David Hay, ‘State of the art’, Anne Summers Reports No 9, pp41-46
It’s build, baby, build as once staid American museums engage in a frenzied expansion surge that, David Hay reports, threatens to turn these cultural temples into mere visual emporia.
Art mania seems to be sweeping the world and nowhere is it more apparent than in New York City. At air fairs, the now ubiquitous biennales – the number of which has grown from two a year in 1951 when Sao Palo joined the originator, Venice, to well over 300 – and the auction houses, the crowds are growing.
This mania has meant that art sales, boosted by the high values of especially modern and contemporary art, continue to surge. Last year, auction houses across the world racked up more than US$66 billion in sales.
And when it comes to crowds in the thrall of art, nothing matches those flocking to art museums. As anyone who has tried recently to venture into the Rijksmuseum, the Hermitage, the Prado or the Met will know, they are beyond jam-packed.
But while the commercial art hubs are thrilled with these developments, and the museums proudly boast of soaring attendances, the seismic shifts in art’s popularity are threatening to entirely disrupt the more staid art museum world.
The museums’ initial response has simply been to expand. It’s now their mantra: increased space at all cost. The result is a museum-by-museum expansion that is almost unprecedented. But such a response is not n unreserved positive. These expansions are set to alter, and in the eyes of many diminish, the way we see and experience art. Some predict it will result in a downgrading of the quality of the art needed to fill up these new spaces. So much has to be acquired, and so quickly, that the traditional museum imprimatur – the authority to decide what art is good and what is not – is being devalued.
Still others worry that by becoming art emporia for all comers, the real cognoscenti will bypass museums altogether and seek out the new mega-studios successful artists are building to show their work. And if the latter start shunning museums, collectors will soon follow.
And after them? Who knows.