Should Museums Shame Critics for Bad Reviews?

Through Sunday MOCA is offering free admission to “Andy Warhol: Shadows” to anyone who brings a review and tweets about it (hashtag #LetsDiscuss). The Museum’s tweeted photo makes it clear they’re reacting to Christopher Knight’s negative review in the L.A. Times.

“Vapid and pretentious, the overblown installation ranks among the worst works Warhol made,” writes Knight. This view is no outlier. That Shadows and other late Warhol abstractions are relatively minor is the conventional opinion. MOCA is challenging that opinion, as it’s entitled to do.

Other reviews of the MOCA show have been kinder. Chalk up Edward Goldman’s as a rave. (“Andy at the Top of His Game… Hurry up and go see the new jaw-dropping exhibition…”) Still other reviews, including my own own, have been generally positive, if not to a Goldmanesque degree. But hey, don’t go by me. I’m Mikey—I like (almost) everything.

So Knight alone dares to say the Pope of Pop Art has no clothes.

This is the Internet, and we’re all making up the rules as we go along. MOCA’s social net team must have regarded the promotion as a proactive way of countering a bad review. My sense is that it comes off as belittling rather than encouraging honest discussion.

Are there any situations where a museum might push back against criticism? Sure. An obvious example is New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s criticism of Chris Ofili’s The Holy Virgin Mary back in 1999. Giuliani was a powerful figure who knew nothing about contemporary art. His words got far more attention than any art critic’s and, had they gone unchallenged, would have left the public misinformed. Using the controversy as a teachable moment was inevitable.

But with Knight and Shadows, there’s nothing to teach. Knight knows all about Warhol and is offering his well-informed opinion that Shadows is bad Warhol. I’m not sure the Internet has changed the old advice, that the best reaction to a bad review is to ignore it.

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