Brooklyn Museum Under Fire Once Again!

August 8, 2010 at 10:06 pm Leave a comment

Target First Saturdays, photo courtesy of Brooklyn Museum

Various exhibition, collection, public program, and design decisions made by Brooklyn Museum are frequently under public scrutiny.  Director Arnold Lehman has sought to make the art museum more culturally diverse.  During his tenure programs like Target First Saturdays, an after-hours series of free art and entertainment, have increased the numbers and types of visitors who frequent the museum.  However, these programs and past exhibitions such as Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection and Hip Hop Nation: Roots, Rhymes, and Rage have also attracted strong censure.  Some people  believe the Brooklyn Museum has gone too far in advocating inclusion. Detractors fear that the museum’s relevancy as an educational and art institution is mired down by popular themed events and exhibitions. New York Times arts journalists frequently publicize these critiques.

Click: A Crowd-Curated Exhibition, Brooklyn Museum, photo by author

For the past few years I’ve been very interested in the Brooklyn Museum’s curatorial and public program direction. In particular I’ve written and presented research on the Brooklyn Museum’s 2008 exhibition: Click!: A Crowd-Crowd Curated Exhibition. Unlike most reviewers who argued that allowing the general public to select works was too populist oriented, I argued that the show was not crowd-curated. In my essay “Collaborative Curation?: The Brooklyn Museum’s Click!” published in the 2010 issue of St. Andrews Journal of Art History and Museum Studies I note how Brooklyn Museum excelled at incorporating social media as a way to reach and create an audience in this exhibition. However, I also indicate how many aspects of the exhibition planning and execution were handled by the museum and not the crowd. In my critique I describe how Brooklyn Museum operated as a cultural regulator. Moreover, I highlight how the news coverage didn’t question if the show was actually crowd-curated. Instead journalists and art world experts typically berated the crowd’s selections and skill level.

Once again I find the news reporting on Brooklyn Museum to be particularly troubling. In response to the New York Times’ August 5, 2010 article “Sketching a Future for Brooklyn Museum” by Robin Pogrebin, I noted the following statement in the comments section:

Over the years I’ve noticed that The New York Times typically takes an anti-Brooklyn Museum stance. Repeatedly the tone is negative and often the focus is on what art-world leaders outside of Brooklyn think this so-called misguided institution should do. At least in this article the author included some voices from folks who aren’t all about just bashing Brooklyn Museum. However, I agree with the other commentator that the article’s theme “what can be done to fix Brooklyn” is arrogant and misleading. Is there something newsworthy that the author is trying to highlight? Or is this just the usual “let’s beat up” Brooklyn Museum?

In fact, Brooklyn Museum is doing a lot of fabulous programs. Maybe an upcoming article could focus on the scope and uses of the digitized collection. And if contrasting the boroughs is necessary, the journalist could compare how Brooklyn’s digitization efforts match up with those at other city museums. Digitization is a very important feature for scholars and the general public. Directing more attention to this type of subject would advance the NYT’s museum coverage from mainly op-ed pieces to actual news articles.

Moreover, there’s probably something important to research and report about the Met, MOMA, or some other NYC institution. It would be nice to see critical essays on all of NYC’s museums, not just the same tired and derogatory assessments on Brooklyn Museum. I’d love to see the NYT exercise some balance in museum coverage and offer some thought provoking information and not just a bandwagon approach. Let’s have some critical and actually newsworthy news on museums!

Entry filed under: Art, Museums. Tags: , , , , .

Love Sculpture? Love Italy? Keeping Up with Brooklyn: CultureGrrl’s Interview with Arnold Lehman

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