what an art museum does: at least in part, it makes the artifact into what we think of as a work of art through the way it displays that object or image. By varying how we do that, we want you to be aware of that process, and maybe even to be part of it."

Beautiful things to think about.

When you are in the thick of the exhibit, confronted with the "salon-style" onslaught of paintings and objects in "The Collections," meaning gets twisted out of itself until all you have left is stuff.  For the most part it is beautiful and interesting stuff, but stuff none-the-less.  Pictures and objects get summarily delegitimized through this process of egalitarian chic, and yet they also become somehow more sympathetic, more of this earth, to the point you start thinking about how much money these things cost, and why are/were these things worthy of museum-ness in the first place?  Just because they're here doesn't mean they mean anything.  That's kind of what this "hot mess" tactic of display shows us, and I'm happy about that.  The honesty Betsky is extolling is worth a little brain time.  It seems like he's deconstructing the institution he is in charge of.  Good for him.

Museums. churches, universities, and other institutions that are in charge of delivering meaning to us can often ossify into palaces ran by emperors with no clothes.  "The Collections" at its very core is allowing us to reconsider that hierarchy thoroughly and without a lot of drama.  The Schmidlapp Gallery becomes a cosmic, epistemological Salvation Army Store.  I felt both inundated with objects and somehow set free from their preconditioned purposes and attractions.  The one painting that makes its way out of the mess most distinctively (for me at least) is Phillip Guston's magnificent mean-spirited celebration of creepiness.  It has the vibrant stasis of a concussion taking place inside an overdecorated dream.