boston mfa for sale, reconsidered
Post #209 • February 9, 2004, 7:01 AM • 10 Comments
In the comments of the last post Robert of Las Vegas Arts and Culture provided a link to this article by Greg Crosby, whose opinion is the opposite of the Christopher Knight piece previously cited. Whether Knight or Crosby is ultimately right, you can be sure that you would rather have a drink with Crosby:
In Lenny Bruce's famed routine from the early 1960s, "Las Vegas Tits and Ass," the comedian hilariously satirized a society that claimed sex was dirty while it normalized the objectification of women. "You'd think when you go to Las Vegas, you'd be there to see just the purest -- a Monet exhibit," Bruce joked. "But what's the big attraction in Vegas? Tits and ass. Whaaat's that? Tits and ass, that's what's that. Well, that's just the biggest hotel, gimme the second biggest hotel. More tits and ass."
Irony of ironies, some 40 years later, what's up on the marquee at one of the biggest hotels is a Monet exhibit. Now you can revel in the works of one of the inventors of Impressionism and still get a lap dance from one of the lovelies at Cheetahs, all in one night. We do indeed live in a world of wonders.
Let's say hypothetically that the BMFA is in the sewer, ethically speaking, with this Monet exhibition at the Bellagio. Does it matter? If the good people of Las Vegas (I will not tolerate snide remarks here!) get to see Monets that they might not otherwise see, that is a net positive. How much iniquity, mutual backscratching, and withering reverse snobbery (i.e., BMFA director Malcolm Rogers's characterizing his critics as "priggish") would it take to negate that good? Crosby is clearly grateful:
Meanwhile, Monet's work serenely floats above such considerations of money or propriety, as it should. ... For anyone who hasn't had the benefit of a trip to Boston, this exhibit will come as a delight and revelation.
Something else bothers me: those guidelines from the Association of Art Museum Directors. "In any decision about a proposed loan from the collection, the intellectual merit and educational benefits, as well as the protection of the work of art, must be the primary considerations, rather than possible finanacial gain." This demands a comparison between intangibles (intellectual merit, educational benefits) and a tangible (financial gain). If this guideline was cynically applied (and some of the Las Vegans feel that it is), I don't see how any loan that results in a meaningful profit could pass this test. I understand that the idea is to favor intangibles over tangibles, which I support. But Knight's comment seems to be that the trifle of a catalogue versus the million dollars going to the BMFA is proof that the educational component is lacking, an apples-to-oranges comparison not unlike the guideline itself. The catalogue may not contribute to worldwide Monet scholarship, but it may be good enough as an introduction. Education has to begin somewhere.
More people seeing Monet is good. Yes, the whole arrangement is greasier than a fry cook's hair, but it's going to take some colossal evil - say, burning down the Bellagio, with the paintings inside, for the insurance money - to negate the good of Monet entering new eyes.