Monday, 10 January 2011

12 days, 2 museums a day

In early December we spent three days in Washington, DC and another 9 in New York City. Each day I set out to see whatever new exhibitions interested me and by the time I returned to Kansas I could count that I'd been to at least two museums a day. Most days this meant I went to many more than two exhibitions, since the major museums now schedule multiple large exhibitions at a time. I rarely had time to re-visit permanent collections, and in New York especially I skipped perhaps a dozen major venues. In some cases I just glanced at the shows and in others I tried to recod appropriate review materials. But in the end, it seems better to itemize most of what I saw.

One of the larger conclusions I made from this trek was that museums are still making major exhibitions out of rather few objects, for example the National Gallery's Arcimboldo exhibition, which has an enormous banner for a show of 16 paintings, three of which are copies (presumably by the artist). Often the small shows are delightful, informative and envigorating, although occasionally I thought the musuem was making an event from not much. Contrasted to these smaller and often delightful displays are still some extremely large exhibitions that might have benefited by more aggressive editing. Some of these are perfectly enchanting, but others went on well beyond my own ability to stay interested. The obvious conclusion is that the size of an exhibition might well be determined by the type of works being shown, that fewer objects might tell the story more effectively than more, but that any type of object has a critical mass necessary to give it appropriate attention and scholarly weight.

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