Judith Dobrzynski wonders why the art world is in such a twist about the closing of the Rose Museum when ordinary folks seem to praise the move as an act of fiscal responsibility. Could this be partly the art world’s own fault?
For decades, art has been seen as a tradable commodity; in the just-deceased new gilded age, the art trade–dealers, auction houses and even artists themselves–reinforced the idea that art is a financial trophy, perhaps even more than an aesthetic one. To show their stuff, collectors–especially those in contemporary art–very publicly plunked down their money in crowded auction rooms and at glamorous art fairs. Some then flipped their works, sometimes in a matter of months, like so many barrels of oil. Some galleries, exhibiting hauteur along with their art, seemed to be off-limits for ordinary people.
And when art makes headlines, it’s usually because a work has been sold, or is about to be sold, for a multimillion-dollar sum. At least four paintings have changed hands at $100 million or more; dozens have fetched $10 million or more. Little wonder that people connect art with price, not value. [ . . . ]
Museums, while less culpable, may be confusing people as well. The public has been entertained, but not necessarily educated, by many museum exhibitions. When motorcycles, guitars, hip-hop, Star Wars memorabilia, commercial jewelry and other pop-culture emblems fill the galleries of the country’s most prestigious museums, the message is mixed: What’s art, what’s show?
Can you blame the public for believing that art is an investment, to be cashed in when expedient?
None of this is to excuse the behavior of Brandeis. It is deplorable. But if the gulf between the art world and the public were not so wide, Brandeis’ trustees–who voted unanimously to close the Rose–might never have risked the widespread rebukes.
Brandeis’s Wretched Museum Closure (Forbes.com)