Thursday, March 11, 2010

Do they ever stop wringing?

Kenneth Turan's generally positive review of "The Art of the Steal" ("Even if you believe that the art should stay where it is, it's hard not to wish that director Don Argott had made the film somewhat more balanced") refers to a 2004 piece by Roberta Smith -- written right after the court had approved the move -- that's really worth reading in full.

She begins by noting that the decision "has met with the usual wringing of art-world hands," but goes on to argue that "the gains may ultimately outweigh the losses." She says "the decision is a triumph of accessibility over isolation, of art over the egos of collectors and, frankly, of the urban over the suburban" and adds:

"The Barnes collection is not the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Barnes didn't make the art; he bought it, one movable object at a time. Very few things remain the same forever .... Our perceptions of artworks shift when the setting changes .... But that is one of the exhilarating things about art objects: different things can be learned from them as they move from one context to another. And most of them, after all, were originally built to move."

And one more great passage:

"[The Barnes] has been mismanaged to the point of dissolution and fought over to the point of dysfunction. It is so overburdened with restrictions - on the display of paintings, on loans, on attendance - that it has become a kind of fetish, a monument to an oppressive vision that is frozen in time, holding the art hostage. In short, the Barnes had become too much about Barnes and his vision and not enough about the art and the people who needed to see it. It seems likely that a move to Philadelphia ... could correct this imbalance to the benefit of every constituent."

As I say, read the whole thing.