Thursday 24 April 2008

¡Give me some images!

My visit to ¡Cuba! Art and History from 1868 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art was overwhelming. The show contains not only 400+ objects, but a vast amount of didactic text which pinned each section of the show to its historical moment, and only a small number of benches. *

My assumption was that when I got back to NZ and wanted to talk about the show, I'd be able to go to the website and refresh my memory. Sadly, the exhibition website - and this is for the largest outing ever of Cuban art, showing only in Montreal - has exactly 6 images from the show. And the text is hardly designed to evoke the experience; here's the introductory paragraph:

Organized and presented by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts from January 31 to June 8, 2008, ¡Cuba! Art and History from 1868 to Today, which brings together some 400 works of art, is the most important exhibition ever presented to showcase the art of this Caribbean island, which Christopher Columbus described as “the most beautiful land eyes have ever seen.” Thanks to the collaboration of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes and the Fototeca de Cuba, and of many collectors and museums in the United States, including the MoMA, this exhibition draws a broad panorama of Cuban art and history. This lively and well-conceived multidisciplinary exhibition brings together about one hundred paintings, including a huge collective mural produced in 1967 by many artists, two hundred photographs and documents, approximately one hundred works on paper (in particular two collections of pre- and post-1959-Revolution posters), installations and videos, in addition to music and film excerpts.

Excited? No? That's a shame. I spent two hours in the show, and would love to have been able to reflect on it without shelling out CA$70 and carting the catalogue home (more about my penny-pinching ways shortly). Over the net have previously posted about the paucity of images on gallery websites, and I have to agree - y'all can give us text til the cows come home, but we're coming to you to look, not read ....

* There was also the fact that each work had three labels; French, English and Spanish. I never managed to train my eyes to read just one, not all three.


Anonymous said...

Do you think the lack of images is to do with cost of internet copyright and/or their inherent 'stealability'?

Courtney Johnston said...

It's hard to tell, I have no idea whether you're looking at a Cuban version of Viscopy here, or what.

Given that most of then works came from the collection of the Cuban national institution, who was a partner in the show's development, I think it's less likely to be cost than the fear of putting images on the web - which is plaguing institutions all over the world, and is widely seen as one of the major factors preventing museums and galleries really engaging with the online age.

One possible way of dealing with this - acknowledging that the digital image of a thing is separate from the thing itself, whacking the appropriate Creative Commons share alike - no alts - no commercial use - credit creator license on the digital image, and trusting people to play nice (which, you know, by and large they will).

Anonymous said...

I guess the problem is that its just so easy to copy the images...Something that they will have to grapple with at some stage - and it would make it so much easier to 'play nice' if everyone adopted a cc format.