Terry Teachout posted a link to this older column about “blockbuster” art exhibitions and he offered a few suggestions:
(1) Once a year, every working art critic should be required to attend a blockbuster show on a weekend or holiday. He should buy a ticket with his own money, line up with the citizenry, fight his way through the crowds, listen to an audio tour – and pay close attention to what his fellow museumgoers are saying and doing. In short, he should be forced to remind himself on a regular basis of how ordinary people experience art, and marvel at the fact that they keep coming back in spite of everything.
That one’s easy. This one’s harder:
(2) Every “civilian” who goes to a given museum at least six times a year should be allowed to attend a press or private view of a major exhibition. The experience of seeing a blockbuster show under such conditions is eye-opening in every sense of the word. If more ordinary museumgoers were to have such experiences, it might change their feelings about the ways in which museums present such exhibitions.
Lastly, I’ll take a flying leap into the cesspool of arrant idealism:
(3) No museum show should contain more than 75 pieces, and no museum should be allowed to present more than one 75-piece show per year. Tyler Green […] wrote the other day to tell me that Washington’s Phillips Collection, our favorite museum, is putting on a Milton Avery retrospective in February that will contain just 42 pieces. I can’t wait to see it, not only because I love Avery but because that is exactly the right size for an exhibit of that kind – big enough to cover all the bases, but not too big to swamp the viewer and dull his responses.
I’ll close with a memory. A few years ago, I gave a speech in Kansas City, and as part of my fee I was given a completely private tour of the Nelson-Atkins Museum. I went there after hours and was escorted by one of the curators, who switched on the lights in each gallery as we entered and switched them off as we left. I can’t begin to tell you what an astonishing and unforgettable impression that visit made on me. To see masterpieces of Western art in perfect circumstances is to realize for the first time how imperfectly we experience them in our everyday lives. It changes the way you feel about museums – and about art itself. I didn’t realize it then, but that private view undoubtedly helped to put me on the road to buying art.
Perhaps one of our great museums might consider raffling off a dozen such tours each year. I’m not one for lotteries, but I’d definitely pony up for a ticket.