- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Ivan R. Dee; First edition (September 26, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1566633249
- ISBN-13: 978-1566633246
- Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1 x 8.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,808,272 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Exhibitionism: Art in an Era of Intolerance Hardcover – September 26, 2000
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In this devastating critique of the art establishment, first-time author Lynne Munson demolishes the postmodern idea that art can't be separated from politics and defends the traditional belief that art ought to be judged primarily by timeless aesthetic standards. This may sound like common sense, but it's a controversial view in America's leading art institutions, where inflammatory works crowd out serious art in exhibits that deliberately bait the public, such as the Brooklyn Museum of Art's "Sensation" show and its feces-stained depiction of the Virgin Mary. "Some art historians now advocate turning the traditional museum, dedicated to providing an unfettered forum for learning through looking, into a new revisionist institution recommitted to the pursuit of altering visitors' beliefs," writes Munson. Indeed, Munson shows that this view infects not just museums, but the whole art world, from art-history departments in universities to the National Endowment for the Arts.
Munson takes readers on an eye-opening tour of all these places. She describes prominent museums in Baltimore and Cleveland that have blocked off glorious neoclassical entrances, with their tall columns and wide staircases, because these awe-inspiring gateways supposedly encourage elitism; visitors now shuffle through somewhat less magisterial side doors. She reveals how Harvard's art-history program, once the envy of every school in the land, has decayed into a place where students learn fancy theories but gain little practical knowledge of art objects. She shows how the NEA funded talented and promising artists at its inception, but now (with a bloated budget) considers its first mission the advocacy of social change. The problem isn't that great art isn't being made today--Munson argues that it is, and makes her case well in a chapter on painting. Instead, it's that the current art establishment, at war against the notion of quality, is too confused to recognize any of this. Exhibitionism is a profoundly sensible book that belongs on the reading list of every art fan. --John J. Miller
Helps us better understand some of the ideological arguments that fuel current art world debates. (K. Marantz CHOICE )
Lynne Munson has done what many thought impossible...written an art museum book that is achieving buzz. (Stephen E. Weil Museum News )
"Every once in awhile, a book comes along that answers a long-lingering question...Lynne Munson's Exhibitionism is such a book." (Michael Barnes American-Statesman )
The subject is hot. Her tone is cool. It is a brave book. (Andrew Forge )
Vigorous...a book which should prompt readers to reexamine their very notion of art. (Virginia Quarterly Review )
Mesmerizing. (George F. Will Newsweek )
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Lynn Munson efficiently documents the rampant hypocrisy within the so-called artistic society today. While the loudmouthed rebels who now control most of the arts establishment perpetually invoke the shibboleth of artistic freedom, the author paints a picture of greedy complainers whose goal is glory far more than artistic merit. The National Endowment for the Arts' obsequious funding programs may have played some role in fostering this change in artisans goals because the drive for acclaim was not always the primary artistic motivator. In the late 1960's when Lyndon Johnson--unquestionably with good intentions--created the National Endowment for the Arts--most of those creative folks truly valued the beauty of their trade. As Ms. Munson says, "the kinds of artists who received early NEA grants didn't choose artmaking as a professional path...and even the best of them expected to work their lives without public acknowledgement." In an ironic aside, she explains how the NEA under Johnson advocated true art, but under the administration of the far more conservative Richard Nixon, avant-garde experimentalism became sacred and standard criteria acquired the status of passe.
Regarding those self-righteous voices who declaim against censorship whenever some crackpot with a perverted mind is not readily granted a government grant, Ms. Munson notes "successive NEA chairmen recited the mantras of censorship and artistic freedom even while maintaining a panel system that discriminated against artists outside the postmodern establishment." Mentioning how real artists are now hardly given tertiary consideration by the ideologically-charged NEA, she says "how thoroughly the National Endowment for the Arts had become by 1995 at excluding precisely the caliber of artist it had rewarded in 1967, and how dimly the agency had come to be viewed by everyone but its dependents."
In a further rejection of exquisite and graceful presentation, the author discusses how the modern museum has in many ways sought to eschew visual grandeur and make itself as prosaic as possible. She sites many examples of grandiose longstanding structures taking steps to shun their stimulating elegance and highlight mundane features.
As insulting as it is to know the NEA is wantonly flushing taxpayer money, its weird actions are not without humor. Ms. Munson introduces Bonnie Sherk who received an NEA grant in 1975 for a project that "involved shutting herself into a cement-floored studio with a few friends and numerous animals (a sow name Pigme, two ring-necked doves, a woolly monkey, etc.); together they would engage in 'building and maintaining nests.'" Readers will be left conjuring up an image of Pigme thinking "get me out here!"
A very hopeful sign concerns the change in Lynn Munson's status since the publication of eye-opening expose in 2002. She currently serves as the deputy director of National Endowment for the Humanities. So while the entire concept of federal subsidies to artsy enterprises remains dubious, if the bad policy must stay in place, it is far better to see taxpayer dollars doled out to support majestic sculptures and splendid grisailles than ordure originals.
If you're tired of art being defined by publicity stunts and attacks on your intelligence or values by naked emperors and empires, you ought to read this, because you are not alone. There are many of us who feel this way.
It took courage to write this book and I applaud her for it.