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12th Apr 2008

Thoughts on the “Art Machine”

Friendship Quilt made for Ella Maria Deacon

Friendship Quilt made for Ella Maria Deacon 1811–1894, United States, New Jersey, Mount Holly, from the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago

A while back on my Journal blog, before I started this one, I wrote about my consternation with the presentation of the Gee’s Bend quilts at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe. Basically, I found the “art-speak” surrounding the exhibit as an unwelcome distraction from the quilts themselves.

Yesterday, my husband and I went to the New Mexico Museum of Art looking for inspiration and some soul-soothing, and found more of the same pretentious commentary rather than a straightforward, intelligent presentation of works of art.

Perhaps we were spoiled by our former membership at the Art Institute of Chicago. But when the plaque on the wall, rather than simply presenting information about the artist and the materials used in the work, interprets the work for me in condescending, practically meaningless double-speak, I’m offended. Especially when what is written there tries to hammer home the “significance” of a piece due to the maker’s membership in a “movement” of art, whether or not the piece itself can stand on its own as any kind of statement to its viewer.

It’s one thing to offer context, information about the environment in which the artist made something, or events in the artist’s life and history, and quite another to explain a work’s “rich and important” symbolism or interpret an artist’s intent.

The presentation of the exhibits we saw yesterday practically screamed, “VALIDATE ME!” I wonder if this is a new trend in curating — preemptively defending the choices of particular pieces by “selling” them? Or is it a way of dumbing down the presentation of art to make it seem “Important” to a broader audience?

Whichever it might be, I find it disturbing both as an art-maker and an art-lover. Art is a dialogue between artist and viewer. It shouldn’t need a go-between.

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