Blockbuster Arts Shows: Out of Fashion?

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At the end of last month, Chuck and I went to the the Portland Art Museum for the media opening of the new show, "The Dancer" (I'd link to a page about it, but like many things about PAM, the website is rather ... er ... well, it says it's getting a revamping; I'd be real happy to check back soon and see it easier to use [not that we should talk, I know].)

So point is, "The Dancer" has the aura of a blockbuster, or at least a show that the museum director might hope would be one. What's a blockbuster? This blog entry from The Guardian explains:

The word blockbuster comes from the second world war: a massive bomb designed to destroy entire swaths of city at a time. In the 50s it started to be used about plays; in the 70s, the era of Star Wars, people began to talk about blockbuster movies. The blockbuster also hit art.

Hunh. I've been to many a blockbuster in this and other countries. Now apparently the concept of shoving as many people as possible through an exhibit, especially an exhibit that has little scholarly backing but a lot of popular appeal (i.e. anything, anything at all, related to the Impressionists, Picasso, Matisse, etc, mostly the French painters), is fading.

So complex. Museums can't live on grants alone, nor on the shaky generosity of a donor list. So they need to bring people in; also, it's nice and democratic, in some ways, to have huge, exciting shows that show people familiar painters or other artists in new ways (or even if not in new ways, show them at all in a new location where people haven't had a chance to see the actual paintings before). But lord, i hate being crushed through the galleries. When I was an art history grad student, I heard tales of my mentors getting to see and sometimes touch the work (usually sculptures and paintings) on which they wrote and worked. I longed for that. But I didn't want to get a Ph.D. in art history from the (particularly annoying) program I was in, so I gave it up. Being a journalist means I get to see (and sometimes touch) artworks at times away from the madding crowd. Nice, but undemocratic of me. So if the blockbuster really is retreating in favor of "more unexpected, perhaps more scholarly shows," I'm kind of happy and kind of worried. I don't want museums to be inaccessible.

BTW, that at the top there is, you know, a Claude Monet (Twilight, Venice from 1870). And he's really a freakin' genius even if a bit, oh, just a tad bit, overexposed. For a while I thought he was the biggest blockbuster draw of all time, but as time marches on, I think Picasso and Matisse are passing him. More on that when I'm not quite as sleepy as I am right now.

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