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Monday, October 23, 2017

When Money Talks

Let me preface this to say I sort of hate trash-talking things about my community that are supposed to be good or a big deal. It seems sort of churlish. But Rick and I recently visited our contemporary art museum, the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University.

Let me also say now (and probably again) art -- all art, whether it is the written word, a painting, an installation, a piece of music or that incredibly complicated quilt you have been working on -- is subjective. People will love, hate or feel indifferently about it. And it's all OK.

I tend to take a broad interpretation of art and basically believe pretty much life is art -- that includes gardens, cooking, painting, writing and much more. One can argue art and craft. I think the best artists apply both creativity and technical expertise. And everyone's version of good or bad within that broad category of art will vary based on subjective preference and perhaps objective examination.

So settle in -- there are elements of rant here but the photo part at the beginning is the preface for my concern and overall feeling about this so-called jewel in MSU's crown that I would say is no better than a rhinestone. Or perhaps a nice cubic zirconia. The meat of my displeasure comes after the photos.

Look hard and you might see the name of the museum on this panel by the entrance. Or maybe not. It's the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum on the Michigan State University campus.


Rick and I decided to spend a gloomy afternoon a week or two ago at the museum. It's been here a few years and we've never seemed to find the time or inclination to visit but we were really bored. And very curious, so off we went and our reactions were baffled to say the least.

I don't think I'm smart enough to like or understand most of the work I saw in this museum. I know I'm not pretentious enough. Being an art history minor didn't help. At least this one was colorful. I don't understand it but it was a refreshing change of pace.


Don't get me wrong. I like much 20th century art, even the sort of out-there stuff. I'm not big on installations (doesn't any museum recognize good old 2-D art anymore?) But I need it to make sense to me. I don't go to art museums to work hard. Some people do. I go to art museums to enjoy, to savor, to smile.


We weren't smiling. Mostly we were scratching our heads, giggling and screwing our faces into that WTF expression we've all done now and then. Well, if provoking reaction is part of the mission, they got points for that.


I'll start off with the exterior by an architect named Zaha Hadid who died last year. (Personally, I think she was knocked off by a group of East Lansing-ites who are totally pissed off at this building, which rests in the heart of the most lovely of campuses with classic brick buildings.) There might be a place for it over by the performing arts complex which is quite contemporary (and I might add, lovely). But no. To get the money from the Broads, and it was a lot of money, it had to be in a prominent place. (Hold onto that thought -- there is some meat to this post at the end through our walk through about how money talks...)

Well, it is right in the heart of old campus on the main drag, Grand River Avenue. You can't miss it. Some call it the spaceship. I call it the Big Ugly. Which is also what I call the neighbor's house at the lake. Ironically, if this looked like the neighbor's house, I might be less irritated with it. It's context -- this belongs on Grand River like the neighbor's house belongs on a quiet lake with little cottages. But I digress.


You go in and see this display, below.


OK. A little odd but colorful. I can actually work with this. In the right basement it would be kind of cool.


And then these odd shaped rooms that were practically empty. I realized I had this exhibit in my very own home.


Only mine are more artistically (and chaotically) arranged with a bit more color. Maybe I missed my calling.


There was one place where an art student got to pick a favorite piece from the collection (I'm not sure if this was the original collection, which is in hiding or Broad's permanent collection) and highlight it with a statement. I wish I'd taken a photo of it. (I didn't like it but actually, it wasn't horrible.) Only the statement was horrible, which was filled with the pretentiousness of a young artist who is trying too hard to be sophisticated and intellectual.

Now you can say that's OK but to me an artist's statement should not require a dictionary. It should be a clear, concise statement or interpretation of their style or the work on which they are commenting. (This exhibit was next to the comic books -- about a dozen of them. And those made a LOT more sense to me to be in this area than most anything else.)


There was a film that was all computerized of a woman who seemed to do little. Another film with audio of people walking through a home or gallery and talking but all you saw was the exterior of the building. I'm sorry, but I don't have time to stand around and watch that. (I will say some people were laughing, so someone liked it. Art is subjective.)

And this thing -- which I rather liked, but it had no context. And you'll note it was in an empty room. (There was a small projector on the floor that seemed to do nothing -- at least, nothing related.) I'd buy one of those in a heartbeat for the back yard if it didn't cost an arm and a leg. I'm not saying the room should be cluttered but what a waste of space. (Hold onto that thought.)


There was one room I could appreciate. Although, when I walked in and saw this...



...I wasn't so sure. But when I read the clear and concise description of this I thought, "I'll give her a pass on execution because the concept makes sense." But again, you shouldn't have to read the cliff notes beside the art to get the gist of it.


There was much related to civil rights in this room and here are a few pix.


And some memorabilia.


This one really broke my heart.


The gift shop was small but it wasn't bad.


So, what's this all about?


I repeat. I know that art preference is as subjective as beverage selection. You like all wine but really love the reds. Or you hate the reds and roses, but white is OK. Or you don't drink it at all, you'd rather have a beer or a soda or a malt. We've often said that sometimes beverages are too pretentious -- notes of turpentine, charcoal and chocolate blend with almonds, cherries and kumquats for a unique flavor experience. Yeah, but does it taste good to you?

So, I understand that someone else is going to see this and think "what far out, thoughtful, deep artists these are." And it will resonate with them. Maybe you.

But mostly, it looks like a waste of space. And there is another, more critical, reason why that is a travesty.


When the Broad opened, MSU's smaller but exquisite Kresge Art Museum was closed. They had a wonderful collection that ranged from the very old to very nice 20th century art. Maybe even 21st century. All of that stuff is either in storage in vaults under the football stadium (ironic) or sold. Who knows?

The Kresge collection included 7,500 works of art and these are not on display. Works by Dali, Calder, Rodin, a Joseph Cornell box, all would be suitable for Broad. Unless it's not contemporary enough.

Initially, the thought was there would be a space for the Kresge Collection at the new museum. It's worth millions of dollars and deserves to be seen (and this is where  money talks). But there is no gallery for the historic collection, though supposedly faculty can access it for research. There was some talk of making the collection available online but as of this writing, the links do not work. Means of using them in the museum for historical context do not appear apparent in our visit.

So, remember that empty room with the kind of cool looking pottery jars holding shrubbery? Suppose that -- in a non-cluttered or distracting but enhancing way -- there was a piece or two on each wall from the Kresge Collection that reflected vessels or greenery or nature. It would provide context and use the space more efficiently without the overwhelming volume you get in a truly great museum with a large collection. (If you have ever done the Louvre in an entire day, you either didn't see a thing or had to see a masseuse after for your hips, legs or feet.)

In an excellent article in the Lansing City Pulse back when the museum was built, writer Lawrence Cosentino interviewed then-director Michael Rush, who told him:
"The founders, Eli and Edythe Broad, gave their money to support a contemporary art museum on the campus of MSU. That's the basic reality. When you have philanthropists entering the situation at that level of giving, which is extraordinary, and it is the donor intent for the museum to be a contemporary one, then that is what we embrace."

But is that right?

To be honest, I fault our university for giving donors so much power. Money talks, whether it is Goldman Sachs in politics or Eli Broad in art, a lobbyist for General Motors or Harvey Weinstein as he sexually assaults women wanting to work in the film industry. And at no place does money talk more than at Michigan State University. It's my alma mater and I love much of it and support financially more than one project/department/service of the U, but I despise the commercialism that seems to take over, on more than one occasion, common sense and the greater good.

From where I sit, there comes a time when that simply isn't right. It's all well and good if it's someone's pet project for a private institution. You want to build your big art museum in our town, great. Knock yourself out -- it's your project.

But Michigan State is a public university (or so they say). And it's aggressive in its fundraising tactics. I know because I worked for a department that had to raise its own money -- but we never caved.

As aggressive and annoying as public broadcasting fundraisers and direct mail can be (and it is, nationwide -- and if we had a TV tax in this country like the Brits, it would probably lighten up... another topic, another time) -- we never gave in to a program underwriter to influence news coverage or programming. In fact, unless things have changed since I got out of the business, even if we liked the idea and decided to do a television program about it, we couldn't accept underwriting from that person for that program nor could they have editorial control.

If one looks at a museum on a campus it strikes me that if there is only ONE art museum (or history, or whatever topic), and to be in the best interests of the students it serves, the museum should reflect the broadest scope of an area, whether it is art or natural history. Certainly there will may be emphasis on a topic or period as the displays evolve. But a student studying art history should be able to go into the U's only museum and see a works from the 1500s or a work from 2015, study them, form their own opinions.

I always thought that if a friend came to town who had never been here and I was doing the tour, I would add this to the list. I won't. The good news is that within two hours we can go to wonderful, diverse art museums in Detroit, Grand Rapids and Toledo. And that's what we plan to do.

37 comments:

Joyful said...

Hi Jeanie, I actually like the architecture of the building although I certainly appreciate it may not built in the the appropriate neighborhood. Blending in with surrounding buildings is important to me and to many others. In my city people get very upset about such things.

I can appreciate some of the displays also but I totally agree that one should never build a building based entirely on the wishes of one donor. That is a bad idea. Why couldn't the university keep the old museum and have one with contemporary art also is the thing that comes to my mind. It really is a shame that the wonderful art that was formerly on display is now stored somewhere or possibly worse, it is sold. That is not right at all.

eileeninmd said...

Hello Jeannie, the building does look like some kind of ship. I am not an art expert, but I know what I like and do not like. The colorful rooms are bright, I think I would feel funny walking there. The display of shoes is odd.
I like the pile of dirt with the "face" planters. I lot of the art, I do not understand. I guess everyone is entitled to their opinion, likes and dislikes.

Happy Monday, enjoy your new week ahead!

Paulita said...

Jeanie, I can definitely see your point. Art is subjective, but funny that there are some things we all can enjoy. Maybe a few parts of the museum could focus on the avant garde and the others could be for us peons.

bj said...

I've been to places like this and thought what a waste of space, time and energy...I guess it's a good thing we don't all like the same things.

Silver Willow said...

Hate to rock the boat here, but I think the architecture of that building is simply MAGNIFICENT. It deserves awards up the wazoo. sorry/not sorry.

Nothing inside though...is to my taste, though. And I do find it sad that so many older, true works of art, from some real 'masters', is being hidden away in its place. That is a travesty.

Still, the benefactors have every right to say how every penny of their donation is spent, and if the university deciding committee didn't like it, they had a right to say no. Period.

But yeah, no, that building is a architectural wonder. :\

Julia - Vintage with Laces said...

Some years ago I wouldn't have but now I like the architecture. At least from the outside. I don't like odd shaped rooms though and feel that they would distract from the art. For the exhibited pieces it wouldn't be a problem for me though. There is a lot of contemporary art I like but none of the pieces you showed talk to me in any way. Yes, everyone's reaction to art is subjective and that's o.k. However, it's a shame that there is no more space now to exhibit art that is not so contemporary, especially considering that the museum is on the campus of a State University.

The Sketchy Reader said...

The problem with art today is that unless you're Russian, artists aren't trained in how to make beautiful art. Talent is wasted on "conceptual" art, usually intended to push a leftist agenda.

It's sad, really, and that is a poor excuse for an art museum.

Mary@mydogsmygardenandmary said...

The building is quite unusual, but I would think that they would have placed it in a better location. I am afraid that I would have walked right out of the museum, it's so very different and not my style. I would have had a headache going into that bright room.

Mary

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

I thought the museum building was OK. I know I'm against the odds here, but I did like the building from an architectural standpoint. However, it had no right being on that campus. I believe that if the people with the money insisted on every piece and had the final say on everything, it was the University's fault and they got what they got.

The one room I DID like was the one on segregation. It is heartbreaking to think we have reduced ourselves to that level again. I can understand it in 1862, but not 1962, and certainly not 2017. However, that seems to be the way we are told to think these days.

I thought the Chia pets were darling, and I actually surprised myself by liking them in that room. What I can't understand is, why all those old masters are being stored, rather than shown. Private collectors have the right to hide their pieces away, but public institutions should not. I don't see much recourse for this problem, though. After all, as you pointed out, Money Talks. Broad's money spoke loud and clear!

Pam Richardson said...

Jeanie, I certainly see what you are talking about! When large donors wield power, it can be bad news! I certainly don't get that all of that famous and priceless art is hidden away!

Sandra Cox said...

I'm stunned they may have a Dali in storage....

Barb said...

Hi Jeanie, I like modern architecture, and I like the design of the building (though whether it fits in its environment is another thing). However, though I enjoy modern art, these installations leave me cold. It does seem a shame that other older art is being stored - you wonder who made that decision. As my husband says, "It's all about the money. " However, you wonder if the exhibits are drawing many admirers. Wouldn't that be a barometer of its success? I love Denver's Modern Art Museum and enjoy visiting it. It has a red room installation (with foxes) that my Grands enjoy. On the other hand, the psychedelic room you've pictured gives me motion sickness!

My name is Erika. said...

Wow. That is an ugly building in my opinion. I think the art in it is (ok let me rephrase that) I think the things in it are not art. I'm not sure what they are. Maybe I am being a bit closed minded, but I don't get anything you showed us today. I know art is suppose to shock and make us think. but it didn't do that to me. Maybe it was the display. I don't mind art that makes me think or surprises me, but like you, I don't want to have to work hard with art either. I like to find things or learn stories. I am glad you shared with us though. The art has made me think (if it is art) so maybe in that way it was a successful museum. I won't rush their though. Hugs-Erika

Marilyn Miller said...

I guess I won't be visiting this museum anytime soon. Didn't mind the entrance, but then it just kind of fell apart. Would love to see the Dali they have tucked away somewhere.

BeachGypsy said...

this is an excellent post!! I dont think that particular museum belongs on the campus

Rita C. said...

Jeanie, I am really surprised by this, and the fact that there wasn't/isn't a more active campaign to rescue and reinstall the works of art displaced by the Broad! I do understand how money talks, I get that, but it just blows my mind how common sense evaporates at the sight of money on the table. Just another example of our universities whoring themselves out. I see it all the time in athletics, but am really disappointed in seeing it in the foundation of education too.

shoreacres said...

I don't agree that subjectivity rules when it comes to the quality of an art piece. I happen not to enjoy a good bit of contemporary art, but there's a world of difference between good contemporary art and lousy (leaving aside the thorny questions of definition.) Jackson Pollock's a good example. I think his paint-slinging ridiculous, but in the context of his development as an artist, his stated objectives, and his influence, I can understand why museums would want to include his work. But some shoes against the wall? I'd have to be convinced.

Anyway. Your larger point is to the point, and clearly a sign of what's happening to our society. History is being erased in all sorts of ways, and this is one more. I couldn't help thinking about naming rights for sports stadiums, and the terrible trend here in Texas of building multi-million dollar stadiums for high schools that could make better use of the money for teaching facilities. There are so many issues intertwined here, and it wouldn't have to have happened. The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is a wonderful example of a thoroughly modern museum that has tradition and modern pieces beautifully displayed in a gorgeous setting. It took a lot of money, too, but it's proof that it can happen.

Joanne Huffman said...

Storage in all art museums is an issue - look at The Smithsonian. But, I agree with you that, at the very least, the University should make their collection of art available to art students. It would be wonderful if they could make it available to all and exhibit it, even on a rotating basis, on campus. Also - just a side note - the Kalamazoo Institute of Art is not all that far from Lansing and has quite a nice selection of permanent and temporary exhibits.

La Table De Nana said...

I am with you 100% and the following is not for the faint of heart:"I felt the same way about le Centre Pompidou when I saw it".
There I said it..
I am just not a lover of modern architecture at all..nor weird expositions.
Weird to me beautiful to others.
You said it so well.:)
Loved you WTF.LOL

Anonymous said...

I SO agree with you about the collection. We finally trekked to MSU to visit this museum. I kept thinking that they must have the fabulous, more traditional art in another museum. But no, some of the art was locked up in a basement room that the public can't enter.

The educational mission of the university has been dissipated and squandered by isolating the art. What a disappointment for those of us who appreciate historical context. What a loss to the community and students. I wonder how the families of previous benefactors feel about their gifts being locked away from public view?

Lynne said...

Subjective . . . key . . .
Reading you reminds me of why I followed you in the first place . . .
And then you entice me with pictures/photos/expressions . . .
I can accept the wishes of the donor . . .
I cannot accept harboring fine art in the bowels of a Michigan State building . . .
Now why . . . as in life . . . cannot Old World Masters dance beside a bit of contemporary . . . . . .
Doesn’t that also tell a story . . .
Excellent piece Jeanie . . .
Mister Irish would be dancing me off to see that architectural wonder . . .
I however, would enjoy thumbing through an old postcard collection . . .
Your WTF has kicked off my day . . .

Carolyn Marnon said...

I remember this being built when my daughter toured MSU's campus back in 2012. I didn't give it much thought back then, but it did look out of place in the environment. Now with your photo, I see a giant shark. The pointy things look like teeth and the sharks mouth is open to swallow you up as you come inside.

Maybe the shark ate spaghetti? That's what the red room reminds me of. It's covered in spaghetti. I can't see the artwork on the walls very well, but I did read a basement comment and thought maybe the art has something to do with what goes on in a basement and the "bowels" of the home. LOL!

The multi-colored room, reminded me of a room full of colored windows. Got me thinking of rose-colored glasses and maybe with all the colors represented, it speaks to how we all see things through a different "filter" so it is not all the same.

The shoes-didn't get this one. All I could think of was that if it was an exhibit of 2 left shoes, I could call it Two Left Feet. Then you could hang a master's work depicting dance on the wall. Integrate the old with the "new."

If you ever come to the Detroit area, I would love to go to museums with you.

You made me think about art today. For that, I thank you!

Pam Jackson said...

Well hello lady, and I have to say that folks see art in different ways, I am aware of that but ....there are things so much more creative then this stuff that I would call art. This is terrible. I would not have been happy after going through this place.

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

Your experience here reminds me of a visit to our Walker Art Museum. I went with a friend and just scratched my head in confusion (as did my friend). We just did not GET any of the art. I am not an artistic person and never took any art classes in college so I figured I just didn't know what to look for.

I don't mind the exterior of the building - it's not surprising that it houses modern art. It's not my preferred style of building but I can see how some migh tlike it. If you want to talk about a HIDEOUS eye soar of a building, check out these images of our Stuart Weissman Museum at the U of M in Minneapolis. I am sure people love it but I HATE IT!!

https://images.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search;_ylt=A0LEVjJjwO9ZlTIAH3InnIlQ;_ylu=X3oDMTEyMjRjaTRmBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDQjQ3NzVfMQRzZWMDc2M-?p=Weissman+Museum+University+of+Minnesota&fr=yhs-mozilla-004&hspart=mozilla&hsimp=yhs-004

Sandra Cox said...

I think you need to paint those basement steps:)

Carolyn Marnon said...

Lisa-your museum looks like a post-apocalyptic museum. Like someone just took pieces of metal and just threw them together to make a shelter. Interesting what art invokes in us. I think each piece is seen through the eyes of our experiences. What I see is different from what someone else sees.

Thanks, Jeanie, for this wonderful discussion about art.

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

Modern art is so subjective. I confess I am not a fan of most of it, but I always enjoyed my visits to MoMA in NYC. This museum did not seem to have enough substance in its displays, I hope it will improve in the future

Weekend-Windup said...

That museum looks very pretty good. It has many stuff inside it. Wonderful photos of them:)

handmade by amalia said...

It certainly succeeds in becoming a talking point :-) Sometimes provocation is the point.
Amalia
xo

Victoria Zigler said...

It makes me sad how money speaks more loudly than anything else.

Stacey said...

Hmm, I probably would have walked rather quickly through that museum. The answer must be the source of the money and that is a shame. I wonder how many people visit and how many return visits there are. Surely they have those statistics...the truth is that art is all subjective but generally speaking people want to see something pretty.

Sandra Cox said...

I liked the stained glass windows wall:)

ineedorange said...

There is FABULOUS contemporary art being made all the time. Most of it, I think, is considered "craft" by the decision-makers, and so doesn't make it into the collections of most art museums. Alas!

So much contemporary work that does make it into art museums is hideous. Just plain hideous. I'm with you -- if I have to read the manifesto in order to understand, forget it.

You'll note, that when you walk through a real art museum, you are not seeing item after item that is hideous. You may not like the subject (naked ladies AGAIN?), or you may get tired of the same story being told over and over, but technically the work generally can't be faulted, and usually, it's pleasing to the eye.

In 100 years, people are going to look at the stuff that's being added to collections nowadays, and saying "WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?" That's my prediction.........

My daughter was a history of art major, graduating at the end of the last decade. They learned in college that people deliberately bamboozle "the art world," selling things like a 6' dead shark, enclosed in a tank of formaldehyde, for obscene gobs of money. I always think of that, when I see hideous work in a museum.

Who is taking whom for a ride???????????

Tracy said...

The Spaceship... haha! It does have the look about it. It's an odd thing... bit like a lot of jumbled corrugated stuff... The building and it's location/surroundings seem out of place. I'm with you on all this, Jeanie. The segretation exihit has good value... So sad we are still dealing with issues dating back to Civil War time, it's heat breaking. But in all, this Looks like a lot of installtion art and oddities--like the display of shoes (??!!) I don't care for "installations" much either. I like art the relates some how to the human experience and being alive. Most of what's shown here doesn't inspire feeling. Although, the head-pots with green plants in is something... Alive at least--LOL! But yes, a great waste of space in all that could be used for more meaningful purpose. It's a great pity the older art is in hiding, and this big space is being used for... I don't know what. To have a Dali is storage is just crazy! There is "modern art" that I do like, but there is a lot I don't like. Provocation or whimsy seem to be the things, rather than celebrating the beautiful or sublime. So much about the art world and it's workings don't seem to be about art anymore. MSU did themselves a great disservice in what they have done with this museum. And it all is part of a chain of things happening in America, really where big money talks, makes the choices, takes out what it wants... Goodness, could really get ranting more on this! ;) Thank you for sharing this... it goes get the heart and mind going! ((HUGS))

JenniferRipplespeak said...

I so concur, friend.
Absolutely.
-Jennifer

Mary K.- The Boondocks Blog said...

Jeanie I'm sorry to hear that you did not enjoy your visit to this museum. And you certainly have given us food for thought. I know that I felt like that a lot when I was a college student, and I too minored in Art History. But as you get older you begin to see between the lines and are not impressed by art that is pretentious or trying too hard. Hope you are feeling better.

Polly said...

I like art exhibitions and museums but I’m not a fan of modern buildings, and I really can’t see the point of exhibitions like the shoes!

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