Dennis Kois, who is the director of the deCordova Sculpture Park outside of Boston, takes exception to the New York Times’s recent Sunday essay on the overwhelming appearance of “participatory, social art practice” in leading museums which “is crowding out, or even replacing wholesale, the traditional experience of quiet contemplation […] associated with meaningful museum experience.”
No less than John Dewey pointed out, way back in his 1932 lecture “Art as Experience,” that it was a mistake to think of art only as an object—a painting, a sculpture, a “thing.” Rather, art was also an experience, and that both the experience and the “thing” were mutually reinforcing and equally important. I repeat, in case you missed it: This was 1932. This should not be news.
Exasperated Kois closes with this comment on the author’s argument:
She seems oblivious to the shifting sands of time, technology, and human experience. Art history is chock full of objects that were once revered as masterpieces, as the apogee of artistic achievement and utterly reflective of their particular moment. And then that moment passed. Time marches on, culture and humankind change for better or worse, and which artist or what object will become the “masterpiece” of this age, of this generation, is yet to be known. The very kinds of social experiences, connections, and participation Dobrzynski laments may yet turn out this generation’s “Waterlilies” or “David.” The rest will be sorted out by curators, critics, public reaction, art historians, collectors, the public and the passage of time.
High Culture Goes Hands On (New York Times)
Song of Experience (Slate)