The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Thursday, June 22, 2006  

There's Never Good News

The news coming out of the Brooklyn Museum, at least over the past, I don't know, 20 years or so, has never been good, but the latest is just ridiculous.

For a museum with "a huge and world-renowned collection, including one of the country's best holdings in Egyptian art" that is located in a city with countless residents who have more money than they know what to do with, it's sad to see such an institution constantly stooping to new lows, a tawdry depth laid out in detail in today's New York Times in "Loss of Curators' Power Seen in Brooklyn Museum Plan," by Randy Kennedy.

The crux of the matter:

Beginning next month, the museum will do away with traditional departments like Egyptian art, African art[,] and European painting and instead create two "teams," one for collections and one for exhibitions. Arnold L. Lehman, the museum's director, said in an interview that the changes were intended to make the museum's relatively small curatorial staff more efficient and to encourage curators to exchange ideas more freely.

Oh, dear. But there's more:

[S]ome curators are . . . worried that the changes will result in more shows like "Star Wars," a 2002 exhibition of costumes and drawings from the movies, or "Hip-Hop Nation" in 2000, both of which drew sizable crowds but were derided by critics as little more than groupings of memorabilia.

It's been a long time since the Brooklyn Museum put art and edification before "the gate," and it's obvious there's no turning back now, it's only become patently obvious:

[S]ome critics have complained that the museum is taking the theme of accessibility so far that it is undermining its strengths as a place respected for its scholarship.

Is there a consultant in the building?, because it certainly sounds as if there is, complete with that industry's penchant for inappropriately deployed words:

[T]he [final] draft [of the reorganization plan] also suggests that ideas for future exhibitions might not come from curators but from staff members like museum educators or exhibition designers -- "rather than the other way around, as is traditionally the case." […]

For the plan to succeed, the exhibitions and collections teams must work together creatively -- a goal the plan refers to as "porosity."

Mr. Lehman is sticking with what he knows best: catering to the lowest common denominator. The Times offers this quote from the showman, I mean, director: "I actually see this as a very straightforward administrative redesign of the museum. I don't see this as a huge change, to be honest with you."

Over to you, Hilton.

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