Sit back, relax… and pick up those binoculars

One thing that keeps on intriguing me, as I spend my days writing for a ‘popular’ newspaper, is that ever interesting tension between ‘art’ and ‘the general public’. How do you bring art to a broad audience without making too many concessions? When is an exhibition really too highbrow or too hermetic? I’m always in for a little fun and for breaking down the barriers, but when do you cross the line? When binoculars are involved, for instance?

During a short holiday recently, I came across an interesting example that made even me wonder: isn’t this taking it a step too far? The exhibition I’m talking about is Benches & Binoculars at the distinguished Walker Art Centre in Minneapolis. It’s a ‘salon-style installation’ that ‘presents unpredictable juxtapositions and side-by-side pairings of more than 90 paintings from the Walker’s collection.’  That’s their version of the facts. I’d rather say: a mishmash of paintings on two really high walls. Benches & binoculars? Yes: in the middle of the room you’ll find a couple of benches with binoculars attached to them. You’re invited to pick up one of them to take a closer look. And because of the height of the walls you really need those binoculars to take a look at the paintings that are hanging close to the ceiling. Fernand Léger, Jasper Johns, Chuck Close, David Hockney, Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, Sol Lewitt, and even Belgian painter Michaël Borremans (‘Trickland‘, 2002). Or when a museum becomes a playground.

PS: Speaking about art, fun & playgrounds… do read this review in The Independent about Ernesto Neto’s new exhibition at Hayward Gallery (London). It goes like this: ‘It’s quite an artwork that can provoke a crisis of identity in a grizzled old critic like me, but that’s definitely what is going on here. The question is: which Teletubby am I?‘ You’ll find the rest of the review (‘It is a truth generally acknowledged that art should not be fun.’) here.


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