November 16, 2007

IMHO: The super-sizing of American museums

At The American Prospect, check out my take on the current infatuation with art museum expansion. "American art museums are experiencing an unprecedented growth spurt, from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento to smaller museums elsewhere. Museum directors argue that the expansions will better serve the public's need for more exhibition space and modern amenities. Less altruistically, they maintain job security by ramping up fundraising and construction requirements, and gild their résumés with impressive credentials. Art collectors queue up to donate money for stylish wings that will bear their names. Cities herald the projects as cornerstones for mammoth downtown development and revitalization projects. The media provide the fanfare, lavishly covering the initial announcements, building progress, and grand openings.

"But all this capital investment in high-profile architecture and fattened collections and programming -- this super-sizing of museums -- does not necessarily reward the art-viewing public. Museum directors and curators need to consider expansion plans more critically.

"Often such plans result in oversized, over-designed new structures that veer away from an initial vision of intimacy that the museum founders envisioned between the patrons and the artwork. All too frequently, new museum space is not even used to display additional artwork, but rather for cafés, gift shops, and administrative offices. Even when new construction does yield more exhibition space, the predominant hope of most museum directors is that the expansion will lure new donations by contemporary collectors. Work in storage tends to be viewed as unfashionable, irrelevant, or inferior. While new art may indeed come hither, it is less likely to sustain the museum's original atmosphere and, therefore, the goodwill of longstanding patrons." Read more.

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