montreal, a preamble
Post #634 • September 28, 2005, 11:17 AM • 43 Comments
While in Montreal I attended a stunner of a show, "Right under the Sun: Landscape in Provence, from Classicism to Modernism (1750-1920)" at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. It exhibited works by all the big names of landscape painting from that region, notably Cézanne, and also gems by second-tier guys whom I had never heard of: François-Marius Granet, Prosper Marilhat, René Seyssaud. Curveballs filled the show: Braque painting like Matisse, Derain painting like Milton Avery, Picabia painting like Van Gogh (!). I have some thoughts to share, but first I must deal with some unpleasantness: why Miami, despite its alleged status as a major art center, would never show this exhibition.
When I was up at the conference, someone mentioned that the buzz around Miami makes it seem like a major hub of art activity. I explained that you could liken it to a toddler throwing a tantrum: yes, a lot is going on, but that doesn't mean that you should either listen to it or take it seriously. For all the frenzy, the scene lacks depth. Reasonable people could disagree about whether we need great art from 1950 and earlier to give the work made since then some meaningful context and some benchmarks to clear, but I think we all would agree that it has relatively little impact in our case because of its absence.
That doesn't bother a lot of people here (and this answers commenter Fulano's question, what I mean by "aesthetic allegiances," at this post on Kathleen's blog), but it really messes up my existence. I came back from Montreal feeling inspired to paint, more than I had in a long time, partly from seeing an honest-to-goodness painting show, partly from getting in front of older objects: T'ang Dynasty funerary figures, a 900-year-old sculpture of a crucified Christ from Spain, and more. I plan to keep this post short just so I can get into the studio this morning. I feel fueled up, on fuel that I find hard to come by in Miami.
I believe in pluralism and its possibilities, but unfortunately live in a place where the full potential of pluralism can't activate because of the rarity of pre-War objects to pull from either stylistically or thematically. We don't have such objects here, but we could theoretically get them here, if we had a facility to put them in and a curator who wanted them. We do not.
Michael Kimmelman spoke to Diane Rehm on NPR a couple of weeks ago, and pointed out that museums, until recently, filtered the content of galleries just as the galleries filtered all the art available. Galleries had the mandate to locate new talent, and the museums had the mandate to select among that talent for more serious consideration. Now, we have museums of contemporary art that have the same mandate as the galleries. To Kimmelman's observation, I would add that those particular museums and the galleries stand to benefit each other enormously. If you deal new work, you spend an huge amount of effort convincing buyers to believe in the work's importance. If a museum shows said work, the seller's leverage towards that effort increases immeasurably. The museum, in turn, reinforces its status as an institution with serious, knowing links to progressive impulses in contemporary art. The museums borrow and acquire works from collectors, and collectors acquire work from galleries, and that pulls collectors into the equation as well - many of these people see themselves as creative types, artists, after a fashion. Their financial clout puts gas in this big machine, and consequently their tastes face no criticism from any quarter. I call it talent laundering, and rather than name names and start a doodoostorm that will keep me out of the studio, I'll say that I see it happening all the time both here and elsewhere.
If you want cachet in the local art world, such as people gossip about it, you have to get into this game. Thus, even if they build a museum that extends from Bicentennial Park to the moon, we won't get "Right Under the Sun" down here under the sun.