On museums as havens for culture

Apollo_of_the_BelvederePhilippe de Montebello at The New Criterion:

This is how these conversations can change enormously, and they change also with the change of the canon. We lived for hundreds of years with a canon that was essentially based on the Apollo Belvedere and Raphael as the ne plus ultra of all of visual art, and there was a certain consistency to the way one approached works of art and by which curators hung and installed their galleries. Of course the Elgin Marbles—the Parthenon Marbles—changed everything about the canon when they arrived, and it all shifted. Then came, in the middle of the nineteenth century, the Salon des Refusés, and suddenly everything went (by which I mean “everything goes,” but of course in the past tense).

Since then we’ve had contemporary art and there’s no more question of a canon. We have a kind of anarchical situation in which rectangular objects with paint on them and regular sculptures still exist, but they coexist with installation pieces, videos, and things of that sort—very ephemeral material. And so the conversation today is a very different one, in which there is an obsession with contemporary art in opposition to everything else.

As far as contemporary art is concerned, the fashion is now to insert it not only into contemporary art museums and modern art museums, but also into older museums. You’ve all seen it, from the controversial works of Jeff Koons being shown in Versailles, to the much more applauded Anish Kapoor sculpture in the gardens of Versailles, to just about every museum that now includes contemporary art—not just as a department, but in contiguity with the art of the past.

more here.