|William Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) Bohémienne 1890, |
deaccessioned by the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts despite popular protests.
According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, some museums have tried the idea. This winter Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History will put on a show called "Everybody's Ocean," which will combine the work of established artists with images and videos contributed by local residents. The Frye museum in Seattle has allowed people to choose the images for an entire exhibition, and the Chicago Museum of History has even allowed people to decide on the theme for an upcoming exhibition.
There are several ways of bringing the public into a curatorial role:
- 1. The museum curator can choose 50 works and use an online poll to narrow the list to 30.
- 2. Let the public choose a favorite painting from the collection and feature it.
- 3. Choose a theme and let the public vote on pieces from the collection, and open part of the show to works lent by—or created by—museum patrons.
- 4. When deaccessioning artwork, put the decision to a vote.
|Alma Tadema's Spring. One of the most |
popular paintings at the Getty Museum
in LA, but for many years consigned to
the gift shop.
But not all curators like the idea, and some have quit in protest when proposals have been raised in planning meetings. According to the WSJ article:
"Helen Molesworth, the newly arrived chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, balked at the idea. 'You’re left with 10 paintings that may or may not make sense together, or may or may not be interesting together, or may or may not teach anything about the history of art—it’s not the stuff of knowledge or scholarship,' Ms. Molesworth said. When museum crowdsourcing is raised privately among curators, she said, the subject prompts a reaction of 'silent dismay.'"I can imagine some reasonable arguments against the idea. There's the "echo chamber effect": The public might tend to choose the same popular warhorses over and over, while lesser known but deserving artists might continue to be overlooked. And it takes a dedicated professional curator to do the research and legwork necessary to put together a comprehensive show that breaks new scholarly ground.
This issue cuts to the heart of the basic functions of the art museum: collecting and preserving artwork, presenting artwork in a meaningful context, encouraging the community to make art, and recognizing the work of living artists.
Let me know what you think in the comments. Are there any favorite paintings in your local art museum that are consigned to the basement? Are there kinds of art that you wish your museum would feature? What advice would you give to professional curators about how to better engage the public?
Read the article in WSJ: "Everybody's an Art Curator"