Arts Maya Lin The Irrelevant
posted by October 23 at 15:06 PMon
This right-on, rock-hard beast of a story is why I love the Washington Post’s cultural critic Philip Kennicott. (My last link to him was his essay on the gilt framing of the dead head of Zarqawi at a press conference.)
The question about Lin, posed right there in the Post headline from yesterday (via), is “Why Has Maya Lin Retreated from the Battlefield of Ideas?”
Dear lord is that the right question, and I wish I’d thought to ask it in print when Lin was here. Over the course of a 90-minute interview with me, she said nothing intriguing, nothing of importance, nothing that wasn’t shockingly thin. Based on her Vietnam memorial, I thought this woman was a powerful thinker. “I wanted to bring the outdoors inside,” she told me. In his last, addled days, my grandfather could have come up with that.
Then, her show was gimpy and irrelevant. Her two lectures (which admittedly, I couldn’t and then didn’t, attend) stirred no conversation that I’ve heard of. In fact, everyone I’ve spoken to who attended was struck at the lectures’ total lack of insightfulness.
The only way the exhibition moved me was that I became needled by the knowledge that the Henry Art Gallery spent a whopping $288,000 on it. That makes it probably the highest-price exhibition the museum has ever put on, according to a museum spokeswoman. (Ninety thousand dollars of the $288,000 was labor costs to build the two least successful pieces: the mountainscape with grocery aisles between its parts, and the abbreviated hump of 2X4s that squeezed visitors to the walls around it and couldn’t be walked on without signing a waiver).
Every few years, the Henry commissions a major exhibition from a contemporary artist. It’s a noble act with plenty of risk involved, and the Henry can’t entirely be blamed for a dud. But let’s not pretend this show was an achievement. It was sad, and small, and disappointing, and very, very, very expensive.