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Wednesday, December 6, 2006
Boston's new museum
There's a special section in today's Globe dedicated to the Institute of Contemporary Art's new waterfront home, a fancy glass box -- with an 80-foot cantilever jutting towards Boston Harbor -- on Fan Pier. Full disclosure: As the web editor for Living/Arts, I played a very modest, mostly advisory role in the creation of a snazzy online version of the ICA section.
One thing you won't find in the Globe's online ICA section is a link to an excellent Ideas essay by painter and critic Dushko Petrovich, who back in September argued that the idea of a "contemporary museum" is, in certain important respects, a contradiction in terms. While a museum of non-contemporary art can build a collection of art that has stood the test of time, he pointed out, by exhibiting and purchasing -- sometimes even commissioning -- new work by living artists, a contemporary art museum becomes a player in the art market, driving up the "stock" of those artists. A side effect of the rush to build contemporary art museums (like Bilbao's Guggenheim, London's Tate Modern, and New York's MoMA), Petrovich adds, is this:
There simply isn't enough high quality work to fill the profusion of buildings. Even as artists tend towards cheaper and reproducible media like videos and digital photographs, it seems hard to fill the spaces. The effect on art seems, to put it plainly, bad.
Petrovich singles out for ridicule the Guggenheim's "Art of the Motorcycle" show, its exhibit of Armani suits, and the 43-foot-tall puppy made of 70,000 flowering plants that the Gugg commissioned from Jeff Koons. One would like to ask what he thinks of "The Divine Gas," a monumental mural commissioned for the lobby of Boston's new ICA.
Drawn by artist Chiho Aoshima and printed on adhesive vinyl, "Gas" was (one hears) originally titled "The Divine Fart," for reasons that become obvious when you give the artwork a close look. The ICA coyly shows only an innocuous detail of the mural on their website, but the Globe shot a 360-degree photo of the lobby; so you can take a peek for yourself.
Can't take the time to view the 360-degree photo? OK, here's a photo of the divine gas in media afflatus:
PS: Despite my snarky tone in this post, I actually think "Divine Gas" is gorgeous, and very funny too. But one wonders how it will go over with other Bostonian museumgoers, who by all accounts are a stuffy lot. As they step into Boston's first new art museum in nearly a century, will they mind having their faces farted in? Stay tuned.
UPDATE: To see Ward Sutton's great illustration for Petrovich's essay, click here.