Blockbuster Exhibitions: Bad for Art

Blockbuster Exhibitions ruin art
Blockbuster Exhibitions ruin art

At last its finally over. The latest blockbuster exhibition (containing the grand total of six paintings) at the National Gallery, Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan, has ended. It is with us no more, deceased, kaput, and I, for one, am glad. I am sure that my feelings over this event are not shared by the curators, the critics and many of those who went to see it (are they really ‘art lovers’ or ‘scene’ lovers?), people with a vested interest in these things, but I don’t care (or, I care negatively) because I felt the disruption to the National Gallery as a whole was too much. I spent a week in London in early January, went to the NG on a Wednesday and was lucky to get my small bag into the cloakroom, what with there being a large queue of dusty and shifty people snaking from outside the Sainsbury’s wing entrance to the ticket desk. OK, this is fine, I thought, I’ll soon be upstairs enjoying the delights of the Renaissance rooms. Except that not all of the rooms were open and not for the reason of maintaining the collection but because there weren’t enough room monitors available to secure every room. The staff who monitor the rooms have been in dispute with the gallery management because their numbers are to be cut leaving each monitor to keep watch over two rooms at a time. They naturally point out the problems this would cause, endangering the collection: they don’t have eyes in the back of their heads, after all. Not being able to see the Florence and Netherlandish rooms was upsetting for me so I asked a monitor in another room about this. I was told that the Leonardo exhibition had taken resources away from the main collection. Thankfully I was staying until the Saturday and was able to go back to the NG late on the Friday when the gallery stays open later and has enough staff on hand so all the rooms were open. I could feast my eyes on Piero Della Francesca’s Baptism of Christ and Hans Memling’s The Donne Triptych. When an exhibition, by a master, I’ll admit – but who I don’t appreciate, I’m a Michelangelo fan – containing a pitiful amount of paintings, disrupts the overall running of the whole gallery, then something is not right.

The last blockbuster exhibition I went to at the National Gallery was the Velázquez event back in 2007/8, it was great, it was a show with many, many paintings and well worth it. But the space that they were shown in is just not right. The NG show these exhibitions in their basement galleries, they are small, dark and increasingly cramped rooms, and when with a crowd the viewing of paintings becomes ridiculous (for what its worth, what I did in that situation was to move to the later rooms in the exhibition and work backwards, that way I saw much of the art without having to shove aside some old person!). The National Gallery is not up to showing blockbuster exhibitions, that’s obvious, but are any places suitable or are such events just bad for art?

Tate Modern is based in an old industrial power generating building, it has large, bright rooms within which to showcase the modernist art of the early 20th Century, a great place for blockbuster exhibitions, surely? As it happens, no. Its perfectly suited to showing its themed gallery artworks based around Flux, Energy, and Poetry and Dreams, but any blockbuster exhibition, like the Gauguin one they did in early 2011, is mobbed out with the hoards making the viewing almost impossible. It was the same with this winter’s Gerhard Richter exhibition, though to a lesser extent; just too many people (like me, yes) crowding the place. We all know about the difficulties people had at the Gauguin exhibition, so with that in mind I proclaim that blockbuster exhibitions are not for art lovers but for the ‘cool people’, those out to show themselves as though they were the exhibition. Art is cool now and Damien Hirst is to blame, its because of him that everyone is interested in the old masters, because of him (and her, though I like her, she is, at least, authentic) that people want to be seen to be seeing traditional oil paintings. Again. End these blockbuster exhibitions, they’re bad for art.

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What must our democracy look like to other people?

What must our democracy look like to other people? You know, the others who hold no responsibility for our democracy but yet are affected by our democracy, through wars and the parasitical invasion of their own land, and the emotional, financial and military support of despotic rulers for the control of the resources that belong to the people under such despotic rule – or for that most abused notion: ‘security’.

Strength, Power and the Mind

Panathenaic prize amphora showing three runners. Athens, 333-332 BC
Panathenaic prize amphora showing three runners. Athens, 333-332 BC

We know today’s analogy: Obsession with the body results in a small mind (and other things!). Based on this assumption it explains the phenomenon of “stupid sports people”. It is also a bastardisation of the original ideal at the origin of Western civilisation: healthy body and mind: the ancient Greeks believed passionately about this and many of their first philosophers were fit and active in body as well as in mind. But this process didn’t arrive at once, the faculties of the mind and body have to be nurtured and developed, body first, as that supports the brain, then, with sufficient physical development, the mind. Many of the ancient philosophers lived to old age, which, considering the times they were in and the equivalent state of technology they had, was a great testament to their ‘healthy body and mind’ lifestyles. Of course, the philosophy we know of theirs today was mostly recorded in their older years, and this is due to the natural progression of life, not by premeditation on their behalf.

Of course, not all sports people are stupid, that would be ridiculous, but is it the case that all politicians at the higher echelons of power are stupid? Let’s face it, the real reason for a state’s success or failure depends on the amount of power it has through its ‘physical’ attributes: this ability to ‘take things’ (or give things) is economic too. So it seems that the closer you get to this kind of power the more stupid you become – in a way similar to how difficult it is to think clearly while recovering from a vigorous bout of exercise, (well that’s my experience), today’s ‘leaders’ are increasingly showing this mental exhaustion as power approaches. I’m sure it’s always been the case in political (and business) circles – it was just easier to hide the delusion of competence back then.