May 11, 2008

"I hate the Brooklyn Museum."

Wrote Palladian in the comments to yesterday's post with Lincoln and the nude slave.
They have wonderful collections ruined by ham-handed attempts at teaching political lessons. For Chrissakes, they have a gallery called the Herstory Gallery. Really.

Dear Brooklyn Museum: Stop using the objects in your wonderful collections as if they were "Wacky Experiments" in a children's science museum. These objects, for the most part, were not made for urban liberal didactic purposes. Show us the stuff in a beautiful and sympathetic way and shut the fuck up. You were already tiresome by the time you "stuck it to the man" with the "Sensation" exhibit in the late 90s. Now you're just embarrassing yourself. And disrespecting the wonderful art over which you, unfortunately, have stewardship.
Let me endorse that comment by posting 3 photos of quotes painted on the wall with PC good intentions:

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Lessons on the wall of the Brooklyn Museum

Lessons on the wall of the Brooklyn Museum

But they don't just do PC women-and-minorities self-esteem boosting. They foster interest in art with some fabulous displays of nudity:

DSC_0208

DSC_0206

And part of the didacticism is letting the kids know that only rubes are bothered by naked bodies displayed in the high art format. Here's the text on the wall next to that last sculpture (Bacchante, by Frederick William MacMannies):

DSC08377
enlarge.

46 comments:

Kirby Olson said...

There are probably different curators for different rooms.

The older art wings aren't that bad. For instance, the mummies don't have any PC message scribbled over them.

The African American wing is fairly atrocious, but that's to be expected.

The contemporary art section isn't too bad, either, and has some surprises.

Some of the best work is from the 19th century landscape tradition, and that is pretty much left to stand on its own merits, with good introductions under most of the partings.

Many museums have ham-handed curators who want to pass on their mindless idealism. Just across from the Brooklyn Museum is the Audubon Center. Have you been in there? I haven't been in, because the hours are odd. Right outside of it is a really strange tree called a Camperdown Elm. It'sa hybrid mix of a Dutch and a Scotch elm, and one is grafted on the other. It grows upside down. It's a 150 years old, and is still thriving thanks to a poem by Marianne Moore which appeared in the New Yorker in the late 60s that asked for donations. Donations poured in.

Moore also has a lot of poems about objects of various kinds that she saw in the Brooklyn Museum, including a Swedish carriage (which I think was sold to a collector), and other neat things.

I think Moore is the poet of Brooklyn. You could also go into her Lafayette Ave. Presbyterian Church. The pastor is EXTREMELY liberal and uses the sermons to preach for the poor, and barely talks about God at all.

But the structure is magnificent, and the mural on the wall represents Brooklyn nicely. They have preserved Moore's family pew in the back of the church.

Ann Althouse said...

Kirby, the second two quotes I picture here are from the Egyptian wing.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

"The passion for setting people right is in itself an afflictive disease."

Marianne Moore

P. Rich said...

PC good intentions

Bwahahahahaha...

From Inwood said...

Prof A

Spot on.

Kudos to Palladian also. And he didn’t forget the PC in-your-face Virgin in dung, um, crap.

And they ruined the front of the building!

Though, to reiterate Kirby Olson, to give the devil its due, for this “rube” The Museum has, along with The Art Institute of Chicago Museum, the best collection of Pre-Modern American Art if it hasn't deaccessioned any of it as did the NYPL at its main Library.

Pogo said...

Hurrah for Palladian.

There are few things more likely to engender apathy for or outright rejection of an intellectual life among students than this kind of overwrought preaching.

The tired PC message, when it does not merely elicit boredom, often stands in pale contrast to the work of art and leads a curious student to wonder what the hell the curators were thinking.

I have had enough "white male = bad" messages to last a lifetime. Everywhere I go I see the mantra repeated. Although some may feel it just desserts for crimes done by others (but not me), or that turnabout is fair play, or "it's your turn", it reveals to me the petty stakes at heart. not truth or beauty or transcendence, but power and the lust for power.

In the end, even museums are just about whose ox is being gored; not about how awful it is to gore oxen, just these oxen. So I have to spend alot of time deciphering these anti-male anti-white hegemony messages for my sons, so they can avoid ever paying any attention to the professional aggrievers like the Brooklyn Museum.

I'll never attend. I don't give money to such causes.

Trooper York said...

The Brooklyn Museum is really good for going to first Saturday where they have bands and a bar and you can pick up dirty hippie chicks.

Oligonicella said...

If you want a museum without political message, try the Nelson in K.C.Mo. The largest collection of Chinese art outside of China and the rooms simply set with art sans comment. At least, the last time I visited.

Palladian said...

I certainly don't have a problem if a visitor to the museum wants to draw these sorts of political or 'social justice' conclusions while viewing the objects. I don't have a problem if someone, such as a college lecturer or a tour guide, wants to create a specific political or social narrative and use the art to illustrate those points in their tour. That's exactly the kind of thing that a museum should encourage. But the Brooklyn Museum doesn't trust that its visitors are intelligent or sensitive enough to create those narratives on their own. Like the Entartete Kunst exhibit famously staged by the Nazis, the conclusion has already been drawn for the viewer, reinforced with the giant wall texts Ann shows in her photographs. The museum renders it impossible to view the objects without being aware of the curatorial narrative. There is an arrogance about the whole display. The objects are turned into actors in the curator's play, didactic props in whatever social or political narrative the curator is trying to illustrate. It cheapens and degrades the wonderfully ambiguous power of these objects.

There is something frighteningly Victorian (as mentioned in the thread yesterday by losergrrl) about thinking of art as merely a tool for teaching social and political virtue, that these objects should be displayed as moralizing talismans whose purpose is to instill 'correct' thought in the minds of the 'lower sorts'. People don't seem to understand that today's environmentally aware, racially sensitive, multicultural liberal is the exact equivalent of the prudish, moralistic, condemnatory Victorian, and possessing all the negative aspects of their forebears. The idea that anyone- let alone a 'curator'- has the right to impose these sorts of institutional narratives upon art and cultural artifacts is (and should be) repellant to anyone with the capacity and the desire to think and experience beauty and mystery for themselves.

Not that I'm too worried. Art is much more powerful than the sad little species known as 'curators'. When the wall texts have been painted over, and the catalog essays have been pulped and pressed into paper towels, the art will remain. But it's sad that today's visitor to the Brooklyn Museum can't enjoy themselves without the school-marmish hand of the curators poking them in the eye and telling them: "Stop enjoying that nude! Stop daydreaming! This stuff is here to LIFT YOU UP and TEACH YOU A LESSON! Let's hurry through this paternalistic pharaonic tat and get upstairs to the HERstory gallery and see the Judy Chicago!"

Palladian said...

"And they ruined the front of the building!"

Yes. Fortunately that glass and steel crap will be easy to knock off in a couple decades when it will look as embarrassing and dated as orange glazed brick, glass blocks and brass railings. Actually it already looks dated.

"The Brooklyn Museum is really good for going to first Saturday where they have bands and a bar and you can pick up dirty hippie chicks."

That is the most repulsive thing about the Brooklyn Museum. Whoever started that nightclub shit should be put in stocks and pelted with eggs, rotting organic tomatos, cat feces, and weak, expensive cocktails. The only thing worse than moralizing New York liberals is moralizing New York liberals in hipster clothes getting drunk in a building full of Egyptian funerary objects.

Go to the Metropolitan Museum instead. A wonderful collection, subservient explanatory wall texts and placards and remarkably free of PC nonsense. They trust their visitors to draw their own conclusions.

PatCA said...

A Herstory Gallery? How sad.

Maybe the museum can be a stop on the Reeducation Tour for Wayward Academics like Larry Summers and the poor fellow at Madison Ann wrote about. They could get a group rate and come in with their white dunce hats on.

rcocean said...

Spent a weekend in NYC a couple years ago. Best thing was the Met. Don't remember any curator notes at all, just a lot of good art. Food at the Cafe was good too.

Also, I enjoyed the bagels and creme cheese and of course, the dirty hippie chicks.

George said...

It is a well-known fact that during the Victorian era, sexually repressed men would visit museums solely for the purpose of leering at such engravings, often times copying them down surreptitiously on scraps of cheap paper, and thence retreating with the aforesaid tattering and scrawled titbits for the purposes, asquat on the cuckstool, of dismal self-pollution.

bearbee said...

.....today's visitor to the Brooklyn Museum can't enjoy themselves without the school-marmish hand of the curators poking them in the eye and telling them: "Stop enjoying that nude! Stop daydreaming! This stuff is here to LIFT YOU UP and TEACH YOU A LESSON!

Chief nanny Michael Bloomberg is former member of the board of trustees. How much influence do b of t's exert over curators?

downtownlad said...

Any museum that treats the Virgin Mary with the respect she deserves - i.e. she deserves to be treated like shit - is a good museum in my book.

downtownlad said...

"Fortunately that glass and steel crap will be easy to knock off in a couple decades when it will look as embarrassing and dated as orange glazed brick, glass blocks and brass railings. Actually it already looks dated."

Easily the most ignorant statement posted about architecture on this blog. The entire thrust of modern architecture since its very inception has been about more glass and steel, in essence exposing the underlying structure (steel, concrete, etc) and not covering it with ornamental crap, and having wider and wider expanses of glass through advances in engineering.

But according to Palladian, the Reliance Building is just "dated" I guess.

vbspurs said...

First, and foremost, kudos to Palladian not only for yesterday's comments (highlighted by Ann) but today's too.

Second, Gloria Steinem next to Booker T. and Frederick Douglass. BARF.

Third, this brouhaha about inferring things about art reminds me of a Punch cartoon in the 20s.

It portrayed a mother leading her little boy past the famous Marcel Duchamp painting, "Nude Descending a Staircase, nervously covering his eyes.

Now that's making a statement.

Cheers,
Victoria

ricpic said...

Even Palladian and me,
Who would likely disagree about most everything else,
Can agree that Paul Cadmus is a great, indeed a very great, artist.
Not because he has a lesson to impart.
Because he is a maker of astounding beauty.
Simple as that.
Beauty which is its own end.
Beauty which needs no assist from
Stupid shitty Steinem with her stupid shitty idiot empowerment.
Ya hear me, PC lilliput Brooklyn Museum kommissars of kulture?
Get your filthy hands and filthier minds OFF ART!
It don't need no assist.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Arse Gratia Artis! sez I.

L. E. Lee said...

Kirby Olson wrote:

"I think Moore is the poet of Brooklyn. You could also go into her Lafayette Ave. Presbyterian Church. The pastor is EXTREMELY liberal and uses the sermons to preach for the poor, and barely talks about God at all."

Well how very unchristian of him!

John Stodder said...

This sounds awful, though I've never been there.

What's interesting is to contrast the relentless messaging of this museum as you depict it with the restraint of two other museums I've visited this month, where one might expect the museum officials would give in to that temptation and they have not: The new DeYoung Museum in San Francisco, and the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum that honors the victims of the Federal Building bombing in 1995.

San Francisco is where this sort of thing smacks you in the face on restaurant menus, metro ads and bakery answering machines (there's a great bakery in the Sunset district that takes International Workers' Day as a holiday, and makes sure you know it). But the DeYoung seems not to have been afflicted, at least not from what I saw. It's exquisitely aesthetic. Inspired by Ann, I'll be putting up a few photos I took there on my blog today. (http://tinyurl.com/npdx3, but don't go right away).

Oklahoma City could be excused for turning its memorial and museum into a rant against the right. (As you might recall, President Clinton blamed the bombing on talk radio.) It is not. It is something very different, one of the most creative historical museums I've yet seen that is dedicated most of all to those who died there and those who survived but were forever changed. It explores these effects in very specific, detailed ways, using every medium available to them. It is the ultimate "found art" museum, and since all the found objects were thrown off by this horrific attack, they connect you directly to the lives of the victims. For example, I saw a datebook, all scuffed and crumpled, open to April 1995. The owner of the book died. For some reason I found it incredibly moving that he had put a yellow sticker on April 15 to mark the full moon -- the last one he was alive to see. This museum has hundreds of such items, plus photos, TV clips, and lots of text explaining the various things that happened. The writing is clear and restrained, and never indulges in the bathos of political posturing. The only place you see that kind of thing is on the contemporaneous video clips -- mostly from Bill and Hillary, whose "feel your pain" exercises seemed to work for him back then, but seemed like self-parody from this distance.

Anyway, the directors of Brooklyn's museum could benefit from a field trip to Oklahoma City and San Francisco.

vbspurs said...

John, can't wait for your pics.

And may I pay you the ultimate compliment -- thanks to your moving description, I will make SURE I go to the Oklahoma City museum soon.

One can only hope their committee members have some kind of liaison with the WTC one.

Chip Ahoy said...

Denver Art Museum will be displaying 40 paintings from the Brooklyn Museum for a show entitled Landscapes from the Age of Impressionism. (<--Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has a better description than Denver Art Museum does.) And for that I own the Brooklyn Museum a great debt of gratitude. Well, maybe not a great debt but still a substantial debt. OK FINE! -- a moderate debt of gratitude.

Oddly, the online description doesn't acknowledge Brooklyn Museum, but the thing they mail members does. So do the banners set upon poles throughout the area. I live half a block from this spot, directly across from the red brick building in the background, the one-time Bleeding Corpse of the Tortured, Crucified, Sacrificed Christ School for Little Girls, or something like that. Hang on. Oh, I'm sorry, mistake there -- I'm getting Impressionists exhibits mixed. That banner's for the present exhibit that has nothing to do with Brooklyn. Never mind then, Brooklyn doesn't come up until June. We'll hold off on owning Brooklyn a debt of gratitude, however large. Incidentally, the outside of this addition to DAM gives no indication of the deplorable prosaic suspended acoustic tile ceiling within. A crushing disappointment, that, given the potential.

L. E. Lee said...

That Jesus guy also use to spend a lot of his time "preaching for the poor" but he wasn't much of a christian anyways...

Chip Ahoy said...

↑ Did he? I recall reading of him preaching to the poor but not so much about them. In fact, didn't he say not to worry so much, they'll be with us always?

Drew W said...

Last fall I went with my daughter, her best friend and her best friend’s dad to the Brooklyn Museum. The girls were researching a project for their 7th Grade social studies class on Native American tribe the Olmec. I was skeptical that they’d find anything useful at the museum, but I was wrong. There were some Olmec artifacts for them to read about and photograph, so three cheers for the Brooklyn Museum. That’s what a museum is there to do.

But once the girls had finished their Olmec business, we walked around to other exhibits, including the “Herstory” wing. I had to read that sign twice, since I couldn’t believe anybody was still using those embarrassing old ’70s feminist expressions. Yes, it actually said “Herstory.” I know it’s just an affectation, but it really begs the question: What planet do these people live on? (There was also something written on a plaque about the hardships suffered by women ceramicists. Ever since then, women ceramicists have become my favorite exploited group. When discussing politics, I’m often heard to ask aloud how all this is going to affect the women ceramicists.)

Part of that “Herstory” area was a whole lot of supposedly progressive feminist art, like a photo of a Hasidic Jewish man who opens his shirt to reveal . . . breasts! The girls were a little disconcerted by some of the stuff they saw, but when they got to the video that showed how some woman with a Mohawk “masculinizes” herself to become a drag king . . . they couldn’t take it anymore. Completely freaked out, the girls literally turned and fled. It was hilarious. Welcome to second-wave feminism, girls.

After that little episode, the girls did walk all around the triangular room that housed “The Dinner Party” by Judy Chicago. They really didn’t seem to notice that all these plates were somehow vaginal in design, and I wasn’t in the mood to tell them, but they were intrigued by all the famous (and less famous) women to which each plate was assigned.

The other girl’s dad had never heard of “The Dinner Party,” so I gave him a quick précis on its role in the history -- whoops, “herstory” -- of feminist art. (It was even parodied at the time. I think it was National Lampoon that came up with “Box Lunch by Suzy Philadelphia.”) At any rate, I told him, this should drive home the point that feminist art amounts to women going on and on about their vaginas.

Before we left the Museum, the four of us hung out in front of the building, where a clever fountain blasts big jets of water skyward in hard-to-anticipate patterns. As we watched this frankly ejaculatory work of public art, I whispered to the other dad, “This is the men’s equivalent of ‘The Dinner Party.’”

The Brooklyn Museum. Something for everyone.

L. E. Lee said...

Chip Ahoy,

Jesus preached to everyone. I am sure you read the book years ago but go back and reread it. The "poor" play a big role in it.

I realize in this age when the well off want to wallow in their Apple products and other material things it is easier to blithely shrug off with an ironic tone Jesus' message. But that ain't Christianity.

ricpic said...

I don't wanna know about the poor. They stink up the joint.

William said...

We all have different narratives: the great cause of the English literati in the early 19th Century was Greek independence. The philhellenes romanticized that the Greek rebels were lineal descendents of the heroes of classical literature. Actually the rebels were highland brigands with no greater cause than their immediate self interest. The great cause of the evangelical Christians was the abolition of slavery. The two different causes were not in conflict, but they were not complementary. This is an unresearched opinion, but I think it fair to say that the cause of Greek independence had more cachet among the fashionable left than the abolition of slavery. I also think it fair to say that those repressed Christians did more to further the cause of human freedom than liberated poets like Byron and Shelley. At the Congress of Vienna, it was Wellington, known to history as a reactionary, who abolished slavery in the French Empire over the objection of the Bonapartists, known to history as egalitarians. The hypocrisy of the Greek Slave statue is not that the artist tried to palm off a blatantly sexual image as a symbol of Greek subjection--artists have to make a living after all. The hypocrisy is that the artist has conflated Greek independence with the Abolition movement. In the 19th Century artists and intellectuals were not the movers and shakers in the Abolition movement. No problem. Just make Greek independence part of the Abolition movement. In the 20th Century, artists and intellectuals were, if anything, net supporters of Communist rule. No problem. Just make Communism part of the larger, more important war against fascism. In this new millenium, they will find nothing to celebrate in the liberation of the marsh Arabs and much to mourn among the prisoners at Guatenamo. From Wellington to Eisenhower to Petraeus, they have ignored the liberation of millions because such feats were performed by the kind of people who are uptight about nude statues.

titusisdreamingofhog said...

Tits, tits and more tits.

This blog is filled to the rim (hee hee) with tits.

I said rim.

John Stodder said...

vbspurs,

Two DeYoung photos are up. More to come after I fete my Mom.

It was great to visit Oklahoma City. This is what work travel should be: A time to explore places you would never choose for a vacation. All the traveling this year has been a hassle, but seeing things like the Memorial made going to OK as memorable as going to, say, Rome.

If you go there, also try to see a game at the Brickyard. Beautiful baseball park for their minor league team, great place to spend a warm evening.

Ralph said...

Nudity aside, that's a provocative pose by MacMannies (and it shows off his technical skill like a Bernini sculpture), and who wants to explain to a child what it appears is about to happen to the nude man?

somefeller said...

Chief nanny Michael Bloomberg is former member of the board of trustees. How much influence do b of t's exert over curators?

Hopefully, none, other than to tell the curators whether or not they liked the exhibits after the exhibits were put up. Board members shouldn't be telling the artistic staff what to curate, unless their input is requested or unless there's an extraordinary circumstance that requires Board intervention.

I've never been to the Brooklyn Museum in my travels to NYC, and it sounds like I won't be making a special trip to see it next time I'm in town. I'm not a fan of the painted word vision of notes and descriptions in museum exhibits. Just give us some background and context in a few paragraphs at the entry points or other key points of the exhibit, and otherwise just list the name, date and artist for a particular piece and let the viewer experience the piece for himself or herself.

If your audience has some degree of taste and discernment, there's no need to lead them around by the nose. If they don't have such qualities, there's nothing you can do for them, and in any case it's not your job to do anything for them anyway.

rhhardin said...

You get messages in Kroger too, but without the agenda or the effete word-processing of every thought.

In fact the thought is free-associative, pretty much, until the point is reached and passed sufficiently, with an open-endedness to the message that the Brooklyn Museum could never match.

Messages in this style would make the museum more friendly, much like the Midwest.

Kirby Olson said...

Communists wanted to use art as propaganda, which ruins its affective power and turns it into a kind of sloganeering.

With Obama in power, we'll get more of that conflation of art and politics until art itself has no right to speak except as an adjunct of politics.

There's some new news about Obama, and how a mysterious Frank with whom he had a father-son type relationship in Hawaii, was none other than a fellow named Frank Marshall Davis, a writer with affiliations in the American Communist Party. There are still some books by Frank Marshall Davis that you can get via Amazon.com.

It's amazing what we're learning about this stealth candidate who will probably win the Democratic nomination. Are the Republicans just holding their fire until he wins the nomination?

http://www.aim.org/
aim-column/obamas-communist-mentor/


I first saw this link at Ron silliman's blog.

There are a few books by this gentleman at Amazon.com. He appears to be getting rediscovered and is considered to be in the same league as Maya Angelou and a few others of that ilk.

Frank Marshall Davis!

If you google him, he's like an underground giant. Many books, and very influential within African-American communist circles.

bearbee said...

There's some new news about Obama, and how a mysterious Frank with whom he had a father-son type relationship in Hawaii, was none other than a fellow named Frank Marshall Davis, a writer with affiliations in the American Communist Party.

New Zeal
has 20 Obama 'files' posted.

somefeller said...

With Obama in power, we'll get more of that conflation of art and politics until art itself has no right to speak except as an adjunct of politics.

Uh, yeah. I'm sure the museum censors are just waiting in the wings at Obama HQ. For some reason, this little line made me think of this old piece from Slate.

From Inwood said...

drew w

LOL at your post.

In the room the women come, quite pissed, talking of hardshipped women ceramists.

I have heard the feminists singing, each to each.

I do not think they will sing to me.

I'll bet there's a feminist studies PhD dissertation on the subject of women ceramists somewhere.

Or maybe an interview by Barbara Wa Wa.

peter hoh said...

Unless I am mistaken, that Diana is by Saint-Gaudens, whose Lincoln we discussed in an earlier post.

From Inwood said...

Palladian

Hope you're right & the damage can be undone. I don't dislike glass & steel by itself, but this doesn't, shall we say, blend.

And wish I’d said:

“The only thing worse than moralizing New York liberals is moralizing New York liberals in hipster clothes getting drunk in a building full of Egyptian funerary objects.”

Tho I have seen them do that at the Met, also.

Pogo

You're right when you say:

"In the end, even museums are just about whose ox is being gored; not about how awful it is to gore oxen, just these oxen."

It's OK to desecrate a Christian symbol like the Virgin Mary, but not a Muslim one or Mayor Washington of Chicago for that matter. Funny how those who say that freedom of expression, be it in paintings, writings, utterances, etc. is absolute, whine & censor when something bothers them & then claim the "hate speech" exception.

Kirby Olson

The thing about preachers is that it's part of their job to preach about the sufferings of the poor, but I, as I suspect you do, expect a first-rate theological sermon from them about the poor, not a second-rate economics-illiterate rant about how the poor would automatically become richer if the rich became poorer. Especially from those who have 10,000 sq ft of mansion given them, located far from the poor.

From Inwood said...

Peter Hoh

St G has a famous Diana in the Met. Don't know if this is his also.

peter hoh said...

Sure looks like these statues are all related. Started out as an attempt to create a weathervane for Madison Square Garden.

I can't quite tell how tall this one is. According to something I just read on the internet, Philly's is 13 feet tall and the Met's is 18.

From Inwood said...

drew w

Ms Chicago doesn't have Gloria Steinem at her vagina monologue soirée or on her tiles.

Sic transit women ceramists ….

From Inwood said...

Oligonicella said...

"If you want a museum without political message, try the Nelson in K.C.Mo."

You’re right. That's a great museum, tho on a smaller scale than the big N. E. cities, especially its cloister (indoors, alas) which is reminiscent, on a small scale, of my boyhood castle in Inwood, The Cloisters. Worth a visit for that reason alone.

But the pièce de résistance is a painting from Inwood, c 1910, looking toward the Webb Institute across the Harlem River, now relocated to Lon Guyland. I've never seen anything else from Inwood in a serious art museum! Go figure.

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