Saturday, September 15, 2007

"If an artist who conceived a work says that it is unfinished and should not be exhibited, it isn’t — and shouldn’t be. End of story."

So says Roberta Smith in a piece on the front page of the Arts section of Sunday's New York Times. It begins: "When a museum behaves badly, it’s never pretty. But few examples top the depressing spectacle at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art."

Other highlights:
  • "By opening this show without [Büchel's] assent, the museum has broken faith with the artist, the public and art itself."
  • "Although museums still focus most of their energy on finished works ..., they now routinely function as patrons, using their budgets to help artists create works from scratch. ... [But] there are dangers, including the possibility that in controlling the purse strings, a museum starts thinking of itself as a co-author who knows what the artist wants better than he or she does."
  • "Initially I felt some sympathy for Mass MoCA. ... But when the museum became set on opening the unfinished piece over Mr. Büchel’s objections, my sympathy evaporated. And when I visited Mass MoCA, my sentiments curdled."
  • "[B]y opening this strange quasi display, MassMoCA does even more damage to itself and to its reputation as a steward of art and as a conduit between living artists and the public."
  • "My first thought while walking among the tarps is that no one working at the museum had ever seen a finished Büchel, which would be pretty astonishing, especially since a very large Büchel installation was on view in London while things were unraveling in North Adams."
  • "[T]he museum has removed the bar that was part of the Büchel piece to make way for 'Made at Mass MoCA,' a self-serving, slapped-together display of photographs of previous installations. ... Beyond that and up a flight of stairs, things get stranger still. ... On [one] wall newspaper articles and editorials about the controversy are pinned to the wall, although a scathing indictment of Mass MoCA by The Boston Globe’s art critic is absent. The museum deserves to be scathed."
  • "In the end it doesn’t matter how many people toil on a work of art, or how much money is spent on it. The artist’s freedom includes the right to say, 'This is not a work of art unless I say so.'"