The Brooklyn Museum's announcement that it had canceled its New York stop of MOCA's “Art in the Streets” exhibit for lack of funding brought a flurry of questions: Was it really about funding, or about political pressure? What does it say about the state of New York City museums? Will it show up in New York anyway, in another venue?
Here's a roundup of opinion:
Some speculated about the reasons for the cancellation and what it says about New York museum funding and art economics generally. From Andrew M. Goldstein at Artinfo:
…it hammers home, rather dramatically, a dire picture of the state of New York City museum funding. If the Brooklyn Museum can't afford to put on a flashy mass-appeal exhibition — its only tried-and-true way of luring crowds out to Eastern Parkway — it's options are seriously dwindling…
Right now the wealthiest art aficionados are walking away with multimillion-dollar purchases from Art Basel and the London auctions, with much more money waiting to drop at the contemporary sales next week. As the emphasis among this cultivated class continues to shift to collection building and ego-seums from public patronage, these dollars are no longer as readily available to museum boards. Perhaps the cancellation of “Art in the Streets” is just one more step in a queasy direction: without more support, New York's ailing museums may find themselves out on the streets, too.
Others looked at how it related to the city's fight over graffiti on the streets. William Poundstone focuses on New York City Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr.'s letter to the Brooklyn Museum threatening to cut off city funding, which might have been a factor in the museum's decision:
I don't mean to trivialize Vallone's issues. Graffiti is a big problem, and pit bull attacks are a big problem…We want our leaders to be able to look at the big picture — in this case, a ground-breaking art exhibit of particular resonance to New York — and to distinguish the important from the trivial, the rational concerns from the paranoid.
A commenter on our site, Mambolica, defended the museum on this issue:
The Brooklyn Museum has been cutting a path into the realms of non-traditional art forms for quite some time and is internationally known as a leader in supporting new art practice and curation. Before everyone jumps on this institution for backing out over fear of negative press or stigma, consider how museums are funded. It may well be that it could find the funds to produce this show, but at the risk of upsetting a much larger and more significant long-term funder…
Perhaps the Brooklyn Museum, like so many museums (or even businesses, families, etc.) are simply caught between a rock and a hard place, financially speaking.
Walter Robinson at Artnet is more skeptical:
We don't get to see the show for ourselves, and that's certainly an insult, and the classic New York graffiti artists are robbed of a moment of home-town triumph, and that's not fair.
It's some consolation that graffiti is everywhere, and hardly needs the museum…
What's irritating is not the art (or the lack of it), but the rotten politics that drive the decision. The Brooklyn Museum says that its “withdrawal” from the exhibition tour results from “the current financial climate” and the “economic downturn” that began in 2008.
That obvious boilerplate deserves a second look. “Art in the Streets” probably cost $500,000 to put together and no doubt could be traveled for much less. It would easily have been popular enough to pay for itself, and might have turned a profit.
In fact the show was killed not by budget worries but by the goon squad. Thuggish city council member Peter Vallone all but threatened to pull the Brooklyn Museum's $9 million city appropriation if it went ahead with the show, and the dim-witted Daily News was beating the drum of populist resentment against the art before it even came to town.
It was shaping up to be a battle between “Art in the Streets” and the maniac mouth-breathers in power, and you can hardly blame Lehman for skipping that particular battle.
The celebration of vandalism that was set to arrive at the Brooklyn Museum next spring has been canceled.
Bad news for wine-sipping elites who embrace “street art” that defaces private property. Good news for the store owners, parks workers and cops who grapple with the plague of felonious, costly graffiti.
Gothamist got opinions from artists themselves:
Carlos “Mare 139” Rodriguez, subway graffiti artist, sculptor, and NYU Scholar in Residence who has work in the show: “It's surprising and not surprising at the same time. Anything that's as controversial and politically charged as graffiti in NYC is going to have some blowback. It's unfortunate, because if any place could have a great discourse about this art, it should happen here. In many ways, it falls in line with the shortsightedness of New York in not including a diversity of voices in artistic institutions. We were all hoping that this show in Brooklyn would give us a platform to tell our stories.”
Martha Cooper, legendary photographer of the New York graffiti scene, who also has works in the show: “Of course I'm seriously disappointed that the show isn't coming to NYC. I was really looking forward to seeing it here in my own town. However I am taking the museum's word about the reason for cancellation being a lack of funding. I think the fear of bad press was from potential funders, not because the museum got cold feet. Art in the Streets as staged in LA is a spectacular show in an enormous space which was extensively modified at great cost for this exhibition. I have no idea how much it cost but probably the Brooklyn Museum couldn't find anyone willing to back it. It's a shame but understandable given the financial climate. There are many places for people to donate money and I guess no one with the means to do it felt this was a priority.”
The New York Times story gives reason for hope:
Jeffrey Deitch, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, said he had approached another institution in New York, which he declined to name, about taking the exhibition. “We will find a way to bring it to New York,” Mr. Deitch said in an interview. “If not in a museum, we'll just do it on our own.”
What do you think of the show's cancellation? Add your comments below.
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