Monday, January 26, 2015

Wilbo Cranks Up the Ringer by Criticizing the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Maybe Unnecessarily.

Banksy has a film called, "Exit Through The Gift Shop". Temptation goads me into scripting a film "Enter Through the Gift Shop". Name the museum throughout the United States, Europe or the World that charges admission for accessing the gift shop? I have an over active imagination and the gift shop has sufficient art stimulus to start my muse motoring. So today, since this museum shuts its doors at Five PM before the sunshine leaves its abundant window panes, that's the extent of my museum exploring. Well, to be honest, I am also enjoying a pleasant seat on the mezzanine above the gift shop where three round tops and six chairs constructed of green wire have no purpose since a nearby dining room undergoes construction. There's hardly a cup of coffee to be found in this place of musing.

I write this as a donor to the arts in my hometown of Muskegon, with gifts to my two favorite art charities amounting to more than I gave to the Scarab Club back when I was a member. I write this as a frequent visitor to the Kalamazoo Institute of the Arts, where I never mind paying an admission charge even though it has a collection of art that seems dwarfed by the GRAM, the Flint Institute of Arts and even the Muskegon Museum of Arts. Maybe it is the free parking and the KIA's easily accessible location off the side of Bronson Park. Small as the KIA might be, KIA has aggressive collectors of Asian art.

For GRAM, I routinely park valet at J.W. Marriott, walk over to the museum's north entrance and then get my parking validated when I have a stem of wine or a pint of beer at the 616 lounge. I'm pretty sure some people are daunted by the lack of free parking around a building whose design makes a claim to sustainability.

On winter vacation, I paid a small admission charge at the New Orleans Museum of Art, fully knowing that the extensive sculptural gardens were free. I was asked for a minor admission charge at the Frist in Nashville, easy to part with the money. I was given an option to donate when paying a call in the Birmingham Alabama Museum of Art, which provided free parking and admission and offered an exquisite outdoors garden of sculpture. I admit I skate at the door every Thursday when visiting the Muskegon Museum of Art for openings and lectures, thanks to Meijers. So why do I brindle so much when being asked for eight dollars to see the permanent collection of GRAM?

Let us begin by talking about the St. Louis Museum of Art, funded entirely by a regional tax. Just walk right on in and ogle in the hall of Max Beckman paintings. Even the Detroit Metropolitan Area has a regional tax for the arts. Grand Rapids has ambitions to outshine Detroit, and yet there's no discussion of a regional tax. One intuits that a community in Grand Rapids might fight such a tax the way members of that community have fought casino expansion. And at least one casino in Michigan has a collection of Native American art on active exhibit that makes the GRAM seem a smaller player, an ethnocentric collector. I just don't remember seeing art in the GRAM of any American minority to the degree that the collection has significance. Even the art museum at the University of Michigan, free to visit as far as I could tell, had a temporary exhibition of Native American art that overwhelmed me with possibility. The Muskegon Museum of Art has endowments for collecting African-American art. UICA gave all of its space to trumpet Northern Hemisphere Latin Art. The show was so great in size and scope, it required two museums.

Has any one on the GRAM staff realized that February is Black History Month, and that the amazing Edward Burtynsky is a white guy. At least Burtynsky looks like a Polish- American last name, one of my ethnicities. 

In Muskegon, my street is a diverse community with African-Americans who have made homes there for generations. Of many same sex couples on my street, one couple has the distinction of being legally married on the day when same sex marriages obtained. When an art museum doesn't reflect where I live, my mind registers a tilt. The Flint Institute of Arts gave a film installation a gallery that showed a light hearted view of two women raising a baby, a memorably exhibit that helped me understand that a family of that diversity could lovingly work. Couldn't see that film installation at today's GRAM.

The GRAM membership magazine has maybe five percent ethnic content, most contributed by an image of Frieda Kahlo and Diego Rivera. However, GRAM has hired a curator from Birmingham Alabama, where Martin Luther King walked. The art museum in Birmingham has an extensive collection of African art, just added a section of African pottery and hosted a show in December of Tibetan religious sculpture. Is it possible that the GRAM is less ethnically aware than an art museum in a town where the Freedom Riders were assaulted?

I'm sorry. But whenever I visit the GRAM, I find myself thinking I'm doing GRAM a favor by visiting its temple of cultural hegemony. Disabuse me of this notion please.

GRAM, drop the admission charge already.

Will Juntunen

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