Thursday, August 7, 2014

Vanishing Museums

Time was when art museums considered themselves guardians of art, bringing together the artistic heritage in safe-keeping under the care of the curator — the caretaker — and making the works accessible to those interested in seeing them with their own eyes.  Today major museums, in particular the famed ones, purportedly carrying on the same mission, have become promoters more intent on bringing in more visitors than seeing to that they look and see what they won’t find elsewhere. They allow the crowd the galleries to jostle and make seeing the works a big hassle.  Moreover,  the visitors, too busy snapping pictures of the works they no doubt want to own vicariously for viewing in reproduction back home, neglect looking at the actual works with their own eyes and cultivate the excitement of experiencing them firsthand; small scale replicas of masterworks are readily available nowadays on line, after all, and they capture the subject and the composition but only as a general idea, enough for identification but hardly sufficient for the understanding of the works. What is the point of visiting a museum in person unless we inspect and examine the displayed works in life — in their full dimensions, accurate scale, perfect palette, minute details, the traces of the artist’s hand in brushwork and texture, and sense of space as captured from the appropriate viewing distance.  Photography in museums, with appropriate exceptions, should be prohibited entirely to encourage visitors to look and see.  True, art should be made accessible to many democratically, but the museums must insist on educating the visitors to see the works.  Their directors today, however, too eager for volumes of visitors and the revenue they bring in, are much too often losing their museums for tourist attractions.  Alas.

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