Dumb and Dumber

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Two interesting (and discouraging) recent articles about museum display practices and the fine line between visitor friendly and moronic. One from the UK, about the debate over there, the other from the Detroit Free Press, via, about plans by the Detroit Institute of Arts to protect visitors from wall cards that make them feel “stupid”. (That’s the term used by the museum’s vice president of exhibitions.) And how do the mean wall cards do that? By telling people something they might not know or using dangerously specialized terms like Baroque. Until now it had never occurred to me to worry about the countless injuries that must have been suffered as a consequence of the mere appearance in museum galleries of that word. And let’s not even talk about Rococo.

Well, I’m as concerned as the next guy about the emotional frailty of the museum going public. Maybe there could be warning signs on the way to the most potentially traumatizing wall cards. (Danger! Information Ahead!) Actually, here’s a better idea. How about a brief wall card that simply explains what Baroque means and how the term arose? Then when people encounter the word outside the museum, they’ll know something about it.

On second thought, forget it. Too elitist.

My blogger colleague Tyler Green is quoted on one of the Detroit museum’s worst ideas — a gallery of modernist works with phrases projected over them. “A projection over a painting sounds like Dante’s 43rd circle of Hell.” Actually, considering the caliber of the people Dante assigned to hell, I’m guessing they woudn’t do anything that tacky.

In connection with all this, a funny blog post in the Brit paper The Guardian, about Tate Modern’s plans for a weekend long consultation with 150 teenagers about how the museum should operate and what it should offer. Coming soon, sliding ponds in the Great Turbine Hall. Oh wait, they already did that.

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