International studio — 81.1925

Page: 226
DOI issue: DOI issue: DOI article: DOI Page: Citation link:
License: Free access  - all rights reserved Use / Order
1 cm

not in the nature of a quid pro quo, but confers
thereby an honor.

It is at this "moment that a directing mind is
needed to take the mass of accumulated material
and shape it into a coherent cohesive whole.
Redundancies and mediocrities must be discarded,
gaps filled. In the earlier stages, direction by
committees of influential men is satisfactory.
Patronage is then of prime importance. The
broadest principles are the only ones susceptible
of application. But with firm establishment and
prestige through wealth of collections acquired,
the need for something approaching a dictatorship
grows more and more imperative. Broad prin-
ciples must give Way to clearly defined aims,
which only a single directing mind can hope to

As to what these aims are, or should be, Pro-
fessor Valentiner wrote several years ago an
admirable brochure entitled Die Umgestaltung der
Museen im Smne der neuen Zeit. He pointed out
that the function of a present-day museum is two-
fold. It appeals first to the public and secondly
to the student of the history of art. To the latter
it must present a picture, as comprehensive as
may be, of the history of art in all its phases.
Completeness is the chief aim. Works of small
individual esthetic importance, which are never-
theless links in the chain, cannot be disregarded.
To the former its appeal must be quite other, for
the public cannot even if it would find leisure to
engage in a study so vast. Its appeal, if it is to be
positive, must be purely esthetic. It must aim to
present the history of art in a series of master-
pieces, laying emphasis, varying from generation
to generation, on those periods which are nearest
in spirit to its own.

Professor Valentiner realized of course that
these aims are to a great extent mutually exclu-
sive. He therefore urged the foundation of a
separate national museum of masterpieces, to
which all municipal and local museums should
contribute. In place of an indefinite number of
small museums, all striving with no hope or
success to cover the same ground, he would have
one central museum, divided into as many depart-
ments as need be, for the study of the history of
art; one museum of masterpieces, for the esthetic
education of the people. And to each of the local
museums he would assign the field of art of
archeology which, on account of geographical or
other consideration, k should be best able to cover.

In a country as diffuse as America, the rigid
application of such a plan would prove, of course,
impossible. One museum of masterpieces might
suffice for the East, but certainly Chicago and

San Francisco would claim, and with justice, the
privilege of assembling several museums for them-
selves. Nor could other local museums easily be
persuaded to renounce their more general activi-
ties in favor of intensive concentration on one
single field.

None the less the plan is in principle right, and
Professor Valentmer's statement of the dual func-
tion which a museum must fulfil hardly, I think,
to be questioned. The trouble about museums as
they are at present constituted—and the Met. is
no exception—is that, addressing themselves im-
partially to the student and to the man in the
street, they fail to satisfy either. The student is
only inadequately served. The scheme of exhibi-
tion, which aims to show the greatest possible
number of pictures on a given wall space, is ill
adapted to Ins needs, since it means that the
greater number have inevitably to be hung above
the level of his eye, where he is unable to examine
them. The great proportion of those hung, more-
over, is of no value to him, being either redundant
or by men of no importance in the history of art,
retained on account of their alleged popularity.
The man in the street is in even worse plight.
Confronted with the hundred and odd galleries
which make up a museum such as the Met., each
filled to overflowing with art objects, pictures,
sculpture, textiles, ceramics, of every degree of
excellence, the most mediocre displayed to the
same advantage and claiming no less of his atten-
tion than the greatest masterpiece, he is stunned.
At best a familiar name, a familiar type, detaches
itself from the mass and he renews an old acquaint-
ance. For the rest, his mind retains only a con-
fused image of externals, the features of a Rem-
brandt head, the color of a Titian, the obesity of
a Rubens. Of the spirit, the creative force that
makes these canvases live, he receives no inkling.
It is not his fault. The field is too vast, his own
leisure too small to enable him to attain to the
necessary intimacy, to sort out the accidental
from the essential, the masterpiece from the mass
of the second-rate.

A choice then has to be made between the
man in the street and the student, and it should
not be long in doubt as to which has first claim.
The number of serious students is so small that
the creation of an enormous museum for their
benefit alone would be nothing short of ridiculous.
They can furthermore be better served on an
infinitely smaller scale, as I shall attempt to show.
The main exhibition galleries in any museum
should be planned with an eye to one person only,
the unprofessional who asks of art only its pleasure-
giving and life-enhancing qualities.

two twenty-six

loading ...