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Corcoran Doubles Attendance

In my post on September 4 (Living Inside Art History), I first wrote about the J. Seward Johnson show at the Corcoran. Before and since, this exhibit has gotten a lot of press, including a vitriolic review by Blake Gopnik in the Washington Post on September 12, which itself caused quite a stir. In another post (Savage Review on September 14), I linked to several other reviews of the exhibit, all of which were overwhelmingly positive, just to make the point that Gopnik's ideas about Johnson's work do not represent the mainstream. I must clarify that I agree with Gopnik's assessment and was simply trying to point this out as an example of a trend that is hardly new: the disconnect between critics and the public. This is no different from the indignation many literary critics felt about Stephen King receiving an honorary National Book Award. As I said in my September 14 post, "I still believe that the Corcoran is going to make a lot of money on this exhibit."

From ArtsJournal I learned about an article by Harry Jaffe (Too Much Poison in Art Critic's Pen?) in the November issue of The Washingtonian, recapping the dispute between Gopnik and the Corcoran, which confirms that I was right:

Perhaps it comes down to money. Being a private enterprise, as opposed to the National Gallery, which receives $80 million a year in federal funds, the Corcoran must charge admission. Seward is a draw. The Corcoran says it has doubled its attendance, from an average of 5,000 visitors a week to 10,000. Cher showed one Saturday and stayed for two hours. Perhaps kitsch draws—and sells.
Several of my Humanities students have been to see the Johnson exhibit at the Corcoran and have enjoyed showing me photographs of themselves with the sculptures, "inside" the paintings he tries to recreate. Yes, the work is derivative, and yes, I wish painting styles other than Impressionism would fascinate larger audiences. Still, in my opinion, it's good if kids spend hours reading, even if it's "Harry Potter" and they get headaches, and anything that gets high-school students to think about art and to remember it as part of their lives is ultimately worthwhile. Tyler Green at Modern Art Notes will be glad to know that a few of my students also enjoyed Gyroscope at the Hirshhorn, as well as my favorite, the Picasso exhibit at the National Gallery (see my post on October 27).

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