Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Woman With Qualities

Have you ever had the experience of reading about an art exhibit in, say, the Wall Street Journal or The Economist? If this week something excellent is opening in Basel, next week it's something else in St. Petersburg—oh, and you really must check out this temporary exhibit in the trendiest new district of London.

Who attends these? Are there people who jump out of their couches and say, “You know, darling, we really must pop over to Basel for the weekend; this new ironic statement about post-modernism sounds so droll!”, and then proceed to buy tickets? Or maybe nobody does, and these reports are really just meant to make the readership jealous. Indeed, I think it's all about promoting the brand: you want your reader to think they're part of a group in which everyone else (but them) gets to jet off to Basel at the drop of a hat—and feels good about being part of such an exclusive club.

Well, no more. I have joined the other side. I read the Economist's report on the Frick Collection's special exhibit on Parmigianino's Antea, and knew this was one I would make. I passed on it on multiple trips to the city the past two months, expecting that Kathi and I would see it over spring break. And we did.

Not only was the exhibit worthwhile, but so was the Frick itself, which I have never visited before. It reminded me most of the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan, one of my very favorite art museums in the world. In most other countries, the Brera would be a national jewel; in Italy, it seems to be a bit of an also-ran to all but the cognoscenti. In the Brera I had the experience walking into just about every room of saying, “Oh, and that's here too?” The Frick was rather like that.

One of the most important things about reviewers—of books, movies, shoes, computers, bicycles, or any other pieces of art—is not whether they're “good” or “bad”; it's about whether you and they are calibrated. If they get every single review “wrong”, that's much more helpful than doing so only half the time. This is much harder to establish with the Economist, whose book reviews are written by an unattributed team, not by a single person. Likewise, having seen and liked the Antea exhibit doesn't help me much with future art exhibits.

But since I'm not often free to jet off to Basel (they're always troubling me with chores around here), it doesn't much matter.

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