North Carolina Museum of Art, repository of Renaissance greats Giotto, Titian and Raphael, has scheduled a car show called “Porsche by Design: Seducing Speed” curated by an ex director of a car museum and - despite NCMA’s customary free admission - will charge visitors $18 to see.
It’s easy to guess why.
NCMA needs to beef up attendance. Showing a sleek and sexy race car that Jerry Seinfeld once described as “a warm, round pebble in your hand” could move non-art lovers to show up.
At least, that’s what happened in 1998 when Guggenheim Museum in New York presented “The Art of the Motorcycle” with 114 exhibit examples that brought in the largest crowd ever. Guggenheim repeated the show in 2002 in a satellite space in Nevada called Guggenheim Vegas, this time with 130 bikes.
The Guggenheim started out in 1937 with four goals: collect, present, interpret and preserve. Is paying attention to one out of four goals OK?
Other New York museums don’t think so. Metropolitan Museum of Art Director Philippe de Montebello has said that gimmicky shows are all about making money, not making museums. Glen Lowry, director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, has called The Art of the Motorcycle “an act of desperation.” It should be noted that Lowry mounted a fashion show of Dior and an exhibit of Jackie O’s dresses. At least it can be said that the Guggenheim has an excuse: Its endowment of $47 million cannot compare with MOMA’s $315 million endowment.
Certainly there’s reason for desperation. The American Association of Museums has reported that treasure houses receive less than one-third of their funding from government sources, down nearly 40 percent from a decade ago. This might explain such dubious art experiences as a guitar show at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and an American sneaker show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
But as Thomas Krens, former director of the Guggenheim said of the Vegas venue, contemporary culture has expanded to embrace new forms of art and is no longer only about painting and sculpture. http://www.examiner.com/article/there-s-a-moral-to-this-art-story Today art is about film, video, performance art, and architecture, he said and likened the bike show to a retrospective of a major artist.
When I asked the curator of Guggenheim’s bike show, Ultan Guilfoyle, if the show was really art, he said he didn’t call it “art” exactly. “It’s not art in the way Picasso is art. But it’s perfectly legitimate for a museum to mount a design show (and) this is no ordinary design show. I could have done the popular thing and mounted Harleys. But I didn’t want to be seduced by what is popular. I went for purity and picked the best 100 I could find.” Guilfoyle considered his picks “sculpture.”
Can it be that a commercial product like Porsche is sculpture, too? Given that so many museums collect Warhol’s Campbell soup cans and Coke bottles, why not? In the words of media guru Marshall McLuhan, advertising is the greatest art form of modern times.
All in favor say “aye” “Nay”…Anybody?