The Greatest Op-Ed of All: The Dobrzynski-Durston Proposal

August 27, 2013 · Print This Article

Guest Post by James Pepper Kelly

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Imagine that a writer named Judith H. Dobrzynski boards a plane. She’s ambivalent about her recent op-ed for the New York Times, “High Culture Goes Hands-On,” in which she mourned the loss of a classic, passive museum experience. The response was decent (63 comments and a spot on the “most-emailed” list), and the negative response didn’t go much beyond baseless ad hominems (“crank,” “elitist”). But real-world impact? Judy sighs. She tries not to think about institutions these days, their obsequious rush to digitize, crowdsource, and create a “fun experience” for all. Instead, she thinks about real change: about her upcoming fellowship at the Salzburg Global Seminar in Austria, and how she helped influence the country’s new Holocaust restitution laws. Judy sinks back into her business class seat (being a Fellow has perks!), orders a tomato juice and relaxes, thinking of all the reading she’ll be able to catch up on in the air.

Imagine that a writer named James Durston is excited. He’s boarding the brand new Boeing 797 Dreamliner and is going to be live tweeting the experience from business class (dimming windows PLUS free booze!). He’s got way too much editing to do, but right now he’s feeling good about his latest op-ed for CNN Travel, “Why I hate museums.” Sure, only 400 comments (something like 10 times that many for the “fat tax” piece) but he did score official responses from the Art Institute of Chicago and the American Alliance of Museums. He makes a mental note to re-stir the pot with a follow-up in early December. James tosses his bag in the overhead and sits down, mentally composing a tweet about the woman beside him and WHY anyone drinks tomato juice on planes?? Still, he did use SeatID–they must have something in common. He’ll save the introduction for later when he runs out of content for his posts.

Imagine that now, today, both look back and still wonder what happened. They remember the start—the Eyjafjallajokull volcano waking up, their flight being grounded in Greenland, the nervous stewardesses plying them with drinks, and more, and more. The introductions, the argument, and then the gradual, dizzy belief that their two opinions needed to be reconciled. Had to be, in fact. What if this was the end of world? Reconciliation–for humanity, for the future. So they set about writing the op-ed of op-eds, tapping out the characters on James’s phone. Finally an op-ed truly for everyone. The Dobrzynski/Durston piece appeared on a brand new WordPress site, shocking the likes of Robert Connolly, Dana Allen-Griel, Dennis Kois, Ed Rodley, and all the other voices of studied moderation stuck further back in economy, sipping orange juice, thoughtfully biding their time. As Judith and James know, sometimes the world needs action. We should thank them for reminding us of that. Below is the full transcript of the Dobrzynski-Durston article.

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The Greatest Proposal for hi-fiving high culture

The current institutional climate is unsustainable. And no fun. Most museums are in grave financial straits, mostly because there are better things to spend money on. It’s time for institutions to become the friendly, self-supporting, no-gift-shop entities they always should have been. The following is a list of proposals we urgently urge to be effected.

1. We’ve heard about museums, especially smaller, local ones, creating wonderful exhibitions on tight budgets. Maybe so. Those people sitting back in economy can really chew your ear off with examples. We both enjoy periodic visits to the provinces, and writing about them too,  but let’s be honest—it needs to start in New York or Hong Kong. Trickle-down culture is real.

2. Institutions claim to generate 7 public dollars for every $1 invested. (Right. Where’d they get those numbers?) The people of Detroit did vote to raise their own taxes to support the DIA—it’s called millage, James—but that’s an exceptional case. Ann Arbor residents were forward-thinking enough to reject a new art tax. Bleeding heart art lovers need to be realistic: public funding = not the answer. Private funding = yes.

3. Museums do need to sell off work—that’s called deaccessioning (thanks, Judy). Some call up the auction houses and rush the work out the door on a stretcher. Others are models of ethical responsibility–the Indianapolis Museum of Art, for example, lists all the work being sold on its site along with reasons for each sale. That’s good, but not good enough. They should show their reasons, not just tell us about them. Imagine if the DIA did something like: [pic of Diego Rivera mural] = [pic of 25 million open lunchboxes with PB&J, apple, milk]. #Prioritize.

4. Old vases are boring (especially ones from Iran, imo). They should be sold to established patrons of the arts and other old rich people. Who else cares about/truly appreciates them anyway? Same goes for anything  more than 30 years old or that doesn’t inspire transcendence. If in doubt, just tweet us a pic.

5. In the spirit of compromise, museums should divide their days between different audiences. On Wednesdays through Saturdays they should distribute free popcorn and edamame, fill the gallery with animals from a local petting zoo, and encourage full interaction—touching, smelling, licking—with the entire collection. On Sundays through Tuesdays, the cicerones will make sure that no more than four people are in any one room at the same time, monitor how fast individuals walk, and confiscate any and all electronic devices. Individuals will be required to spend set minimum amounts of time contemplating each piece. If any individual fails to adhere to these measures, they will be required to write an essay explaining why.

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6. Eliminate gift shops and cafes. They’re so bourgeois.

7. To generate revenue, offer paid chances to feed the animals and the option to limit the gallery to even less than the standard four people (on respective days, of course). Employ local actors who will alternate between impersonating art world authorities, historical figures, and general celebrities.

8. Reenact the creation and history of items throughout the week. It will be a little like Dante’s Inferno, each actor trapped in a different area, telling his story over and over again (Judy’s description, my idea). For example, one of the actors can be Leonardo da Vinci: put the Mona Lisa on an easel in front of him and have him paint and tell the sad story of Lisa over and over to the general audience. Add drama when appropriate, regardless of accuracy. Reach out to Hollywood and book publishers, offering to add their narratives to the “official” institutional version in exchange for sponsorship.

 9. Fully integrate work on display with life by created rentable, themed rooms, e.g. The Birth Room, The Death Room, etc. True art lovers will be able to pass with their eyes locked on an original Georgia O’Keeffe, or to bring a new being into the world under Van Gogh’s sunflowers, or to make love under the Venus de Milo. Anyone attending that day will be able to watch. Both sides will pay—

Phone’s about to die, got to post now. Whatever happens, this is the truth. Follow me online!

Imagine that that this is how the op-ed ends. The volcano went back to sleep and the sky over the Atlantic cleared. Fifteen hours later the Boeing landed at Heathrow, the passengers half drunk and half hung-over, but otherwise unscathed. There, Judith H. Dobrzynski and James Durston seem to have parted ways, never to collaborate again. Judy went back to lucid commentary on the art world, James to commissioning and writing popular travel articles.

If the phone had been fully charged, how would the Dobrzynski-Durston op-ed have proceeded?  What unfortunate circumstance might the expert commentators have leant themselves to next?  Whether “real people” can or can’t actually afford to collect art? Would we be more prepared to address how an elderly Romanian woman destroyed several masterpieces in an effort to protect her son? How much change to give beggars outside famous institutions? The alleged difficulty Chicago’s south siders have had in visiting Theaster Gates’s Dorchester Projects, even as the art star is lauded for the project’s success at Art Basel?

What further op-ed wisdom could we have learned from? We can only imagine.

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James Pepper Kelly likes words, images, and the plants in his apartment. He writes for ArtSlant and Bad at Sports, and he serves as Managing Director of Filter Photo. He is currently studying to be a pataphysicist. For a little while, back in the early ‘00s, he was really good at Ms. Pac-man.




Meet Kate McGroarty,The Museum of Science & Industry’s Cute White Lab Rat

October 10, 2010 · Print This Article


Well the Museum of Science and Industry has announced their winner of the Night “Month at the Museum” contest and it is Kate McGroarty. Kate is a Theater Artist/Customer Service Representative & recent graduate of Northwestern University. Kate starts her tour of duty in the museum on October 20th and leaves on November 18th. Kate seems to be meta aware of the entire point of this exercise and that is reflected in her lonelygirl15′esque video submission below.

You can follow Kate’s adventure via twitter and facebook (by the way MSI nice forcing the “I like” function as your public facebook link, that move should have it’s own chemical formula…….. let me think). There seems to be a very ironic website page on Miss McGroatry as well which I really hope is someone trying to capitalize on her 15 mins and not actually run by Kate herself since its a tad self congratulatory and disingenuous.

Also here is the video of the winner announcement which I have to admit whoever came up with the checmical reaction to signify the winner should get a bonus (or season 2 of “The Big Bang Theory” on DVD) since that has been the best move I have seen as of yet with this project. Also whoever missed or decided not to post the video of that announcement on the MSI website and is not capitalizing on the great PR value of that moment should get the reverse (and the season 1 DVD of Cavemen) no one should have to search for that video to find it.

I hope this is a success and will agree that having looked at the applicants that they picked the right person for the position (a arts student who admittedly knows little about science but knows PR, is cute and bubbly and gets it with a wink and a nod) Sorry Alex Dainis in a perfect and fair world you would have been the right choice since you have the looks, smarts, personality, background & non creepy factor but in the end this isn’t about Science it’s about marketing. It is going to be interesting to see how Kate takes the initiative on this and what she can do with it since the agenda seems pretty open for input. Good luck and no using the taxidermied animals as teddy bears :)




The Art of the Steal Documentary

February 2, 2010 · Print This Article

“The Art of the Steal” chronicles the long and dramatic struggle for control of the Barnes Foundation, a private collection of art valued at more than $25 billion. In 1922, Dr. Albert C. Barnes formed a remarkable educational institution around his priceless collection of art, located just five miles outside of Philadelphia. Now, more than 50 years after Barnes death, a group of moneyed interests have gone to court for control of the art, and intend to bring it to a new museum in Philadelphia. Standing in their way is a group of Barnes former students and his will, which contains strict instructions stating the Foundation should always be an educational institution, and that the paintings may never be removed. Will they succeed, who has the right to direct the future of the collection?




Episode 221: Heartland

November 22, 2009 · Print This Article

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This week Duncan talks to Charles Esche, Director of the Van Abbemuseum, Kerstin Niemann, Research Curator at the Van Abbemuseum, and Stephanie Smith, Director of Collections and Exhibitions and Curator of Contemporary Art at the Smart Museum of Art about the current Smart Museum exhibition, Heartland.


Project Background
In 2007 and 2008, the Heartland curators, eschewing traditional research methods, set out on a series of old-fashioned road trips through the vast center of the United States. These research trips informed two distinct exhibitions. The first presentation, which opened in October 2008 at the Van Abbemuseum in the Netherlands, sought to uncover new ways of thinking about the American interior during the U.S. presidential election and gave European audiences access to a broad survey of the Heartland’s culture, art, and music. The second, reconceived presentation at the Smart Museum, offers U.S. audiences a more focused look at the ideals of resourcefulness and invention that permeate the Heartland. Together, the two presentations offer a richly layered reading of a region that has too often been overlooked.

The exhibition is co-organized by the Smart Museum of Art and the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, the Netherlands. The Van Abbemuseum’s presentation of Heartland took place from October 3, 2008 to February 8, 2009. In Eindhoven, the project consisted of a group exhibition in the Van Abbemuseum together with a musical program in the Muziekcentrum Frits Philips. Read more




Episode 193: The Modern Wing part 1 with Lisa Dorin

May 10, 2009 · Print This Article

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This week: Duncan and Richard get a sneak preview of the Contemporary Galleries in the new Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago. Lisa Dorin the Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art is our guide. Duncan draws some wacky parallel between Kerry James Marshall’s paintings and the Matrix. Richard refers to the juxtaposition of Nauman’s Clown Torture and Robert Ryman’s Charter Series as “If the CSO had a G.G. Allin/ J.S. Bach double bill”.

Lisa answers the question: was it a complete pain in the ass to install Richard Serra’s ten thousand pound work Weights and Measures? Read more