So, what do art museum directors really think of turning over their museums to corporation-created exhibits (instead of sharing exhibitions, scholarship and research with colleagues, scholars and curators)?
On June 15 the Art Gallery of Ontario hosted a public conversation between its director Matthew Teitelbaum and MoMA director Glenn Lowry. Their chat was moderated by author and journalist Ron Graham. (The museum podcasted the audio of the event on June 22, but I listened to it just this past weekend. You can download the mp3 of the event here.) The event featured a rare moment of candor when Teitelbaum [at right] admitted that the AGO’s 2010 hosting of Anschutz Entertainment Group’s ‘King Tut’ show, a for-profit production that effectively uses non-profit art museums as storefronts through which a private company engages in for-profit activities, left him slightly queasy:
“So we’re amongst friends, right? And there’s no journalist who’s going to write this tomorrow in the paper?
So that’s my conflict about the ‘King Tut’ show for us. On one hand… over 400,000 paid to see it. It was fabulous. You popularize, you create meaning in seeing objects [and] people get great pleasure out of it. Whatever. It feels good. But on the other hand, [the museum] is not active in the interpretation of objects. [That's] from a staff point of view, from a learning within-the-institution point of view.
What Glenn says is right: If you’re just presenting and not interpreting — and therefore [not] deepening the capability of the institution by what you do — there is a feeling of loss. My conflict is that I’m certainly loving it when 400,000 people see an exhibition at the AGO, so I’m not taking a step back. But you want wherever you can to truly, truly push for the notion of the point-of-view, the interpretation, the way of understanding, because I think people actually come to museums to learn something about themselves, right?… And if you’re not in the middle of that as an institution, then I don’t think your visitors get it [either].”