September 29, 2014

The Dutch Have No Word For 'Museum Hands'

Donald Judd, Galvanized Iron 17 January 1973,, acquired 1979

A few years ago I was on a panel at an art fair in Rotterdam. Museums across the city stayed open all night, so we went to the Boijmans Van Beuningen, which was packed. Around 11:30, we saw a bunch of of 20yo-something kids in a drum circle around the museum's row of galvanized steel Donald Judd boxes [above], just beatin' and slappin' away on those things. There was a guard in the corner, and when I went and asked her why she wasn't stopping them, she shrugged and said, what can I do?

So all fired up, I went upstairs to the front desk, and explained what was going on, and that it had to stop, and finally I demanded a curator be notified, and they were like, "It's 11:30 on Saturday night." And so I said, I am from the Museum of Modern Art, get someone to stop this now." [I was the co-chair of a collector's group at the time, so anyway.] They located the museum director, who was in the building, and they ended up closing several of the lower galleries for the rest of the night. Which, I felt kind of like a dick, but seriously, people, stop beating on the artwork.


Over the weekend I stumbled across this picture from Michiel Morel, an art consultant in The Hague. He'd written about the powerful impression Judd's work left on him and his kids during a 1980 visit to the Kröller-Müller Museum. The Kröller-Müller had just installed their room-filling set of six Judd plywood boxes, and Morel's kids loved it:

Such anti-hierarchical art such as Donald Judd described himself Minimal Art, challenges children. And so they stood against the grain explore. Racing on through space and Judd's sculpture. As their position is changed, they saw again and other portions of the boxes, but without being able to oversee the whole. Irreverent and possibly banned, but rendered their past and through the collective boxes, added something to their own perception. [google translate, obv]
So here's a museum executive setting his kids loose in another museum's new "anti-hierarchical" plywood sculptures, even though he knew it was "possibly [hah] banned." Those kids grew up into the drumbeating Dutch hippies I shut down in Rotterdam. It's how they were raised. The whole country.

Dutch museums bought Minimalism when it was new, cheap and unloved. When it didn't need conserving; when it actually flew in the face of the very idea of conservation. They bought into the idea that Judd's materials were industrial, and hence, replaceable, if not indestructible. That, or the Dutch are raising generations of cultural philistines and barbarians who don't know how to behave in museums.

Previously: Oh right, it's the English, too. Savages, a whole continentful of them, I tells ya

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