The week in review
Vacation and work have kept me away for a while, a will probably continue to do so for a little while yet. While in Boston, I checked back on one of the city’s premier cultural institutions.
The new wing of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston is emblematic of museum branding today, all the more so because of the particular intractability of its foundational stipulations. In a cultural climate where having a great collection simply isn’t enough, institutional visibility has become closely tied to event culture. for a museum that can’t even rehang its collection, this is of course a problem, so what do you do? Raise $180 million and hire go-to starchitect Renzo Piano to facilitate all the things museums seem convinced they have to do to stay afloat these days: an new wing housing a concert hall, a gift shop, a restaurant, a children’s art room, an exhibition space for artists-in-residence, a greenery. All sustainable, geothermal and daylight-harvesting, of course.
You do what you gotta do to survive, I suppose, but the absurdity of this trend for museums to go extra-curricular is particularly clear at the Gardner, whose intermittently great collection is forever trapped in a mediocre hang by the vanity of its founder, who insisted that everything be presented exactly as she left it at her death. This results in many important works being hung at low visibility and in often idiosyncratic and unenlightening juxtaposition, with the preciously empty frames of masterworks stolen in 1990 remaining on the walls as if to consecrate this “vision.” A new wing could have worked wonders for the presentation of the museum’s masterpieces, if only.
Still, Boston has a new, reportedly great concert hall and I’m sure Piano’s elegant building will attract customers. It has the potential to become a strong cultural center, if it does not blow too many leaks and if the museum’s direction finds ways of breaking its somewhat stale reputation. A good thing, even if the overall tendency is troubling.
A bunch of recent comics links: