No better way to start a fight among aesthetes than by trying to nail down a definition of art (or to distinguish between 'art' and 'craft', a particularly unrewarding version of the argument). But what better measure of the impact of art, than that it should arouse the 'consumer' to creative acts?
The Columbus Museum of Art recently reopened after a major renovation. In these dire economic times, they have managed a wonderful transformation of the building and the organization and installation of its collections. Now, Columbus is no New York or Chicago, and the scale of the museum matches the community, but its ambitions strike me as out of proportion to its image as a medium-sized midwestern city in a state best known for college football and swing-state elections befitting a rustbelt mentality.
The temporary exhibit didn't do much for me (a 'graphic novel' rendition of the Book of Genesis that evoked nothing for me but curiosity about how the shaming of Adam and Eve might be handled). Not the best they have done by a long shot. But the new installations of the permanent collection are wonderful, and a stronger focus on promoting participation by children has great promise.
It was wonderful to see some of the pieces I've known over the years (a well-known Hopper, several Bellows, and to discover some new ones (some terrific DeMuths, only one of which I recall from earlier visits). The themes of various galleries have remixed the collection (change's as good as a holiday!), and the new glassed atrium should be a great venue for openings.
I left the museum with a satisfied reconnection to art I've known for years, an awareness of (and fondness for) new works, and a hankering to go forth and create. Congratulations to the Museum leaders and staff, who have improved a worthy institution in a difficult time, and made good on a promise to the most important role of art.
If you live in Columbus, I think you'll like what they've done, and if you're visiting, put it at the top of your list of things to do.
Confession: I took phone-cam pictures, and uploaded them to Facebook (eg, see above). I didn't ask, but I hope the musuem approves. They are hardly a threat to the coffeetable art book business, and there is nothing like pictures to arouse people's interest. Go to the Museum and let people know!