Friday 3 June 2011

Busting assumptions

Occasionally an article on a topic you feel pretty familiar with turns up something new. This recent Art Newspaper article on blockbuster exhibitions, for example, made me for the first time think about the curators who assemble 'blockbuster' shows:

In general the criticisms levelled at such events—the wear and tear on artefacts and on curators, who often argue that they are unable to concentrate on their permanent collections because of the demands of temporary displays—are robustly brushed aside by museum directors. Dynamic directors believe that objects are more at risk on permanent display or in storage than they are on their travels, and that the good curator loves to combine care for their collection with exhibition organisation; as Saumarez Smith puts it: “I think there is an element of myth about exhibitions acting as a distraction from the task of interpreting collections. In my experience, able and energetic curators want to do both.”

I guess I almost thought blockbuster shows sprung, fully formed, from the originating institutions without much thought or work. Then I realised suddenly that I made this assumption based on the small number of blockbusters that make it to New Zealand's shores. Blockbusters come out here what, maybe once a year? I wonder what percentage of the international annual blockbuster production that constitutes.

It was also interesting to read that fashions in blockbusters are changing: more contemporary artists, more photography (of course, you could argue that you can market the hell out of almost anything and turn it into a blockbuster through sheer force of will).

At the end of this, you realise that 'blockbuster' is an unfortunate term (and not only in the sense that it originates in massively destructive aerial bombardment). Blockbusters seem to attract coverage, not criticism: the ubiquity of some of the works, the torrents of visitors, the merchandise seem to freeze critical faculties (if not carping). There is a tendency to assume that something can't be big, popular, and sophisticated. The Art Newspaper piece isn't a revelation or a revolution, but it made me think.

No comments: