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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.




September 28, 2005, 11:31 AM

Actually, I mostly agree. But every time I go to the Lowe i see lots of old stuff. Also, while I can't support this with any evidence, my suspicion tells me that the new, larger MAM is going to designage substantial space/time to older stuff.

What really should happen, though, is for the old MAM building to become a separate institution, dedicated to bringing in traveling shows of non-conteporary work. I think that would fit well with the size of the facility and it's proximity to the library/historical museum. I also suspect that there's private money sitting around in miami just waiting to be gifted to something like this.

Maybe they've already thought of all this?



September 28, 2005, 12:02 PM

Miami, despite its alleged status as a major art center...

The operative word is ALLEGED. This is so painfully obvious that it's almost comical to see or hear allegations to the contrary. They obviously suit a lot of people, regardless of whether or not they actually believe the hype, and no doubt such delusions make some people feel better. I need not tell anyone who knows anything about me what I think of such claims.



September 28, 2005, 12:06 PM

The Lowe has a few good things - a decent Ribera, a Jordeans, some considerable Asian work, and more. But they don't have it together to show the exhibit from Montreal, which I'm using as a baseline here. While it stands to reason that they would do what Alesh describes - designating space and time to non-contemporary work - I know of no evidence that they plan to do so.

By the way, what do they plan to do with the old MAM?



September 28, 2005, 12:18 PM

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.

You got it. Just go see the current MOCA show for an excellent example of the situation mentioned above. Guess why I dropped my MOCA membership, and now gleefully tear up promotional mailings asking me to join. The same applies to MAM, more or less, though there I have other issues besides what art is or is not shown.



September 28, 2005, 12:35 PM

Franklin, you are totally correct!



September 28, 2005, 2:08 PM

Franklin, a nice bit of commrntary. I especially liked the part where you say " 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." It doesn't matter where the fuel comes from - get to work, crack! crack!



September 28, 2005, 2:22 PM

Franklin, excellent post, excellent analysis, "Talent Laundering" is a great neolocution,Ibut did you have to hit me with knowledge of yet another fascinating, inventive exhibition which i will never see? Isn't bad enough that my NY friends kep feeding my news about the Met & MoMA and the Frick and the Morgan Library and so forth? Have a little consideration!



September 28, 2005, 2:30 PM

The Lowe has a respectable study-type collection for an institution like the University of Miami. It is not and cannot function as a major museum. MAM's mission statement or collecting policy, if I'm not mistaken, is primarily devoted to art since WW II. The Bass Museum dabbles in "Old Masters" but can't go much further than the Lowe, though it could be argued that it should stop trying to be so "eclectic" to so little effect and focus squarely on older art, thus helping to fill a glaring local gap.


that guy

September 28, 2005, 3:46 PM

I'm not convinced that the local museum directors have ever had an aesthetic experience in front of a piece of art. So it's no surprise that their shows have no weight. Its tragic but "not much" is what I've come to expect from them. Here here to your vote of no confidence Franklin.



September 28, 2005, 4:27 PM

yes yes and yes.




September 28, 2005, 6:05 PM

The "talent laundering" system is now the norm, and since it involves all key art establishment factions, it's safe as houses (safer, actually). It's simply the way the game is played. The players are quite happy with it, not least because it's so, uh, useful. Therefore, for all official purposes, THERE IS NO PROBLEM. Everyone and everything is just grand; onward and upwards; I'm OK, you're OK, and away we go.

So some Artblog types don't like it? Well, they're nobodies, aren't they? What clout do they have? Where are their major-league art budgets? Are they going to sneer the system into submission while serious collectors keep pumping very serious cash into the machine? Please. Let them eat Greenberg essays.



September 28, 2005, 9:26 PM




September 28, 2005, 11:44 PM

Franklin, I doubt the painters you name as second-tier were that high up; I expect they were more likely provincial talent that didn't make the cut for Paris. I don't doubt they could produce some gems, as standards then were very real and taken very seriously--meaning there was bound to be more depth on the bench, so to speak. They're now very obscure, certainly, except perhaps in Provence.

Regarding Miami's severe deficiencies in older art, that's all the more reason to see the Durer woodcuts at the Lowe. They're not part of the Lowe's collection, so they won't be around after the show ends.



September 29, 2005, 12:02 AM

I stand corrected, as least concerning Granet and Marilhat, especially the former. They were both quite successful in their time, and not just locally.



September 29, 2005, 4:01 AM

A different perspective. Miami is only the 47th largest city in the US, comparable in population with cities like Minneapolis or Atlanta. Compared to most of the larger cities in the US, Miami is younger and its early growth was primarily driven by tourism. As such, it is not particularly surprising its museums are younger with sparser collections.

I suspect that Miami will never have a major historical Museum with a collection of major artworks prior to the twentieth century. Without a major endowment, I suspect most of the best earlier artworks are either not on the market or priced out of reach. A museum of twentieth century, modern, contemporary or Hispanic artworks would seem to be possible.

Regarding the comments, The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Do what Franklin did and visit one of the major art centers once in awhile



September 29, 2005, 7:29 AM

A major collection of pre-20th Century art in Miami is out of the question. An institution that could show the exhibition I saw in Montreal, which consisted mostly of loans, is at least theoretically possible, but won't happen for the reasons I cite above. I'm lucky that I can afford to travel periodically.



September 29, 2005, 7:40 AM

George, that ranking of 47th for Miami's population size is wildly misleading. When counrted as Miami-dade, or "urbanized area", Miami ranks around 15th.

While it is unreasonable to expect that Miami can, at this point, have a major collecting museum, it is not unrreasonable to expect a municipal venue that can attract curated exhibitions far above the level of what we regularly see here.



September 29, 2005, 8:55 AM

George, we all know a major, historically comprehensive museum is not feasible here, but the museum situation could still be much better than it is. The reasons it's not have to do with the nature of the local general public, the local institutional people, and the local art crowd. Miami is not a deep place; it's primarily about surface and about immediacy. It does great art parties; it likes flash and things with buzz; it can't really be bothered with serious art culture because that's like, so, you know, dull and yesterday.



September 29, 2005, 9:49 AM

Don't get me wrong, "the squeaky wheel gets the grease" was meant as encouragement for local activism.



September 29, 2005, 9:57 AM

Squeaky wheels getting greased is how politics are run in this trown, George.



September 29, 2005, 10:04 AM

Miami this... miami that, miami this... if you hate it, so much why are you here? Move out!



September 29, 2005, 10:11 AM

Very few places have the cultural advantages of a major metropolis. Sure, it sucks that Miami isn’t there yet. But instead of whining, why not do what you can to bring what inspires you to a Miami audience, even it is just writing about a great show in a land far, far away.

I would have gotten more out of this thread -- perhaps even fueled -- if there were more discussion here about the Montreal show rather than the same whining that happens here on every thread. why bother posting new threads? why not cut and paste the same comments from previous ones if the discussion is alway going to be the same and not lead anywhere?

Positive discussion can lead to positive action, rather than just wallowing in a self pity that doesn’t inspire much at all. How can people make good art with attitudes like this?



September 29, 2005, 11:11 AM

"For all official purposes, THERE IS NO PROBLEM. Onward and upwards; I'm OK, you're OK, and away we go."

The first step toward fixing or curing something is to figure out what's wrong and why, and to be very clear about it. I hear lots of boosterism, lots of hype, but little if any serious criticism of the established system--certainly not from those who are the system. The kind of "whining" that goes on in Artblog is virtually the only public, generally accessible attempt to expose and denounce what's wrong with the local picture. It is perfectly legitimate and justified, regardless of what it may or may not accomplish. Obviously, everyone is free and welcome to deal with the art situation in Miami as s/he sees fit. There are various valid options.

By the way, Jacky, thanks for the great Archie Bunker advice. I'll be sure to pass it on to anyone who whines and moans about what transpires at Artblog--including, of course, you.



September 29, 2005, 11:32 AM

Move out!

Jacky, I am considering this very, very seriously.

But instead of whining, why not do what you can to bring what inspires you to a Miami audience...

Working on that too, and I try to talk up what I think is worthy. In fact, I supply two otherwise unmet needs down here: a calendar, and challenges to business as usual as it operates here. I'm working up a couple of other projects that you don't know about yet as well, Exactly. I find that the challenges to making art are not so much attitudinal as inspirational, so that's what I get to figure out.

Jack's right - if you think everything is groovy, and many do, you don't work to change it. Why would you?


no matter where you go

September 29, 2005, 11:40 AM

there you are



September 29, 2005, 11:45 AM

True, true. Everywhere has problems. The question is: which problem set do you want to put up with? I didn't think much of Baltimore, but the person I visited there loves it. She digs the dirt, finds the trash blowing down the street charming, and thinks the facts that the city has the highest rate of syphillis in the country and that one in ten people are addicted to heroin hilarious. She's a huge John Waters fan; he's from there. To each his own.



September 29, 2005, 11:51 AM

I have been commenting here to be able to identify several "mini threads" that find their way way onto this page with some regularity: "you are close minded and out of touch" and"you can't tell anything at all from a reproduction", are examples among many.

Jacky & Exactly typify the "stop whining and do something" response.

I think Jack and Franklin have responded adequately, and I agree with them. But let me add that as far as I know all the kvetchers on this blog are also active members of the art community who are working very hard, each in his or her own way, to do something about it. In fact, is probably the single forum for people who are doing just that here in Miami.

And, as has been pointed out through history, giving voice to those who do not go along with the status quo is a necessary and indispensible tool for changing it.


exactly more comments

September 29, 2005, 11:54 AM

Actually, many people are working to improve things -- shit, Miami's all about change right now, and of course, not all of it's good. I don't see whay any one thinks it would be different in any other city that's fairly new and trying to establish itself.

it seems like a lot of posters on this blog take this victim role -- like everything in Miami happens TO them, out of their control, rather than taking the stance of active participants in the community. The later choice is more risky, but it's a hell of a lot more empowering. and perhaps rather than wasting time with the same complaints over and over, we can see a charge of energy that makes a great art community.

what is good about Miami being so unestablished as it is as a cultural center is opportunity -- the opportunity to try to make the right changes while there's a chance to do so, to create your own community. I still don't see how sitting on the sidelines whining does anything. I have not seen much enthusiasm for change -- any actual action or any real exchange of creativity on this blog.

Sure you get a lot of great things in large cities like Montreal, or Chicago or New York, but rarely do you have the same amount of chances to really make something happen without a lot of institutional backing. there's a lot one can do in Miami -- but we wont do it unless we start focusing on the opportunities instead of what we think are closed doors.



September 29, 2005, 11:56 AM

wrote the above before reading franklins and oldpro's comments -- agree with both 100%



September 29, 2005, 12:58 PM

Oscar Wilde: The artist should never try to be popular. Rather the public should be more artistic.

Me: The art lover should never justify BS from the art establishment. Rather the establishment should justify itself to the art lover.

And no, I don't see myself as a victim; I simply refuse to facilitate or conveniently overlook BS. As for the closed doors, the very least they deserve is to be banged on furiously without ceasing--if nothing else, to annoy the hell out of those responsible.


Jesus Christ

September 29, 2005, 1:03 PM

It is better to be a victim of tyranny than to collaborate with it.



September 29, 2005, 1:22 PM

Despite some major differences, Miami is similar to Edmonton in some respects.
Edmonton is only 100 years old, and is a city of only about a million people in the 'greater metro area'. Nevertheless, it has an energetic art community. Many people, it seems, find it to be a good place to MAKE art... but I don't think anyone is under any illusions that it is a great place to LOOK AT art... for that, unfortunately, one needs to travel elsewhere.

But consider this: Montreal is closer to Miami than it is to Edmonton.

So, perhaps this is the new 'international' paradigm... no more "Art Centres", at least in regards to making art... but invariably, the art, the actual stuff, pools together in clusters, wherever there's the money and 'curatorial' will to build 'important' collections.

Can we live with this as a paradigm? Does accepting that mean we have to stop bemoaning how you just can't see any good art in Miami, or Edmonton? Is it the artists' job to try to change that, so good art can not only be made, but also be seen, in virtually every jerkwater burg that has an artist in it?
Or, does our duty as artists start and stop with just trying to make the best art we can?

I'd love to read some thoughts on this...



September 29, 2005, 1:41 PM

i like to see artists just make the best art that they can -- if you are an artist, making art shouldn't just be a hobby or a way to gain income, it should first and most importantly be your reason for being alive, the way you challenge yourself, your purpose.

but i think that being artist doesn't mean you can't be other things as well -- a brother, a mother, a lover of literature, a writer, a citizen -- and i think it's one's role as a citizen to do the best they can for their community when there is opportunity to do so.



September 29, 2005, 1:48 PM

So, perhaps an artist-citizen could also play the role of vocal critic, activist, shit-disturber, whathaveyou, to an inadequate status quo... We see this sort of thing in our political life, so no reason to avoid it in our cultural life.



September 29, 2005, 2:47 PM

I was lucky enough to learn my trade and practice it with constant access to NYC. It is difficult to take up art seriously without similar access; you are living and learning in a vacuum, talking to and looking at a lot of other people in the same boat. Ignorance feeds on insularity, but insularity can also engender concentration and self-confidence built within a group.

A generation ago Edmonton experienced a confluence of influences which combined to germinate a particular "narrow" approach to making art which caught on and began to evolve on its own, and apparently continues to do so. Whatever you may think of the art it has its own character and a classic art-making synergy.

Miami, on the other hand, continues to favor art that crawls limply off the pages of the art magazines while bravely declaring "cutting edge" to all who will listen. There is no "Maimi" art as there is "Edmonton" art, because it never got started, and havng not started, derivation abounds and spreads to the art community and acts to supress, in a subtle, inditrect way, not only innovation but the exhibition of good art that is not identified as "cutting-edge". This was what I saw at the Olitski show at the Goldman warehouse last spring. It was not that people hated it. They simply had no idea how to evaluate really fresh, innovative art in a format they had been told was outdated. They were confused, thats all. It's a shame.



September 29, 2005, 8:41 PM

Evidently, many (if not most) people take too much at face value, or at the value assigned by presumed experts. This may be due to insecurity, ignorance, laziness, indolence, naivete, expediency, shallowness, or, in very rare cases, innocence verging on sainthood. Whatever the cause, it's a fact of life unlikely to change. Therefore, the onus is on those who have the wherewithal to know the score and the means to guide or inform those who don't. Yes, everyone should function independently, but it doesn't work that way.

That's why whenever those in positions of influence and authority not only fail to do a good job but actually perpetuate problems and/or make things worse, they should be called on it in no uncertain terms. The system is supposed to be there for us and for art, not the other way around. Unfortunately, the system typically co-opts, compromises, or seduces anyone it can as a means to maintain power and control, and it's pretty damn good at it. That's one reason there are so many contented, pacified or docile go-along types. And that's why Artblog, or any similar voice, should never, ever shut up.


Jerome du Bois

September 29, 2005, 9:41 PM

Miami dwellers:

While it is unreasonable to expect that Miami can, at this point, have a major collecting museum, it is not unreasonable to expect a municipal venue that can attract curated exhibitions far above the level of what we regularly see here.

I hear the International Freedom Center is now without a home, boo-hoo. Same with the Drawing Center. Give 'em a call!




September 30, 2005, 10:56 AM

While I didn't have time to read every previous comment, I really do miss not having the type of museum collections I used to view on a regular basis: LACMA, deYoung, SFMOMA, and many other smaller museums with ethnic focus. When I was a student, we travelled to LACMA to see a drawing show (I can't find the catalog at this moment but, I still have it) and then to copy as closely as possible one of the drawings. I chose a Cezanne and, even though I liked what I did, it really failed. However, the experience of seeing live work was invaluable. My last trip to LACMA I visited a gallery full of ancient Iranian clay sculptures. They were so amazing. Really. I talked to some of the museum staff and they were complaining about that gaps in there collection. Pffft. We don't even have that!



September 30, 2005, 11:08 AM

I disagree, Onajide. We have plenty of gaps. Practically nothing but.



September 30, 2005, 11:14 AM

I think he meant, we don't even have a collection to have some gaps in.



September 30, 2005, 12:51 PM

I know Franklin. I was just making a twist on his statement.



September 30, 2005, 3:05 PM

OH, Franklin, that was one of OP's funniest jokes!



September 30, 2005, 3:14 PM

(Makes "whishhh" sound, with hand motioning backwards over head)



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