The Critic As Cold Water Splashed Refreshingly On The Face Of Modernity

Schjeldahl-Bjork-690

Björk is a restlessly experimental (and therefore fallible), tremendous creative force, not a tarnishable brand. CREDIT PHOTOGRAPH BY JONATHAN MUZIKAR

 

The opening paragraph of this brief review is worth the click, but the point we would like to bring to your attention is what follows. Sometimes an artist’s museum show can be taken down, critically speaking, with the museum bearing the brunt of the shame. And this point is directly linked to the now well-established concern that art in our age is as much a racket as it is an essential embodiment of culture. This reviewer, and his peers quoted in the opening paragraph, remind us of why we depend on critics for the insight that comes with an occupation whose singular focus is to help us decide whether a certain journey is worth making, or not:

…And yet Björk is unscathed. All the critics (now including me) hasten to acknowledge her musical genius and personal charisma. No detour into lousy taste—even at times her own, as in her partnership, lately ended, with the mercilessly pretentious Matthew Barney—can dent her authenticity. Her music videos (an oasis at the show, in a screening room) typically bring out the best in collaborating directors, musicians, designers, costumers (notably the late Alexander McQueen), and technicians. But if she chances to bring out the worst in star-struck curators, so what? Björk is a restlessly experimental (and therefore fallible) tremendous creative force, not a tarnishable brand.

The same can’t be said for MOMA, which in recent years—with pandering shows of Tim Burton, Marina Abramović, and William Kentridge; Tilda Swinton asleep in a box; the “Rain Room;” and get ready for Yoko Ono, upcoming—has seemed bent on “reorganizing itself as something like a hipster lifestyle brand,” in the words of Davis, and incidentally conveyed “disdain for its core audience,” per Smith. That Björk is both so good and so widely esteemed makes this occasion the worst so far. Presuming to do her a favor, MOMA comes off ridiculous in the way of a wannabe groupie. Björk’s dignity endures. That of the museum disappears.

Are we critics being élitist here? And how! We want MOMA to behave itself as the combined Fort Knox and Vatican of modern art that it has been—and that, around the edges, it remains, with such recent offerings as a splendid show of Matisse cut-outs and a gamely argumentative survey of new painting. The trouble is a willful confusion of, yes, the self-selected élite of the museum’s proper constituency with that of commerce and celebrity, which have their own manners of discernment and are doing fine without imprimaturs from West Fifty-third Street. The monotonous spectacle of MOMA sinking or, in the case of Björk, rising to new levels of incompetence insults everybody’s intelligence.

Read the whole review here.

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