Saturday, July 27, 2013

Schjeldahl Flip-Flops, Says DIA Art Should Stay

I wonder what made Mr. Schjeldahl change course? Or rather, I wonder how much time he actually spent thinking through his first opinion where he championed selling the Detroit Institute of Art's collection to help save moribund pensions. What changed?

Mr. Schjeldahl claims to now have a "sounder grasp" of the issues involved. No offense to Mr. Schjeldahl, but these issues don't seem that complex to me. Mr. Schjeldahl claims that selling the art would not bring "dollar-for-dollar" relief to Detroit's pensioners, but that was evident from the start. He also claims sentimentality when he gives a vivid description--from his friend--of countless individuals who no longer would be able to view their favorite artworks; presumably individuals in no need of an ambulance, police car or fire truck.

I respect a person's decision to switch sides; I do it all the time. What's of import, however, are the reasons for the flip-flopping or, rather, the sound reasons. Mr. Schjeldahl argument that selling of DIA's collection would "stagger even today's inflated [art] market" serves only to uphold my initial argument that those arguing, sentimentally, against the sale of the artworks are "those who read the New Yorker and those who blog about art simply to create cultural capital." In other words, those that have an investment in the so-called art market and its ideologies.

I'm friends with Hrag Vartanian, who I believe accused Mr. Schjeldahl of suggesting that Greece sell the Parthenon to pay its crippling national debt. Apples to oranges? Perhaps. But more interestingly it's how "culture" is pre-defined as "Culture." Where is the cultural-elite's cry when a sports team decamps from one city to a more profitable metropolis (see the Los Angeles Raiders and the St. Louis Rams, to name only two)? What aggravates me most about this position is that it completely obliterates Detroit's existing culture(s). It's as if Detroit would be left cultureless should the DIA sell off its collection. In the words of theorist, Raymond Williams, culture is ordinary.

Lastly, I'm getting very tired of hearing cultural elites cry demand that someone--usually a writer--be fired every time that writers pens an opinion contrary to the politically correct ideologies of the leftist intelligentsia. I say this not as a lawyer in favor of the First Amendment; I say this as an artist invested in free speech and robust debate. Let's end the calls and petitions for the firing of writers and artist, for we all very well know where that road leads. As Mr. Vartanian aptly showed with his Hyperallergic article, the laptop is mightier than the sword.


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