What Is A Museum?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

James Panero, art critic and managing editor of The New Criterion, discusses his new piece and how the idea of a museum has changed over the last several generations.

Comments [54]

Edward from Washington Heights AKA pretentious Hudson Heights

Check out the Frick Gallery on 5th Ave. one day. You'll love it.

Mar. 30 2012 11:19 AM
James Panero from The New Criterion

Great comments on air and online. Thanks for listening everyone. More thoughts on the article page and twitter @jamespanero

Mar. 29 2012 03:35 PM
Elle from Brooklyn

Coming late to the party here, but . . . National Academy of Design at 89th and Fifth.

Mar. 29 2012 02:10 PM
Machi from Queens

For MOMA haters: I went to MOMA last weekend with my husband and my 6 months old daughter. It was a great visit. What was great? Every floors has bathroom with diaper changing table and access with elevators. There are high chairs in the cafe. It is extremely hard to enjoy ART with kids in some museums. Museum of Moving Image in Queens doesn't allow you to bring strollers. PS1 don't have changing tables. I understand if you don't have kids and don't wanna hear kids screaming in a museum! However, I think MOMA is a great museum to enjoy ART for parents.

Mar. 29 2012 01:59 PM
Liz from queens

For those of you who complain about the new "out of the box" events, trendy restaurants and coffee houses that our museums are now hosting, what is the alternative? Exhibits that no one shows up for? A dingy cafeteria that sells stale sandwiches and bad coffee? My husband and some of his friends are building a great new restaurant (M. Wells) in MoMA's PS1 museum in Long Island City- and it's great both for the community and for the museum. Would you rather your favorite museums have to close their doors just because you don't want hipsters and young children to disturb your experience at the museum? Art if for everyone, young, old, trendy and why not enjoy some good food, a crazy saturday night rave (Summer warmups) or free Sundays for families who otherwise couldn't afford to enjoy the world of art?

Mar. 29 2012 12:10 PM
Andrea Harbison from West Allenhurst, NJ

This past March we celebrated my daughter's 27th birthday with a trip to the MoMA. It was a wonderful experience! and our purpose was to view and experience the art. I went with all three of my children ages 14, 27, and 29 - my two older children are both art majors. My eldest son is so knowledgable and passionate about the art! His preferences and opinions were well formed and articulated - it blew me away! Touring the museum with them enlighten me, turned my youngest son on to this type of art experience, and taught me so much while raising my own level of appreciation!! It was a great experience. Now I want to go to the Philadelphia Museum of Art - on my son's recommendation - to see more.

Mar. 29 2012 12:05 PM
Lenore from Manhattan

About the Phila Museum of Art comment and response from the guest: I was at the Musee D'Orsay last week to see the fabulous Degas exhibit which I had missed when it was in Boston. Very crowded (M d'O is also a tourist destination) and there were no timed tickets but nevertheless, the exhibit was a JOY.

I thought that the Phila guy was going to say that the experience was horrible but no, his point was that he had a chance to see the pictures. I agree, on balance (I also hate the audios, never use them, and dislike the constant buzz). How can it be bad if people are going to museums to see art, which they still can do, in spite of all?

For this reason, I am glad that the Barnes Collection will be moving to Philadelphia where people can SEE the paintings without going through Barnes hoops any more.

Mar. 29 2012 12:05 PM
Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

I'm with Sue...The Barnes Foundation (and it's priceless...okay $25B+ collection of Impressionist art) has been stolen from the original grant holders and is now going to PMOA. The entire story is a metaphor for the theft of value perpertrated against minorites in this country. On the other, hand if someone hadn't stepped in all of this beauty may well have one day been worthless as the site was mismanaged and was falling apart. How Pennsylvania machinated to break Dr. Barnes will and steal the Board of Governors from Lincoln University is a fascinating story and I hope that Brian gets to cover it more fully some day.

I'm ecstatic that the art will survive and more can enjoy it. I am enraged that it had to be stolen from the rightful owners in order for it to be considered 'worth doing'.

Mar. 29 2012 12:03 PM
Inquisigal from Brooklyn

I don't agree with the caller that the way we experience art will go the way of consuming digital media like music. Most visual art forms are physical pieces that must be seen in person to appreciate the texture, the scope, the vibe, etc. You will never get this via a computer screen. Think of Richard Serra pieces and what they feel like when you stand next to them (or inside of them); ditto for the sculptor Ron Mueck. You cannot possibly experience the kind of emotion these pieces evoke without seeing them with your own eyes.

That said, I think more interactive museums that include more than paintings have a greater effect on all of us. If you like art, you likely are in touch with your inner child. That sense of wonder is effected on a deeper level if the environment the art is shown in is more playful and designed to support the work. Going to the Salvador Dali Museum in his home in Figueres, Spain was an AMAZING experience for me because the whole place is like one big surrealist designed set around his pieces. This is far more fun and engaging than a white box of a room with paintings on the wall.

Mar. 29 2012 12:03 PM
astro from earth

The real issue is qualified museums as well as museum directors. Curating and providing access is a real question... Their is exceptional need to provide curatory and preservation work, which is only truly possible with the museum industrial complex and it is the smaller less evolved museums that lose and experience damaged collections due to lacks of funding for preservation. as for collections traditionally the trusts have provided for access to extensive art and the expanse of human history. Their certainly are questions as to use and pricing and more attention should be payed to SUGGESTED DONATIONS and community or program days and of course as educational means. The real danger is to turn curating over to the wealth of lesser popular art and the egos of museum culture and urban bourgeoisie.

Mar. 29 2012 12:02 PM
Lisa DeLoria Weinblatt from Queens, NY

As an artist that consistently exhibits in museums, allover the USA, the content and experience of what a museum experience is for both artist and viewer has, and is changing. Is it better? Not necessarily, but it is more accomadating to the viewer, whose time and money is prized.
I'm on my way to the museums today!

Mar. 29 2012 12:00 PM
Elsie from Brooklyn

There is absolutely populist about charging people $20 to get into a museum. This is culture for tourists and culture-vultures. The citizens of NY who aren't wealthy are effectively shut out.

Mar. 29 2012 11:59 AM
wanda from NYC

Museums have changed a lot in recent years -- and I include ALL kinds (science, history,art, specialty,etc).

They have become far more oriented towards education, community paritcipation -- largely a good thing.

Having worked many years with museums -- I want to remind people that their funding from ALL sources depends greatly on the number of visitors. Tickets are indeed too expensive -- but Membership remains very reasonable

Mar. 29 2012 11:58 AM
Stephen from Manhattan

Just heard Elsie's comments about her museum experience today. They've become just another tourist destination for out-of-towners to check off their list, and no longer conducive to experiencing and appreciating art. I totally agree. And her description of the "new and improved" MoMA also hits the nail on the head. It's become a giant shopping mall -- and one that costs you $25 to go to. I absolutely HATE the place now and pretty much will not go to see any show there. They've destroyed the wonderful experience the MoMA was when I first moved here in 1975. It's too bad they still have an incredible permanent collection that I -- and I imagine many other art lovers -- may never see again because the experience is now so debased by what MoMA has done to MoMA.

Mar. 29 2012 11:58 AM

This guy sounds like a NY elitis putz. Numbers are up at the turnstile but museums are less accessible. Please.

Mar. 29 2012 11:58 AM
Amy from Manhattan

On Wantagh/Montauk, I lived in Wantagh for 5 years as a child, & I get the same thing every time I mention Wantagh. And when I say, "No, Wantagh," often people reply, "Wantauk?"

Mar. 29 2012 11:58 AM
Nick from UWS

Museums have the same ADD-like hysteria that everything else has now. Fast-food culture for the transient tourist crowd. What a shame.

Mar. 29 2012 11:58 AM
VAT from South Orange, NJ

Completely disagree that Museum of Natural History has retained its erstwhile outlook or ambiance. They too have grossly jacked up admission charges (admission fees were once optional, and were invited as donations), and gotten so commercialized, it is hard not to trip into the veritable Gift Shop just around each corner on each floor!

Mar. 29 2012 11:57 AM
Janet from Westchester

I think museums are better than ever, especially the Metropolitan. The Islamic art galleries are fabulous as is the renovated American Wing. My husband and I go regularly, and we love to just wander through the beautifully lit and displayed galleries.

Mar. 29 2012 11:57 AM
Judith from Park Slope

hey! I love having a membership to one or the other museums so that I can go at times OTHER than the free days/nights. But, the expense of the Whitney, Nat'l History (and the Rose center)and MoMA...and is hard to regularly go and pay those full price entries...the budget of most of us can't support the casual visit to a museum that it used to. I feel guilty paying a small amount to go into the Met but hey! I like to keep myself inspired and educated!!

Mar. 29 2012 11:56 AM
Catherine McConnell from west islip, ny

I can't believe what I'm hearing. Aren't tourists people too who deserve to get to see art. Who are these people to decide that children and visitors won't be effected by some art show. I am also disappointed when I can only visit museums during weekends because they are so crowded, but I still can enjoy my experience. And I love the new dining options - I became a member at MOMA recently and enjoy visiting with friends, sharing short museum visits and a lovely casual lunch.

Mar. 29 2012 11:56 AM
Anna from Brooklyn

I completely disagree with the argument that encouraging non-traditional art viewers to go to museums is "destroying" the museum experience. Although I agree that there is a problem with museums selling bits of their collection, I think this general argument is elitist. Museums need money in order to innovate and grow unless you want museums to be entirely dependent on their wealthy patrons. I'm originally from Detroit, and if you go to their museums on a Saturday, no one is there. As a result, the museums are falling apart.

Mar. 29 2012 11:56 AM
ben meiry from NJ

I wish museums did a better job integrating their different areas & displays. So that, say one could better see the relationship , say, between egyption art on greek greek art which impacted on renaissance art?

Mar. 29 2012 11:56 AM
jul from BKLYN

I feel so nickled and dimed at most museums. I LOVE the Museum of Natural History, but with every additional cost to the various sections makes going to the museum for family more well to do then we are.

Mar. 29 2012 11:55 AM
Margaret from nyc

There is in fact a big growth in higher ed in museum studies/management. HUGE. Problem is, museums don't pay. You have to have a PH D to become a curator and later director, generally, and unless you are already wealthy, chances are you won't become the next director of the MMA. You have to have a certain cultural capital and affluence to become a museum director. It remains a class-structured institution.

Mar. 29 2012 11:55 AM
Brady from Brooklyn

The art museums are one of my favorite parts of living in New York City. My fiance and I go to the Met, the Whitney, or the Guggenheim several times a month. And they couldn't be more accessible! Nearly all of them have a pay what you wish night. Sure, there might be a line, but what doesn't have a line in New York?

Mar. 29 2012 11:54 AM
Victor Sanchez from Morningside Heights

I went to The Jewish Museum recently and I was offended by the level of security at the museum. A pat down, a swipe with a hand held metal detector, then a walk thru another metal detector, and emptying my pockets of keys and metal. It was an unwelcoming experience and one that was tough to shake while I walked thru the exhibit. I want to go to a museum not visit visa control or the feeling that I'm crossing a border into a place that feels it is under attack.

Mar. 29 2012 11:54 AM
Elsie from Brooklyn

Brooklyn Museum's First Saturday used to be a wonderful, neighborhood event until Target got involved about 8 years ago. Now the people in the neighborhood can't even get into the event anymore because it's packed with tourists. I don;t know anyone in Brooklyn who bothers going anymore.

Mar. 29 2012 11:54 AM
Lori from BK

The guy that thinks seeing the Mona Lisa from his computer is seeing the Mona Lisa, should invest in some glasses.

I do view art (that I can't get to) online and I do love the magnifying possibilities.

But I recently saw 'The Steins' at the Met and seeing the art in a much different view. Digital does something to the color and shading and its just not the same.

Mar. 29 2012 11:54 AM
Rebecca from brooklyn

As an artist, I totally agree with the woman that said that the great museums have just become tourist spots... It's hard to look at paintings when they are blocked by people snapping pictures with their cell phones instead of LOOKING at the art. I also almost saw a throwdown between security guard and a tourist who took offense at being told to take his loud cell phone call outside the gallery. He seemed shocked that peope might be actually contemplating the Art

Mar. 29 2012 11:54 AM
Sandy from Brooklyn

I am an art teacher. I understand that museums now feel they need to stage blockbuster shows to bring in the crowds. I really hate MOMA, and rarely go there. I love the smaller museums, such as the New-York Historical Society, The Jewish Museum, and the Museum of the City of New York. The shows are smaller, the crowds respectful and knowledgable (not touristy). A wonderful recent show was about the gridding plan of Manhattan. The show "Manahatta" was just great also.

Mar. 29 2012 11:54 AM
andy from manhattan

to ron: art is never 2 dimensional if one takes the time to actually look at it. and getting up close allows access to details you will never see via a 72ppi image on your computer. you are missing the forest for the impression of the trees.

on the topic as a whole: the clusterf*ck that was the alexander mcqueen exhibit at the met felt like a an exercise in being herded like cattle, and i heard numerous individuals mention how they wanted to see things people could "actually wear." can't get much more like the mall than that.

the marketing to tourists instead of locals is definitely not appreciated.

Mar. 29 2012 11:53 AM
art525 from Park Slope

The teacher is talking about taking kids to the museums to teach them about our cirty. The Brooklyn Museum has an incredible collection of work from the turn of the last centruy that you can't see. I went to the Portland Museum in Portland Maine to see a show of the collection. told one of the museum people that I had come from Brooklyn to see the work I couldn't otherwise see ahd she said you're not the only one. By far. The Museum bought a bunch of Sargent paintings from his show in 1878. They don't show them. William Merit Chase painted in Prospect Park right net to the museum. Do they show those painting. Nope.

Mar. 29 2012 11:53 AM
beck from NYC

After 20 years as a visitor, I use the MoMA membership as a cheap movie ticket now and that's about it. Can't beat the price for what you see in a year. As for an art viewing experience, I have a much better time at Chelsea galleries. Calmer and without the crowds of tourists.

Mar. 29 2012 11:53 AM
Robyn miller

For a truly appreciative experience, go to DIA Beacon. The enthusiasm and knowledge of the staff enables me to view and appreciate it unlike those I have experienced lately in the city.

Mar. 29 2012 11:53 AM

I think museums have gotten into this block buster mentality these days. Often the paintings are from the permanent collection re curated to make an event. It's very popular, and maybe it's good if it brings more people into museums . They may go as a tourist attraction but end up actually being affected by the experience of even one painting or sculpture. I do miss the MOMA of my youth- I had a to write a paper on a museum for my 7th grade art class and went to MOMA (I grew up in the burbs ) and still remember my choices: Monet's water lillies, Picasso's goat and chagall's the town and I.

Mar. 29 2012 11:52 AM
michelle from manhattan

I think NYC has become inaccessible to NYers.

Mar. 29 2012 11:52 AM
Urbangranolagirl from Jersey City

I can't afford these museums anymore. I was an art history minor and I really miss going to them. I like the system they had in London - regular entry to museums were free, but you had to pay a premium for the special exhibits. This was great, especially when studying. I could go to visit the old standbys of the regular collections, but it was a special experience to see the big blockbuster shows. Let the tourists pay mosts of the costs!

Mar. 29 2012 11:52 AM

If I'm not mistaken, in the 1970's, when I was an undergrad the Met. was the most visited tourist attraction in NYC. Morris Dorsky, the great chairman of the Bklyn College art dept. required students in his art history course, to visit the Met. As proof of the visit he required the receipt to be handed in at the end of the semester. One additional condition was that you were not to pay more than a nickel to get in ......

Mar. 29 2012 11:52 AM
fran from westchester from westchester

there seems to be a lot more performance art. i think one of the reasons might be because people in our society are no longer interested in slowing down to just look at a piece of art. everything needs to move and do something. it is unfortunate.

Mar. 29 2012 11:52 AM
Maria from NYC

It's tricky because the museums need visitor volume, but as an individual of course I would prefer to be able to look at art without feeling like I am in a shopping mall. I think the volume of visitors could be OK if there were better rules, i.e. if talking were discouraged, no cellphones, limited access to babies, etc. That said, I think it is important for children to see art at an early age, with the guidance of attentive adults.

Mar. 29 2012 11:52 AM
DMV from NYC

The previous caller who said that he ignores 2-D art in museums is an example of someone for whom technique in art matters less. As an artist, I want to see the masterwork in person, examine brush strokes, see pigments, etc. Not everyone has to appreciate technical prowess, but I have a sad feeling when a digitization is seen as superior to a physical piece.

Mar. 29 2012 11:51 AM
Nick from UWS

If you'd rather look at a famous painting on your computer screen than in person, there's no hope for you.

Mar. 29 2012 11:50 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Economics are a big part of this - museums cannot afford to snob tourists and the money they bring in, something the caller needs to accept.

Mar. 29 2012 11:50 AM
Elle from Brooklyn

"I can see the Mona Lisa on my home computer"? Sigh.

Mar. 29 2012 11:50 AM
art525 from Park Slope

No you can't see the Mona Lisa on your home computer. It gives you no texture and indication of how it was painted and no sense of scale. And the color is never accurate. You couldn't be more wrong.

Mar. 29 2012 11:50 AM
The Truth from Becky

As with everything, they have changed with time.

Mar. 29 2012 11:50 AM

How about the theft of the Barnes Collection?

Mar. 29 2012 11:49 AM
pliny from soho

They are a major tourist destination.
All out of town visitors have to go.

Mar. 29 2012 11:49 AM
art525 from Park Slope

Unfortunately I think that museums in general have been really dumbing themselves down and pandering to the masses. I live near the Brooklyn Museum and it is one of the worst offenders. First there is the awful super graphics type of wall decoration where walls are painted in Chinese red and Royal blue with Gold stripes zig zagging across them There are wall labels which quote 7 year old children's opinions of the work. You see kids drawing with crayons on the floors. Rather thn encourage the people to stretch to "get" the work they turn it into an amusement park. The there are First Saturdays where they turn the museum into a club with loud music a bar and dancing. No one is looking at the art. It is just a club. And I wonder about the security- what if some drunken dancers bump up against a Degas? I hear that the museum is judged by the numbers that come through the doors but are the people looking at art? thinking about art? Don't dumb museums down challenge the people to come uip to the art. And grow in the process. The speaker just talked about donors giving- the Brooklyn Museum is auctioning off the architectural pieces givne by Ivan Karp without his approval he asked for them back to give to someone who cares abvout them and they turned him down.

Mar. 29 2012 11:48 AM

I LOVE the gift™ shops!!

Mar. 29 2012 11:48 AM
Grace from Brooklyn

There is a show up in a Brooklyn Gallery called Observatory Room on the Gawanus Canal that is about the idea of what a museum is. Here is the copy about the show: A museum’s mission involves the categorization, preservation, and contextualization of objects within a finite space. The Pop-Up Museum is designed to function as the inverse of these practices, bringing together a set of local, “unremarkable” objects that then become art or serve as a springboard for art that references them.

Through the playful contextualization and re-contextualization of these objects, we will redefine the museum—both what a museum looks like, physically, and what it does, culturally.

Mar. 29 2012 11:48 AM
Nick from UWS

Museums have for the most part been ruined by all the accessory garbage; all the bells and whistles and partitions and audio tours and screens and all the unbelievably annoying and distracting crap all over the place. A museum should be a quiet and dignified place where you can look at something in peace and learn about it. The Museum Of Natural History used to be an absolutely charming place. I avoid it like the plague now. Same with the Hayden Planetarium. Museums are absolutely suffocating now with all their carnival-like nonsense.

Mar. 29 2012 11:47 AM

Since MOMA did it, it means $20 a head for a visit. They have all followed suit.

Mar. 29 2012 11:44 AM

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