We have been blinded by blockbuster fatigue

Grayson Perry in the Times of London:

I should like to make a plea to all the press departments of all the museums and galleries. Please give up using the phrase “once in a lifetime”.

Eternalchina1aThe V&A’s new show Surreal Things is “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”. The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army ( pictured right), coming to the British Museum, in September is also “a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition”.

It may be true for most of the visitors that they will never get a chance to see these things again, but the phrase “once in a lifetime” represents a trend in the world of exhibitions that disturbs me. As a loyal member of the art-loving intelligentsia I feel pressurised by the phrase to visit the show or my life will in some way be wasted. It suggests that in the catalogue raisonné of my life project there will have a screaming gap if I don’t go. My nonattendance at the Holbein show will nag like a missing Pokémon card.

The phrase encapsulates the idea that a certain sort of life will be complete only when all the requisite boxes are ticked. The press is always coming up with lists of 10, 20, 100 things to see before you die. If I did work my way through them and saw the Mona Lisa, the Sistine chapel, GaudÍ’s church and Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, would I be happier? I might be if I had an autistic attachment to lists.

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