Roberta Smith is one of my three favorite working art critics. That’s why her review of Pixar @ MoMA this morning is so disappointing.
Smith hands MoMA a quite mild rebuke for turning itself from Alfred Barr’s museum, a place that show art “still too controversial for universal acceptance” into a corporate gallery for MoMA’s well-heeled pals:
Given the immense popularity of Pixar films, the Modern would seem to have a hit on its hands, and despite the sometimes dismayingly corporate posture of the museum, in this case those hands seem to be relatively clean. In contrast to the Guggenheim’s Armani exhibition, the Pixar show does not coincide with a monetary gift to the museum by its subject (the show’s sponsors are Intel and Porsche). And in contrast to many museums, the Modern does not have a single Pixar-related toy or object for sale in its bookstore, only a rather meager catalog. There is definitely an element of convenience in focusing on the work of one studio when the field of animation is so immense, and also in the almost complete dearth of writing in the catalog, which has been published by Chronicle Books, rather than the Modern.
Smith implies that the only circumstance under which an institution can be called to account for a questionable show is an Armani-Guggenheim-pay-per-view type situation. That’s ceding a lot of ground.
How is MoMA “relatively clean” (Smith’s word) for doing a show that betrays its raison d’etre? How is MoMA “clean” for choosing to spotlight a corporation instead of artists? No one’s implying that Pixar is slipping Glenn Lowry a motorcycle a la BMW and Tom Krens, but the show is unquestionably seven weeks of free advertising for a commercial business, a major film studio. Pixar is another example (remember UBS’ ubiquitous we’-re-tight-with MoMA ads) of MoMA cozying up to one of America’s most-recognized corporate entities for programmatic purposes (as opposed to fundraising or sponsorship purposes) at the expense of artists.
While Pixar isn’t funding the show, a quick look at the show’s sponsors (Intel and Porsche) reveal corporate co-existence that should have been mentioned in Smith’s review: Pixar’s films are built by Intel-fueled super-computing clusters. Pixar’s next film is Cars, and one of the main characters is a Porsche (with the voice of Bonnie Hunt). Pixar naturally has a 3,613-word press release promoting itself/the show on its website. (Pixar’s corporate site promises an international tour, too.) Interests all around.
For the sake of comparison, some passages from Smith’s review of the UBS show at MoMA:
“[The UBS show] is just one more symptom of the increasingly corporate culture of America, in which museums – MoMA not excluded – behave more like large companies, paying close attention to the bottom line and every retail opportunity.”
“[The UBS show] certainly deflates the heightened commitment to cutting-edge art that the Modern so emphatically telegraphed with its new design and distribution of display space…”
Pixar obviously deflates it further. So why didn’t Smith say so?