Thanks to the ABC Arts website, I was able to watch Museum of Modern Art director Glenn Lowry’s recent speech in Melbourne, giving his overview of MoMA on the occasion of opening of its Tim Burton exhibition there. Nothing conjured by Burton is as violent as Glenn Lowry’s presentation. Let me quote him, "Museums are about control. That’s what we are all about. The Internet is about violence and anarchy."
Gesturing with large, meaty hands in the manner of a football coach, Lowry describes the history of MoMA as one of "instability," in which the museum had to tear itself down and rebuild itself every ten years in order to accommodate new kinds of art, a process which Lowry describes as "madness." For Lowry, the mission of MoMA began with the "rupture" caused by Cézanne’s exploration of pictorial space and culminated in the purchase of a Richard Serra sculpture in 1990, which, he confirms was too heavy to be exhibited in MoMA’s existing structure. (Indeed, it was long rumored that then MoMA President Ronald Lauder allegedly purchased the Serra without realizing that MoMA could not contain it, thus necessitating the controversial Yoshio Taniguchi expansion.)
Like the architect Howard Roark in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, Lowry warms to the suprematist philosophy of creative destruction, bragging about "demolishing the Dorset Hotel" and "slicing" parts of other properties to enable Taniguchi’s new museum. Glenn’s violent metaphors continue into the sociology of MoMA, as he describes the purchase of P.S.1 as "an irritant" to MoMA’s traditional audience, which he contemptuously characterizes as "55 and predominately female," although he takes credit for reducing the age of his audience to "40 and gender neutral," a cohort which Lowry finds "still too old."
The artworks, too, which Glenn chooses to PowerPoint are uniformly violent, including Hubert Robert’s The Louvre in Ruins, Ed Ruscha’s Burning of the LA County Museum, Gerhard Richter’s Baader-Meinhof suite and Martin Kippenberger’s Crushed Metro Station, whose "crushing" Lowry describes with unconcealed relish. I’m no shrink, but the uniform effect of Lowry’s presentation in laidback Australia combines Nietszche’s Will to Power, Rommel’s drive down into Egypt and the thunk of an ordinary trash compactor. Heaven help the innocent who walks into the Museum of Modern Art seeking solace, meditation and sanctuary!
While paying lip service to the World Wide Web, bragging about MoMA’s use of Facebook, praising the use of Flickr by museumgoers (whom, last I looked, were not allowed to randomly photograph things in MoMA) and marshalling a graphic of MoMA’s alleged 18 million distinct web hits in fiscal year 2010, a towering column next to pun results for the Met’s, the Whitney’s and SFMoMA’s websites, the "anarchy and chaos" of the Internet are clearly a threat to Lowry. Indeed, if you watch this scary and borderline paranoid speech, you may come to the conclusion that life itself is a threat to Glenn Lowry, but I’ll leave that to you.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).