Robert Storr Battles ‘Death Star Museums’

Don’t step foot in a museum (or a Wal-Mart for that matter) before reading Robert Storr‘s excellent piece in the March issue of Frieze. An opening Baudelaire quotation on art, solitude, and crowds sets the stage for Storr’s spirited discussion of the state of contemporary museums and museum-going. There’s the retail push: as museums are increasingly marketed and marketing, “the degree to which ‘educational’ sites such as catalogue reading rooms function as antechambers for the bazaars that insistently bracket the spaces of art is ever more obvious.” But for Storr, “the trouble in Paradise—where multitude once morphed into solitude—is the inexorable logic of ‘crowd management’ to which every sign and didactic label, corridor and door width, lobby and gallery dimension, security checkpoint and sales point, moving walkway, escalator and exit indicator conforms.” Let’s flesh that out, shall we?

One would be tempted to say that the contemporary museum is a machine for ‘slipping glimpses’—to misappropriate Willem de Kooning‘s famous description of his painting, while noting that the essence of appreciating his work consists in looking hard and long at what he captured in a blink of the eye and the flick of a wrist. But, in truth, the mechanisms in play are horridly like those of a sci-fi monster that ingests people in great gulps, pumps them peristaltically through its digestive tract in a semi-delirious state, and then flushes them out the other end with their pockets lighter and with almost no memory of their ‘museum experience’ other than a mild anaesthetic hangover. In short, one leaves the halls of culture much as one does a colonoscopy clinic.

Probe further to learn about Storr’s epiphany in the bowels of Austria’s “bulbously futuristic, almost stomach-shaped” Kunsthaus Graz.