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June 23, 2008

A Perl of a Critique

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Arts & Letters Daily directed me to this article by Jed Perl, art critic of The New Republic, in which he lashes out at some new museums and big-name Postmodern artists.

Among many other things, he mentions that:

I wish more museum directors and trustees understood how hungry--and how disgruntled--museumgoers in America really are. Again and again, people are pointed in precisely the wrong direction. It is depressing to think how many people have visited LACMA in recent months to see BCAM without sparing a minute for the Ahmanson Building. They literally do not know what they are missing. From Los Angeles I went up to San Francisco, and it is more or less the same story. Everybody rushes to the Museum of Modern Art and the De Young, two overblown buildings with sporadically important collections, while the most beautiful museum in the city--the Legion of Honor, in which masterpieces by Watteau, Le Nain, and Seurat have been given a thrillingly elegant installation- -is hardly ever mentioned.

It's my fault that I don't know if the assault is typical of Perl's criticism. I recently read his book New Art City, a sympathetic, if heavily padded, account of the New York Abstract Expressionist movement. But that was it, until now.

I simply assumed that he was in the tank for Modernism in all its forms. Clearly I need to pay him more serious attention, because his anti-establishment attack takes a certain amount of guts for a professional critic.



posted by Donald at June 23, 2008


I just read a different rant by Jed Perl, and he had come to the conclusion that 'art' had to be made by hand, and not mass produced. He came down hard on Jeff Koons. It was delightful! I will try to find the link for you.

Posted by: Sister Wolf on June 23, 2008 10:55 PM

Shhh.....don't tell people about the Legion of Honor. It's one of my favorite places in San Francisco, in part because you can wander through the beautiful galleries and not have to deal with huge crowds.

The new de Young, however, is a mess. Architecturally pretentious on the outside and inside, absolutely no logical order. There's no clear flow from one gallery to the next. The work looking dull against boring walls with bad (but "artistic") lighting. You walk out feeling as if you've missed half the collection but you're too tired from walking aimlessly around to retrace your steps to see what you may have missed.

Posted by: Decca on June 23, 2008 11:44 PM

That is a good piece, thanks for linking. I often like Jed Perl. Amazing writer, for one thing. Plus I'm on board with him when he bitches about the contemporary gallery-art scene. I'm a little less on board with him about a couple of other things. I like some of the artists he champions, and god knows they aren't the usual crew. But some of them I'm not wild about. And there's an underlying thing in his p-o-v that I don't agree with. He clearly reveres mid-century modernism -- his complaint about the current scene isn't that modernism generally has shown itself to be a big dead end, but that the current scene has betrayed the True Greatness that modernism once was. I tend to see the current scene as a semi-inevitable extension of what modernism has always been. But that's just me being unappreciative. I think he's awfully good.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 24, 2008 11:12 AM

I just recently visited BCAM in Los Angeles. I thought it was rather fun. The last time I visited the Ahmanson building (a few years ago) I got tired because it was so overflowing and the colors of the walls and flow of the gallery was too stifling.

Maybe this guy just has a blindspot when it comes to contemporary art.

Posted by: Daniel on June 24, 2008 4:12 PM

If you really want to depress yourself, go visit the Getty Villa in Malibu. The original structure and grounds were breathtaking. Then they decided to "improve" it. Modernist crap right next to a splendid reconstruction of an ancient Roman villa. My mouth was agape at the horror. And I heard others who had known the original Getty expressing similar shock. Also, there were now families of Asians, et al strolling blissfully through the grounds with baby strollers, squalling babies and scampering brats to add yet more mayhem. It had the atmosphere of a city park instead of a serene museum. The entire situation there is a train wreck.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on June 24, 2008 9:22 PM

I don't think too many Americans are particularly hungry for fine art, in or out of museums. I've been to LACMA a few times over the years to see some of their heavily promoted exhibitions. After viewing the special exhibition of the moment, I'd always go visit the third floor of the building housing art from the 40s till today, because it contains a nice collection of surrealism. Foot traffic there was practically nil.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on June 26, 2008 3:27 AM

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