Monday, July 10, 2006

Zeke's Book Review - Museum, Inc by Paul Werner.


What with the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi all over the place, I figured it was about time that I got around to reviewing it. Back in something like last year Pricky Pardigm Press was kind enough to send me a copy. I apologize profusely for taking so long to actually get around to reading it.

Short version: Museum Inc. is a wicked cool book. If that's sufficient for you, you can buy it online from the University of Chicago press, or from


Slightly longer and more detailed version: First off, these are the 12 lines from Museum Inc. that I thought were worthwhile writing down.
  1. Rubens from Royal Butt.
  2. The curator, the connoisseur, the aesthete all end up sounding like Proust's Swann, a brilliant sensitive man who doesn't have a clue why he is drawn to the flowers between Odette's breasts.
  3. When someone says a work of art is priceless they mean it, not in the sense that it has no value, but that its value is not immediately apprehensible except dialectically, which puts it beyond the ideological competency of most art historians, and of most American economists as well...
  4. ...From museum workers knowledge rarely flows at all, it's dangled above the reach of the public like a carrot in front of a donkey.
  5. Krens had a brain like tofu
  6. The museum of modern art had long stood in the vanguard of noodnicks for its display policies: Years before PowerPoint its permanent collection was laid out in a sequence as rigorous and predictable and dull as everything PowerPoint would eventually provide.
  7. Cremaster - the show was either the compliment or summation of Cremaster the dreary set of sophomoric and poorly directed movies…
  8. And because catalogs sold regardless of content there was little interest in catalog content.
  9. At the Guggenheim information passed through the catalog like beer through a teenager.
  10. He was trying to culturificate commodities, and he failed.
  11. It's about delivering numbers, not the numbers themselves.
  12. Speculating in avant-garde art is like dealing in Argentine pesos: You get a lot of excitement for very little down.
Second off, I'm extremely happy to see that there actually are people who not only have read Benjamin, Diderot, Hegel, Locke, Marx, Rousseau, Schiller, Adam Smith, and some guy named Johann Joachim Winckelmann, but actually find some use for it in real life.

Third off, while I'm not entirely certain I buy into absolutely everything Paul Werner is selling, nonetheless I immediately glommed into what he was on to, and I'm fairly certain that he is on to something. The only fault I could even attempt to imagine, is that while he quite rightly points out numerous ways how culture is broke, he never quite gets around to coming up with something to fix it.

I definitely owe him a beer (see page 40) if he's ever up this way I will make sure. If I ever make it down there, I'll try as well.

Enough of the aimless wandering and silly fawning. Basically, Mr. Werner worked at the Guggenheim museum in New York for nine years, from what he says it sure as shootin' sounds like he was a tour guide. During that time, he developed a deep hatred for just about everything the Guggenheim stood for. Along with that hatred, he fostered a complete and thorough hate on for a certain Thomas Krens. Add to that a fairly strong dislike for most of what just about every other cultural institution in New York City was attempting to do, and you have one extremely bitter person.

Personally, I wouldn't wanna be his girlfriend with him being that cynical - even my sweetie gives me wide berth when I start ranting and raving.

But Mr. Werner is much more literate and humongously more witty than I am, so reading what he writes is frequently giggle inducing, and sometimes (if I remember correctly three times) actually causes full on belly laughs.

As I mentioned earlier, I would have preferred if Mr. Werner had offered up some alternative, however, as I was reading I realized that given the size and depth of his negativity (using a back of the envelope calculation I would estimate it at 1.85 × 10^33 cubic light years) it would be mighty tough to find a bright spot.

While I don't (nor do I want) a background that would enable me to take him on point by point, and I instinctively believe him (see my line here about "heritage insider trading") I am fairly certain that there are some holes (or at least some slippery slopes) within his 77 page rant. I'd love to see him action, so it looks like I'm going to have to make my way down to New York one of these days and take one of his tours.

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