MoMA Berlin Exhibition Slammed | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 18.08.2004
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MoMA Berlin Exhibition Slammed

Unhappy with the long entrance lines, art fans are directing criticism at the organizers of Berlin's MoMA exhibition. Now, a notable art critic is accusing the New York curators of cultural colonialism.

Some art fans are unhappy with the show

Some art fans are unhappy with the show

Judging by the huge number of visitors -- more than 800,000 at last count -- some of whom have lined up for more than eight hours to gain entry into the special exhibition of the New York-based Museum of Modern Art's (MoMA) show at Berlin's National Gallery, it has been a huge success.

Many even credit the mania surrounding the display of more than 200 paintings and sculptures from MoMA's famous collection with helping to spur tourism to Germany's capital to a post-World War II high, and there is no indication that the steady flow of visitors will slack off before it closes on Sept. 19.

However, increasing numbers of art fans who have had to wait -- sometimes in the hot summer sun -- are less inclined to view the exhibition as a triumph, and some have even accused the organizers of deliberately keeping the lines long in order to stir up publicity. The fact that those willing to pay €27 ($33) can avoid the long lines entirely does stink a bit of cultural elitism.

Now Werner Spies, a noted art historian, one time friend of Pablo Picasso and Max Ernst, and former director of the National Museum of Modern Art at the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris, has joined the critics.

But the nature of his criticism is different. In an article in the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Tuesday, Spies accused the New York-based curators -- who decided on the exhibition's content with no input from their Berlin hosts -- of cultural colonialism.

American art the culmination of modern development?

The crux of Spies' criticism centers around the portion of the exhibit looking at modern art in the second half of the last century, which, compared to the first half, includes almost no selections from European masters. In short, Spies accuses the New York-based curators of falsely claiming that the "New American Painting," which emerged in the postwar years, is the culmination of the 20th century's modern art movement.

For Spies, the failure to include the works of Matisse, Max Ernst, Dubuffet and Giacometti, is inexcusable and not merely an oversight but suggests that MoMA curators have an agenda to determine the so-called canon of contemporary art to the Americans' advantage.

"The Americans who chose the selections are engaging in cultural politics," he wrote. "For them, the Vatican of 20th century aesthetic, it is about establishing the canon of modern art … and the New York museum can in Berlin -- in an expansionist way -- present American art as the culmination of that development."

In response to Spies' criticisms, Peter Raue, the director of the "Friends of the National Gallery," which helped to bring the exhibition to Berlin, told the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel that the exhibit clearly shows the American view, which is just fine by him. He said he could imagine that a Berlin-curated show presenting the European perspective could possibly grace the galleries of MoMA in the future, thereby presenting a more balanced whole.

Numbers grow, opening hours extended

In the meantime, the number of visitors hoping to gain entry continues to grow. At times, the line wraps more than two times around the building. And despite the museum's decision to extend opening hours for the final weeks, the wait remains long.

One industrious Berlin-based engineer sent a four-page plan to the organizers detailing how to do away with the lines, which among other things, suggested the distribution of waiting numbers. In response, according to newspaper reports, he was told that the lines were "necessary to create publicity."

According to a security official quoted in German papers, an ambulance has been called to the museum at least once a day to cart away would-be museum goers for whom the stress of contributing to the shows "publicity" has proven too much.

Some among them may be inclined to add their voices to the growing number of critics, though they are far more likely to bemoan practical considerations as opposed to the high-minded nature of the modern art canon. Others, however, will continue to view the chance to see this "once in a lifetime" exhibition as well worth the wait.

Editor's note: While DW-TV is one of four media partners of MoMA in Berlin, Deutsche Welle played no part in organizing or curating the exhibition.

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