H. de Roos - The critique of the toronto exhibition



According to Marx, in the price of a good its concrete qualities for use have been dissolved: it is an abstract value. Or, as the Romans said: Pecunia non olet - you cannot tell from the money what it has been earned with. If we consider price as the point where demand and offer meet, what remains of the critique of the Musée Rodin then, the exhibition price would be too high?

Looking at the number of visitors, we can only conclude that in the eyes of 134,000 people, the Musée Rodin was wrong. Evidently, the public is prepared to pay and see a messy bed, to visit an empty room, to admire photos that cannot be distinguished from their own holiday snapshots, to get lost in a store room created by Mike Nelson, to be puzzled by brass urinals that pun on Duchamp´s ready-made. And despite the press scandal (or maybe even because of the press scandal), people want to see these plasters at the R.O.M.

Mundus vult decipi - the world wants to be deceived? Enlarged newspaper articles, mounted on billboards outside the special Rodin exhibition rooms, inform the R.O.M. visitors about the controversy with the Musée Rodin. A sharp critique has been published before the show even started, the mass media have repeatedly warned the public that these plasters are mainly foundry plasters, partly damaged. It has been ventured, the majority of them would be posthumous or unauthorized. Till today, these statements have not been proven. As we will see under Point 6, David Schaff is very well able to present reasonable arguments in defense of his assessment. The age and quality of single plasters may remain open to dispute, but  as long as an opinion is backed by sound reasoning, it is no crime to propagate it. The Canadian Museums have organized a public Symposium, invited the Musée Rodin to explain its critique. By all who were interested, this event could be visited for free. Everyone was able to hear the presentation by Gary Arseneau, stating that these plasters are fakes. And for those who could not attend, the Toronto Globe has spelled it out the next day. So where is the intent of deception? Where is the suppression of truth?

As far as I can judge, this exhibition takes place in a "perfect market". Is the entrance price too high? Maybe reducing the fee would bring even more revenues: a classic question of price elasticity. Maybe with an entrance price of Can $ 7, the R.O.M. would have attracted 500,000 visitors as well, like the Musée de Quebec.

Certainly, Sarah Milroy is right, when she says the Museum context supports the validity and value of this plaster collection, no matter what intrinsic quality it possesses, or not. 
But does that not go for all works displayed in public Museums and art galleries? Has that not been true for the salons of the 19th century as well, and for the palaces of the rich and mighty? From Modern Art since Duchamp we can learn that many a  work would lose its significance without a gallery or Museum context. But that does not mean every work that is shown in a Museum for that reason is bad art.

When we think more can be said about the value of a collection than the laws of the market demonstrate us, the art-historical place of the MacLaren plasters must be discussed more in detail.




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