Museum Practices: A Symptom Of The Times —Then And Now

The New Art Examiner is pleased to reprint the lead article written by Tom Mullaney in 1982. It was ahead of its time as we all know the Questions on Museum Practice have expanded into a greater gravitas. The question of the Museum points to a larger issue which is the failing structure of American culture. Today, the American political process is in serious doubt. The question of governance, practice ethics and corruption dominate the presidential election. For the first time in history, the two candidates earn more resentment than approval with the public. The turn off by the electorate, encapsulated in the phrase “the lesser of two evils,” sets the media loose to wallow in the blame game and earn fat profits. Hard talk or soft talk is now irrelevant. The worst has happened: language is losing out to babble.
The museum is the art world equivalent of mass media in that the museum is regarded as authoritative and the sounding board of our society’s
beliefs and concerns. It is assumed that the practice of the visual arts is content to flow through the museums’ portal. Whether the art pleases or
not, simply the tradition of the new has its own allure. Here the issue of fashion has to be considered.
The latest offering is the parade on the catwalk. But the catwalk has no ambition other than celebrity. Art can have and should have  a higher purpose. But museums still perform an essential public service in making art and other visual treasures available to the public. The public demonstrate a well-embedded desire to look at art and, in so doing, to extend education from the exposure to curiosities from distant lands and previous civilizations to more meaningful aims.
Museums have become like political parties, in that their agenda is set by insiders—with smoke and mirrors and super delegates. The upcoming
election for president of the United States presents a unique scenario in which the public disapprove of the candidates. This is an example
of institutional decay where simple corruption has corroded public confidence and belief in political management. The issue is the secrecy
with which museums operate, akin to and inviting insider trading and self-dealing. There is too much secrecy in recent American post-war
history, and the status of the USA integrity has declined on the World Stage. Old soldiers do not die; they fade away through the revolving door of
the Military Industrial Complex. But art by nature is explicit. Politics is not.
The idea of the avant-garde was to find an expression that allowed the artist a freedom outside the demands of the Academy and the banality of public taste. The Academy was quite sure of its taste and process of criteria. It was a public event. The artist was accepted to be exhibited
or was refused. The museum has replaced the Academy as the guardian of authenticity and quality. But the institution has simply lost standing
as its decisions are made in private and covered over with the effective propaganda and PC of the media—keeping alive the fantasy of La Boehme.
The artist and writer who can survive outside the walls of this patronage will be a hero of tomorrow.
Fashion is a force that does not allow room to breathe outside a staged vanity. Now difficult to separate museums from Hollywood, the progressive expression has become Americanized show business.
Derek Guthrie,Publisher

Volume 31 number 1, September / October 2016 p 5

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