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Art in America Lecture_ Reflections on Context_ Connoisseurship _ Patriotism - excerpts

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					    Art in America: Reflections on Context, Connoisseurship and Patriotism
  Excerpts from a lecture delivered at the Reinstallation of American Art at Yale, 2001

Intro
     This program was developed as a keynote for the opening of the reinstallation of American
     art at Yale University Art Gallery. My purpose was to put Yale’s epic role in American art in
     the context of the history of museums, museum installation and the study and public
     presentation of art in America. Organizations, like communities, like families, like art and
     artifacts have histories. Through knowledge of history and an openness to ideas outside our
     narrow disciplines the work of museums can transcend the ordinary in extraordinary ways.

Garvan Installation 1973: An Appreciation
   “American Arts & The American Experience” which opened at Yale Art Gallery in 1973,
   was the most ambitious, influential and idealistic effort of its generation. The media blitz that
   accompanied its opening ....was unprecedented ...and unrivaled ....Even the curmudgeonly
   NY Times critic Hilton Kramer (NYT 6/2/73) was on happy pills as he dubbed the new
   installation “extraordinary”. It was path-breaking in several ways. It was true collaboration
   between artist - Ivan Chermayeff, architect Paul Dietrich...and a team of Yale’s American arts
   specialists, primarily the late Charles Montgomery. In addition to its highly imaginative
   graphically-evocative display, there was a neo-Victorian picture gallery, mini theaters with
   short films and slide shows, and visitor-activated revolving storage for silver. While one
   conservative reactionary cited “raised professorial and curatorial eyebrows...with charges of
   inappropriateness, over-installation and pretentious theatricality,” the dominate response was
   thunderous applause.

A History of American Museums & Exhibitry
   It was also the first attempt to revisit what was then the 40, now 80-year, primacy of
   Modernism as the prevailing model that shaped how art museums present and think about art
   – a model so dominant during most of the 20th century, that even history museums like this
   mimicked it. Museum Minimalism emphasizes the primacy of objects and their aesthetic
   qualities while ignoring or diminishing the contexts and associations once considered more
   important. This idea became so dominant that few realize there ever was a time when
   museums had a very different understanding of art and how to present it.


The Multi-contextual Life of Americana
The Memory Industry
Art Infused with Sense Place – While not strictly “history painting” is all about past and place,
        qualities I will argue are needed now more than ever as authentic localisms decline– and
        as we are increasingly smothered in homogenization of global chains and foreign
        manufacture. Where a century ago a city like New Haven supplied most of its needs
        locally, we now depend on international supply lines for almost everything. It’s a little
        scary and made worse by thinly veiled disdain for the local that is all too familiar among
        the cultural elite and even the media.
The Role of Art in Place Making & Memory, CT’s Impressionists

The Role of Art in Place Making & Memory, Observing & Capturing Place & Past

Federal Art Project – Dozen’s of Yale-educated artists and Connecticut journeymen


Art & The Empire City - at the Met - The Met - normally the Vatican of Museum minimalism
       occasionally offers something different! Apparently the chattering classes whose
       livelihoods depend on not upsetting applecarts will not tolerate deviation from High
       Church orthodoxy. Counter-attacking the New York Times’s disdain for this magnificent
       exhibition, antiques journalist Laura Beach, scoffed at the Times’ “Michael Kimmelman
       “who disparaged it as “Knickerbocker’s Knick-knacks” and “only marginally an art
       exhibition.” His colleague Roberta Smith complained that it was “a discordant array of
       painting, sculpture, photographs, furniture, documents, clothing, ceramics, and glass . .
       .short on genuinely significant objects or artworks. . . . and uncharacteristic for the
       Met.” Could it be that the art critics at The New York Times don’t get antiques,
       Americana or even America? Having trouble with Victorian excess? . . . Ponderous in
       design and dripping with ornament, 1850s art can be an adventurous taste for those
       weaned on Modernist design. But along with a few challenging sideboards and chairs
       “Art and the Empire City” was full of drawings, prints, maps and photographs, stained
       glass, marvelous pottery, glass, porcelain, and silver; and evocative recreations of
       noteworthy art installations of the day. Art & the Empire City was the closest the Met’s
       ever come to a grandiose, hog-stomping American experience. It rocked and inspired
       hope, despite presenting its content in a highly orthodox manner. I like observing
       audience reaction. The Map of NY in this context stole the show. Audiences lingered
       over it with great animation, comparing notes about NY now and then and marveling at
       its beauty and detail. But the usual suspects were not amused and the Met hasn’t tried
       anything like this since.

Generation Next – Meanwhile historic sites, particular those operated by the National Park
      Service, have been pushing the envelope on presentation technology and going a long
      way toward bringing art, environment and history back into communion with one another.

Contemporary artists get in on the act. Contemporary Sculpture as Midwife to History

Photography & Graphics as exhibition architecture: Harpers Ferry & McCord Museum, Montreal

Multi-Media, Multi-Contextual, Thematic Displays

In On the Beaten Track: Tourism, Art and Place, Lucy R. Lippard, warns that “museums have
        become so clinically professional that life’s inadvertent surprises are neglected . ....The
        allure of mystery is absent....People who rarely darken the doors of a museum are
               far more at home in curio shops....where old stuff is displayed in a relaxed and
        random fashion...The history to be learned from these motley collections is not
        authoritative or continuous. It is full of gaps and pauses, like a collage.... like us. These
        collage-like installations may, in fact, be the most radical and evocative kind of learning
        environments. While confounding to a mindset bent on didactic linear narrative, they are
        inevitably more content-rich and lend themselves to associative learning that is
        welcoming and flexible.

Conclusion:
In 1917, John Cotton Dana, a pioneer American museologist and director of the Newark Museum
in New Jersey, decried autocratic ...museum administrators...inclined to look upon themselves as
high priests of a peculiar cult, who treat the casual visitor with tolerance only when he comes
rather to worship than to look with open eyes...”curators and experts,” he continued “become
entirely separated from their community .....making ...expensive collections, but never
constructing effective institutions... museums... buy high-priced paintings... and set them, with an
ample air of assurance of wisdom...before their constituents, saying, “Look, trust the expert, and
admire.”

A century later the art of presenting art often seems stuck in neutral. Lucy Lippard further notes
that “While installation art is now a staple of contemporary art in museum exhibitions, museums
themselves have not noticeably varied their own standard exhibition techniques. The “White
Cube” is still the norm.” Art museums have mostly not realized the possibilities suggested by the
1973 Garvan Installation. There’s been a lot of water over the dam since. Thomas Hoving’s Met
ushered in a new age of Museum Show Business and Commercialism- not bad in itself but too
often substituting cheap stunts and prurience for boldness and innovation.

Museums have enormous undeveloped potential. Despite my critique of the art of art’s sake
credo, I truly believe in the power of art to inspire and encapsulate ideas worth pondering.
Aesthetic power is real. As more of our experience becomes virtual, real things and real places
will provide a refuge that is needed and valued. It’s a little eerie to think that one would have to
visit museums to find anything genuinely authentic. That’s our hook and this place in particular,
is chock-a-block with authentic localisms. We just need a little money to present it better.

Can we appeal to a multi-centered, multi-contextual, pluralistic society without undermining
connoisseurship? I believe we can and aim to assist and applaud those who will.

Bill Hosley
Antiquarian & Landmarks March 2001
Revised & turned into Powerpoint for Colonial Williamsburg Forum, Winter 2009
Terra Firma Northeast
wnhosley@snet.net

				
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Description: Art in America: Reflections on Context, Connoisseurship and Patriotism This talk was developed and first presented at the dedication of the new Installation of American Art at the Yale University Art Gallery in 2001. Slides and commentary trace the history of American museums and exhibitions style and technology. It recounts how and why American decorative arts have repeatedly inspired innovation by defining how American museums relate to the public and by pushing the horizons of the medium of exhibitry. Linkages between Art, History, “Americana” and Patriotism are explored in this multi-media presentation that looks at furniture, ceramics, paintings, public sculpture, architecture, and related forms of creative expression. Ultimately the program concludes that museums and museum collections have an important role to play in fostering civic pride and a love of beauty in a country where government by consent of the governed depends on an informed and virtuous citizenry. narrative for lavishly illustrated program by William Hosley - wnhosley@snet.net