Saturday, April 24, 2010

institutional let down

So the North Carolina Museum of Art had is unveiling of their new wing today. For someone who has been going there for ten years or so and being involved with contemporary art, my experience may have been perceived by a more critical eye than some. The new wing itself, as a building, has almost hidden admirable traits. There is a subtlety that mostly contributes to how impressive the structure is. Good use of natural light and existing in accordance with the formulaic approach to state art museums.

This new, contemporary, shelter now simply stores the museums permanent collection. The contrast between the architecture and Roman works from antiquity, African ritual items, etc. may have been intentional but acts most as a distraction. To those who have seen the collection before, or any other standard art museums' collection, there is little motive to relish the experience. Accepting that the collection is not terribly impressive inherently (at least what was exhibited at the wing opening) the space gives off a, "trying too hard", vibe. The change in surroundings does little to help the short-handedness of the work. The work appears to miss its old surroundings of dimly lemon lit, brick walled comfort and is not forced to deal with surroundings not fit for such a relationship.

To the museums' credit there was at least one interesting performative sound work going on in the old wing and the new wing had a somewhat predictable contemporary figurative work which lost its luster quickly. One could hope that the old wing will be a more open space where challenging contemporary artforms may be allowed to play themselves out from this moment on. And, there are a hand full of works in the permanent collection that exceed the typified art object created in the last 60 years. None the less, it seems like a botched decision to relocate the tired, repetitive, underwhelming, standardized collection to a space that is begging to be used in a more innovative way. But within the context of the kind of "unveiling" that the NCMA decided to hold, this is not at all surprising. The event, as the majority of the work, pandered to the safe idea of what an event such as this would have to offer to the public. Sure, their must and should be children focused areas and I applaud that. The music seemed to be a fine fit as well. It was nice to see some of the outdoor sculpture being so prominently displayed and engaged with by the public. Wrapping around the building, following the sculpture path, the predictable Rodin Garden awaits to be briskly strolled through, paying more attention to the beautiful pool that steals the show from even Rodin. Even the large scale sculptures selected were nothing short of safe, contemporary sculptures.

When does the role of the institution gain the gusto to challenge the public? Is this only truly possible when one is run privately? Fortunate enough to hold a board of trustees that is willing to use the prominence of an institution to introduce new ideas into the public sphere instead of spoon feeding them their own expectations. Politics and money, infinitely impossible to escape anymore, the tenderness of institutions is eroding their influence. Fear of a funding shortage stemming from provocative exhibits, maintains the lukewarm at best institutional experience.

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