Monday, October 03, 2011

Kennicott on 30 Americans

I've been digesting Philip Kennicott's ‘30 Americans’: A challenging study of identity, currently on exhibit at the Corcoran.

As Kennicott is not the easiest writer to read, this digesting process has taken me a few days and at least one trip to the dictionary, an odd thing, I think, for someone with three degrees and a MENSA-qualifying perfect SAT score many years ago.

My thoughts on the article start with the issue that I think that because nearly every writer in this town, including art writers, are somehow cast in the shadow of Woodward and Bernstein, almost every writer in this town approaches nearly every story in this town as a possible Watergate. I like the way that I managed to sneak "in this town" multiple times in that sentence.

Because the DMV is a "town" in the smallish sense of that word; no Gotham or Metropolis like word will be used ever to describe the DMV, where everybody and everyone knows your name... right? Cheers...

But I meander.

It was sooooo predictable to see the mouth-watering effect upon art writers such as Kennicott (and others to come), to try to find a less than ethical reason for this exhibition.

And thus we get:

And that raises the issue of the second problem with “30 Americans,” the appearance of a conflict of interest in presenting a private collection at a prominent museum, especially when a financial transaction has happened between the parties. Is this a quid pro quo between the Corcoran and the Rubells that serves to boost the value of a private collection?
Never mind that:
The Rubells have categorically denied any quid pro quo, and Kristin Guiter, spokeswoman for the Corcoran, says “the two are completely unrelated.” Discussion of the “30 Americans” show began well before any plans to sell the Randall School, she says.
But Lenny, some of you are probably saying, he also admits that
A few things militate against a cynical view of the question. First, the work on display is important and needs to be seen. Second, the Rubells probably bring more prestige to the relationship than the Corcoran, which has been damaged by financial and institutional mismanagement over the past decade. Third, museums would hardly exist without courting the favor of private collectors.
Militate? ahem...

This is such a challenge for so many people around here: to write an art review about the art or artists, without a need for militation (ahem, ahem) of any sort. And if one militates (ahem, ahem, ahem) against this particular writer's cynicism, what else is there?

Envy, elitism, rancor?

See where this led? Now I need to militate my own nastiness, which is the result of a visceral reaction that screams: Not everything has a hidden, unethical root! (Note to PK: Observe how I avoided the temptation to use "Raison d'ĂȘtre" - in other words, I militated the temptation to sound like a cultural egghead.

Not every story is a potential Watergate.

Read PK's article here.


Anonymous said...

While I agree with you that Kennicott is a very difficult writer to read (I would actually describe his writing as insufferable), I think that in this case he did a good enough job of clarifying his issue with the perceived conflict of interest.


Anonymous said...

This is a good observation, I too wish that I could read something from this guy that isn't tainted from some personal agenda (such as when he writes about music) or political agenda (such as when he writes about anything).

Rosie M.

Anonymous said...

I'm actually quite happy he brought up the potential conflict of interest. DC has, in my opinion, failed to operate in the New York model because the government culture in DC encourages not only artists, but also gallerists from milling private asset holdings alongside the regular commerce of art -- there are just too many government affiliations within most households to afford that kind of scrutiny. To pretend as if that's not what Kennicott is really talking about is to pretend that the art commerce of the Washington DC area somehow hovers in some alternate universe that's not quite the global art scene (we've been out of that conversation for a significant amount of time)and not quite intertwined with the culture of our area (which you can somewhat blame on the artists, it's true).

The Rubells don't come with that kind of political baggage obviously, which is both good and bad. If the Rubells will deign to support the local art scene (they obviously have no obligation to, but let's say that we've all hoped that is true), and this way of doing things is accepted without any question, we run the risk of flattening the landscape into an overdeveloped urban center with no uniquely defined values that the artists from within and from outside can determine about what it means to make art in the area. If we choose to acknowledge that the Rubells are selling us the NY model, and we're all just sitting around praying that the money people eat it up, we're going to realize how much we were fooling ourselves (especially when the Rubell collection opens and we realize that there is not going to be any art by longtime OR emerging area artists shown there) after it's too late to call the Rubells on their land-grabbing antics.