THE ART MUSEUM: Power, Money and Ethics by Karl E. Meyer

THE ART MUSEUM: Power, Money and Ethics

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With federal funds about to be committed, providentially, to museum operation (in addition to the millions now allocated for special projects), an examination of museum performance is in order. But the ""report"" that journalist Karl Meyer has prepared for the Twentieth Century Fund is little more than a replay of the museum imbroglios of recent years arranged, ostensibly, to illustrate problem areas. Much of what it correctly points out is obvious, even notorious: the megalomania of some museum directors (the Met's Hoving, the Smithsonian's Dillon Ripley); the failings of elderly, rich, quixotic boards of trustees; the unsuitability for museum purposes of some spectacular modern structures (like, of course, the Guggenheim); the museum's pursuit of private collections beyond their ability to house or maintain them; their covert ""de-accessioning"" of materials; their suspect influence--via exhibitions and purchases--on soaring art-market values. The last two abuses have been addressed, as Meyer notes, by the American Association of Museums' 1978 Code of Ethics (the text of which is appended); the others, however, are chronic problems whose ""solutions"" (e.g., better qualified, more representative boards of trustees) are impeded by the very independence---in fact and in spirit--that is a basic strength of American museums. Meyer, who claims (and evinces) no knowledge of art, sees only their weaknesses; and, guided by the headlines, he barely takes notice, if that, of such fundamental issues as exhibition vs. interpretation, the museum as merchandise mart, the broad vs. the deep collection--or alternatives to the blockbuster loan exhibition. He's best, probably, on museum finances: on the escalating costs of running a museum and the consequent need for steady, supplemental funding--in excess of what local governments can provide and immune from stock-market fluctuations. You'll learn, in short, what brought the new federal Institute of Museum Services into being; acknowledge--why not?--that the public has a right ""to insist on improved standards""; and have to look elsewhere for a discriminating discussion of the various roles museums play. (The unorganized, unselective bibliography--bloated with names like Tawney, Toqueville, and Mrs. Trollope--is no help.)

Pub Date: Feb. 22nd, 1979
Publisher: Morrow