*The New York Times reports today on renovations at the New York Historical Society which have some preservationists miffed.
The building, in the words of the society’s president and chief executive, “was designed as a vault, to keep treasures safe, not to invite the public to enjoy them.” And now, the society has come to a somewhat different attitude, feeling that “There’s really no point in having these extraordinary collections if people can’t learn something from them.” So they’re doing some pretty extensive renovations to the historic and landmark building to make it more open to the public.
When I read the sentence “Some preservationists still say the society went too far,” I thought, wait, do you mean they took steps that endangered the historical collections, that is, the objects? If so, then indeed they have probably gone too far. But no, that’s not the case. People are just miffed about the changes to the historic building itself.
Now, the article does not include good before and after photos, or other images of the extent of the changes, but it sounds like the changes are mostly interior. If the interior of the building was like stepping into the 19th century (or some other period), and was particularly historical and beautiful, then I would likely stand on the side of the preservationists. But was it? I don’t know. If they’re mainly just upset about the facade, which isn’t even being changed all that much, then I think they’re over-reacting. I value historical architecture as much as the next guy, and the atmosphere and feel of the city created by the facades of historical buildings in NYC, but the primary concern is for the artifacts, and so long as those are safe (and so long as this historical building is not being destroyed or wholly overhauled), I really don’t see what the big deal is.
*Incidentally, speaking of the New York Times, this month they’ve started charging for access. I guess we all knew it couldn’t last forever. Providing free access isn’t exactly a viable business model. Still, it’s fairly obnoxious. I don’t read quite enough of the Times to think it worth $15/mo … I guess I’ll just have to be more prudent with my clicks, since, for now at least, they’re allowing visitors to the site to read 20 articles for free each month – you have to pay to read more than that. (Though, I wonder if I can’t just create additional logins, each of which would get 20 views…)
*The Times also reports today on the increased use by museums of their own collections for exhibitions, rather than borrowing from other institutions. This is something I’ve been hearing about for a few years now at least, particularly as it pertained to the increasing difficulty of borrowing objects from Japan, which has I suppose (either as national policy, or as the policies of individual institutions, I’m not fully sure) tightened its regulations on lending objects and raised insurance claims.
Yet, as today’s NYT article reveals, it is not only Asian art shows which are facing difficulties, but rather all departments in museums, which due to the recession (is that what we’re calling it now? Last I heard, it was an “economic downturn”) cannot afford to borrow objects as much or as often.
So, they are digging into their own collections. Which, for the most part, is a good thing. Most museums at any given time have less than 10% of their collections on display, and few if any are really regular or thorough at all in rotating through the entire collection. How many wonderful objects, one wonders, are hidden in the bowels of the museum, not to be seen (again) for decades? I remember when I was interning at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, they put on display a gamelan acquired by the museum ten years earlier which had never been on display there before, let alone played. Flipping through the “Highlights of the MFA Collection: Japanese Art” book in my mind, outside of the sculptures on permanent display, I would venture to guess that the vast majority of those works – including a few which are among the most famous of all Japanese artworks – have not been on display in Boston in the last five years (and perhaps much longer).
In today’s NYT article, Philippe de Montebello, former director of the Metropolitan, makes some excellent points about the inability of any museum’s collection to be as complete as we might like, the inability to be complete enough to properly represent a given theme without borrowing from other institutions. Indeed, while the Met has an impressive collection of Picassos, the NYT’s own art critic, Holland Cotter, criticized a recent Picasso exhibition for including too many works of lesser quality, a direct representation of the imbalances and voids in the Met’s collection.
*Finally, for today, today is the 150th anniversary of the shots fired at Fort Sumter which kicked off the American Civil War. I am sure there must be a gazillion articles online, and events in person, going on today as a result.
Here is one, from Discovery Channel, on the role of war photography in the Civil War.