Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Back when I was your age


A couple of Wednesdays ago I went to see the current show at the Musee des Beaux Arts, after having seen curator Stephan Aquin give a talk at McGill about the show. For those of you who have no idea what the hell I'm talking about, think "one after 59." Before hearing him talk, my initial thoughts were "jeezus! what the hell is a Fine Arts museum doing with a Porsche and some Barbies?" Or if I wanted to phrase it in such a way as to avoid the question mark, it would go like this: "Friggin' cash grab! designed to separate the baby boomers from the contents of their wallets."

Then, (there ALWAYS is a then) I heard the talk. Silly me! M. Aquin seems to be trying to personally and physically change the concept of what Montrealers think of as a Fine Arts museum. I haven't had an opportunity to sit down with him and ask the tough questions as to his specifics and what goals he has. Nor do I know how the rest of the folk at (and involved with) the museum think. And my guess would be that the other folk are probably more difficult to convince then the Montrealers. But, to give you an idea of the scope of his ideas, imagine trying to fold the QEII into a envelope, or Celine dueting with John Lydon. Hmmmm...

After seeing it (yes, Virginia, I do go see Art) I emailed him some of my comments and questions, as today has been a particularly busy day, I figured that copy/paste from the email would be way easier than coming up with something completely new and original. Tomorrow I'll try harder, I promise. If you haven't yet seen the show, this should give you some points to focus on as you see it, if you have seen it, you might have some other questions of your own.

As I was not a big fan of the MBAM beforehand, I had only seen one other show there recently (Francoise Sullivan's) and upon walking into the "before the 70s" I was immediately struck by the similarity in the set up between Ms. Sullivan's and the "two-thirds of the way through the last century's." I asked M. Aquin, "What's up with the humongous video at the beginning of shows? I wasn't certain if it worked in Fran´┐Żoise Sullivan's show, and I found that it made the Sputnik sorta secondary to the initial entry. Is it in the museum's mandate that you must use the big screen first? Or do you think that given the preponderance on TV culture now, that an easy point of entry to a show is a really big TV? Or something else? The screen was angled to cut off part of the room, and there were other places in the exhibit, as well, where all the space wasn't used. In certain cases I would agree and accept this reduction. But it wasn't always completely evident to me as to why rooms weren't used completely. Sometimes I sorta figured that M. Aquin made the executive decision that because some piece(s) hadn't made it across the border that moveable room dividers might be able to hide the empty space.

Given the period, and the eclectic nature of the stuff shown, I really really want to know which pieces that they tried to get and were not able to. I could probably come up with a list almost as long as the list of the stuff that is there.

Then to switch from bashing to a more positive bent, the second room was quite well done - there was way to much stuff happening all over the place, I went through it twice, and I am certain I still missed some stuff. It is a concrete example of what he is trying to change at the museum, it works, and works well. But, it was only through my prior knowledge from his talk that I was aware of what he was trying to do. It was not something that was self-evident. In retrospect I would counsel both M. Aquin and the rest of the folk at the museum to enlist General Motors as a sponsor, if only to be able to use "Not your father's Museum" in their advertisements and other marketing materials without being accused of stealing.

Continuing further through, the TVs (much smaller than the one at the begining and supplied by a sponsor not named GM) and the associated ephemera (sorry about the big word, remember this was originally an email to a Curator - for purposes of the blog, lets use "stuff strewed around," ok?) were spectacular, and very well presented. I asked him if it had been a conscious decision not to do the Space video (back at the begining of the show) the same way? In retrospect, it might have been cool to have a bank of TVs on one side showing Apollo's 1 through 75 (or whenever they stopped) and the Russian rocket ship launches on the other side, with Sputnik right smack dab in between the two. But unfortunately, they had not asked for my input before they put the show together, damn.

The Sex room was also a lot of fun, and the only difficulty was not of his making, I got stuck in the middle of a tour given by a woman with a particularly annoying and grating voice who was too scared to pronounce the word "nigger," (the piece she was describing was a Faith Ringgold piece named "Flag for the Moon: Die Nigger, 1969 (Blacklight Series # 10)" and she had to spell it out) so for about 10 minutes, I giggled about her lack of vocal qualities, and PC behavior, I decided to go back to the beginning so that I wouldn't have to hear her. My high school-ish behavior might have been aided by my complete dislike and abhorrence for everything Yoko (another artist in the same room) - once I go down that path, it takes a little bit of time to recompose myself.

The Dan Flavin piece is spectacular. If you go see the show on a Wednesday night you're getting the bargain of the century, if you go at any other time, it is almost worth the price of admission. But I wanted to know why he didn't completely divide it off from the rest of the room.

I sorta view myself as having already experienced the 60s as an observer, not as a participant, so I consciously avoided most of the historical background stuff written on the walls. But then I realized that a large part of the museum's clientele were high school students who would not have been as lucky as I; I couldn't quite tell if they were aiming for a specific demographic, or if they were doing their best to please all ages. But the silliest thing of all was that on one of the tags they mentioned that Playboy had expressly given permission to exhibit one of their magazines. Copyright law these days' sucks. But on the other hand it seems like it might be possible for somebody to stage their own "it was 40 years ago" exhibition, or at least a significant chunk by floating around eBay!

Given that the museum is consciously trying to change, I figure that I will be seeing more of the shows there, in order to get a better idea if they are succeeding - plus if I'm going to be crotchety about things, it is way better to be an informed crotchety guy, then a clueless crotchety guy.

Then, lastly, up and to the right, you can purchase raffle tickets on line, I just added the PayPal button. There are only 200 of 'em available, and you have a chance to win a pair of round trip tickets on ViaRail good for travel anywhere in between Windsor and Quebec City. Once they are gone, feel free to click on the "make a donation" button as your method of keeping the gallery afloat.

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