Every good art historian has to know something about museums because that’s where the art is. They used to ask the bank robber, Willie Sutton, why he robbed banks and he said ‘because that’s where the money is stupid!’ And it’s true…There’s a group of art historians today that believe that theory is their province and that they shouldn’t have to deal with things and quite frankly that’s an attitude that has come into graduate schools and it’s just as wrong as wrong can be.
I just want to go on record, AGAIN, by stating how much I HATE working in theory (the writer can put me securely on the list of people who will survive graduate school in love with museums). Give me objects, give me artworks with a past, a present, and a price, every time, for the rest of my career. That's where I work, that's what I love. And guess what, theory-draped art historians out there in your dusty university offices?? Objecthood is the lens through which 98% of humanity discovers interesting and alluring aspects in our precious artworks. Objecthood and stories. It all goes back to these universal, easy-to-understand qualities.
In their pedagogy ('scuse me- in their attempt to create environments of learning) museums are places of empathy. To what degree each institution actually feels and fulfills its capability to be empathetic is a topic of eternal study and debate (and in today's cuthroat non-profit world, it can be a topic of controversy). But in the potential for empathy lies the gradiose possibilities of the public art museum. We all know it. Or at least we should.
A record was broken yesterday when Sotheby's sold a pastel version of Edvard Munch's The Scream for $119,000,000. Where are these art historians that don't believe art should be spoken of as a thing, again??