ArtsATL > Art+Design > When masterpieces aren’t enough: High Museum’s Louvre Atlanta limps to the finish line

When masterpieces aren’t enough: High Museum’s Louvre Atlanta limps to the finish line

I can’t say that I’ve ever changed my mind in print, though I’ve done it in my head many times. Writing about the final rotation of works in the High Museum of Art’s “The Louvre and the Masterpiece” — published in the September 6 AJC — gave me that opportunity.

When I revisited the show, I found myself mystified by my enthusiasm when it opened a year ago. The newest focus exhibit, prints from the Rothschild Collection, was a delight, but the rest of it looked like a strand of pearls that had snapped, leaving the luminescent little orbs scattered about the room, much diminished by their isolation.

In other words, the “masterpiece” idea was a flimsy and unsuccessful framework. The lack of context left the works stranded in incomprehension. In this, the show mirrors the larger enterprise, Louvre Atlanta, which ends September 13.

While it brought some great treasures to our city, the curatorial premises of many of the individual exhibitions didn’t do the contents justice. Seeing great artworks is one thing; seeing them together in a way that makes them more meaningful is just as important.

In today’s review, I mused a bit about the three-year project:

A product of the High’s admirable energy and entrepreneurial spirit, Louvre Atlanta was important in many ways. It drew 1.2 million visitors, whose admission fees keep the museum going, and established it at the leading edge of a strategy of art-sharing that benefits institutions both object-rich and object-poor.

The numbers suggest that many visitors enjoyed the opportunity to see these works without a trans-Atlantic flight, or to see familiar works in a different context. Yet viewers with different interests expressed regret that Louvre Atlanta sucked up space, money and attention that might have gone to more intellectually substantive projects.
It’s a tough balancing act. Now more than ever, museums feel pressure to mount shows that draw crowds. The Catch-22 is that crowds now expect spectacles. Hopefully, the High will be able to find a middle path in its next partnership, with New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

There’s plenty more to be said about Louvre Atlanta, which represents a strategy the museum deems critical to its future, and there will be other thoughts and other voices on this subject right here on ArtscriticATL.com. In the meantime, I hope you will use this space to share your thoughts on this and other subjects.

Related posts

391