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Chronicles of museology

We visited the Brooklyn Museum yesterday for the first time in a while. It was a mixed success. The East and South Asian collections were much as ever. They’re small and have a bit of a backwater feeling, but they include some fine pieces—Shang jades and bronzes, Sung pottery, even some good post-Meiji prints and other things they bring out from time to time. Then we went to the new installation of American art. The name told us what to expect: “American Identities: A New Look.” Art as social history in accordance with the familiar orthodoxy, jumbled together and hung on clashing backgrounds so you can’t contemplate the pieces individually. What can there be to contemplate in an individual piece, after all, when it’s a social constuction that depends on context, and it’s the curators who are doing the constructing and supplying the context? Much better, I think, to take in whatever the curators want you to take in. That’s what gets foundation support and you can’t argue against money and official certification. If it’s good enough to make the curators overcome the stupefying boredom of coming up with slogans like “The Invention of the American Landscape,” why should the rest of us complain?