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by Peter Plagens

To the Editor:

Thomas Hoving says that it bugs him that mainstream critics don’t give credit in their reviews to the corporate sponsors and government indemnifiers of prominent museum exhibitions [see "J.M.W. Turner," July 17, 2008]. There are good reasons for their not doing so. The first is space -- at least in mass magazine reviews where word-count is at a premium and the sentence, or even long phrase, acknowledging a sponsor can be put to better use. (If the writer doesn’t think this, the editors do.) Second, if the practice were put into place, readers’ eyeballs would quickly glaze over and they’d learn to pass by the credits, much as readers of newspaper sports sections have learned to ignore the obligatory noting that last night’s game was played in Comerica Park, or some such. Third, the reviews in the other arts don’t cite sponsors; reviews of novels don’t mention the Guggenheim Fellowship or MacDowell residency that helped get the book written. Fourth, there are other kinds of assistance besides money; why should a review privilege bucks? And fifth, corporate sponsors of exhibitions sign a contract that specifies exactly the credit they get: in the catalogue, on signage, in press releases, etc.

Lurking beneath Mr. Hoving’s cavil, however, is the assumption that it’s part of the critic’s job to pitch in and help museums maintain good relations with their corporate sponsors, so that museums can more easily get support for subsequent shows, so that the public will benefit from seeing them. Noble, but false. A critic’s job is to write a readable (that is, informative, entertaining and to some small degree profound) review of the exhibition, period. Keeping sponsors happy is the job of the museum’s development and press offices.

Yours truly,
Peter Plagens

PETER PLAGENS, longtime art critic for Newsweek magazine, exhibits his paintings at Nancy Hoffman Gallery.