Saturday, June 04, 2005

Mark Power on Hoi on Levy and the Corcoran

DC Art News reader Mark Power, a retired Professor of Photography at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, read former Corcoran Dean Samuel Hoi's letter about David Levy's resignation with interest, and he says, particularly this paragraph:

"The Corcoran owes its presence today to president and director David C. Levy. He took over a dysfunctional institution after the Robert Mapplethorpe fiasco, stabilized it, gave it new vision and built enough resources for the museum to aspire again. Both the museum and the art college expanded their programs and reached into the city as never before, becoming a renewed force in the region."
Power notes that earlier on DC Art News, former Corcoran teacher Rex Weil had this to say:
"...Levy's strategic plan: Treat your major constituencies (members, students, employees and faculty) with contempt and buy your way out of problems with a celebrity building. Well, it might have worked, but it hasn't. As the Corcoran's new Board Chairman learned recently "support for the Corcoran is 'superficial.'"
Weil continues:
"Meaning (I suppose), that, although everyone would like to see the Corcoran succeed, most people (a) just don't feel like they have a stake in it; and/or (b) are disappointed with current management. Let's face it: practically everybody in Washington knows someone who has left the Corcoran in frustration or disgust. (I left in December, 2004 after teaching there since 1996). That's bound to have a major snowball effect in terms of community support.

What Levy has apparently failed to grasp from the beginning: You have to build support from the bottom up with good programs and good relationships. Build the base - with satisfied, dedicated employees, enthusiastic students and their proud families, members invested in ambitious programming, and a committed long-term faculty advancing the institution. Those folks are, in turn, your best fundraisers.

Instead, (according to the Washington Post), the Corcoran has spent over 22 million on the Gehry addition. One way or another, a good deal of that 22 million has come out of the hide of students and their families, employees, faculty and admission paying visitors in poor facilities, shameful employment practices and dreary programming. All in all, the institution's core constituencies are bitter and alienated."

As a former teacher at the Corcoran myself, I {Power] find Weil's observations to be much closer to the reality I experienced. The Corcoran's press release on the current crises barely mentions the school which suggests business as usual with the new board. Being a photographer, of course I like Blake Gopnik's proposal to turn the museum into a center for photography which would address the identity problem and have the added virtue of making people forget about the Gehry debacle. Contrarily, it might even prompt some imaginative donor to revive the prospect of a Gehry building were it to be a museum of photography. Such a move could be financed by selling off the American Collection to the Smithsonian's Museum of American Art where it probably belongs anyway. But it would take a prodigious act of will and imagination for the board to take this action, qualities which have been conspicuously absent from previous boards.

Mark Power, Professor, Photography, Corcoran College of Art and Design (retired 1988)

M. Cameron Boyd on Gopnik on Intelligence of Art Public

A few days ago, Blake Gopnik, Chief Art Critic for the Washington Post, wrote a review of the Patriot show at the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore.

DC Art News reader M. Cameron Boyd responds to Gopnik's review with the following:

Does Mr. Gopnik know what time it is?
By M. Cameron Boyd

Blake Gopnik’s review of the "Patriot" exhibit at the Contemporary Museum ("In Baltimore, Delving Into the Notion of Patriotism") does little to help the cause of either contemporary art or art criticism. His cursory redress of this show fails to engage any of the worthy ideas the exhibition apparently represents, i.e., the social construction of national identity, or the redirection of mass media promotional material against the interests of capital.

Does Mr. Gopnik know what time it is?

Back in the '80's, art critic Brian Wallis called on "future critics" to "address particular audiences for art and criticism and establish new means of distribution to meet such audiences."

Instead, Mr. Gopnik contends that art is "set up to be basically powerless," that "we’re all taught that art is wacky," and that we (audience, critics and artists, I presume) avoid any art with the kinds of ideas that "make us uncomfortable." Besides being a disservice to both the art and the artists who make it, these broad generalities ignore the intelligence of a viewing public that is capable of developing their unique interaction with contemporary art.

I suggest that we artists and art critics begin to establish a community discourse on the "uncomfortable" ideas associated with contemporary art to foster the nascent art audience. Mr. Gopnik is aware, too, that the Washington Post is an institution that functions like a museum as a "high profile public space."

He could begin to direct his considerable energy and influence to exploring the potential connection of difficult art to "mainstream thought and culture" rather than avoiding the true critical issues and labeling "challenging ideas" as "officially marginal."

M. Cameron Boyd