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The Case of Clarence’s Château-Gaillard
The Case of Clarence’s Château-Gaillard

The Case of the M.S. Nov 1910
The Case of the M.S. Nov 1910

The Case of Cruise Ship Art: Part 2
The Case of the Archangel Michael Defeating Satan

The Case of Cruise Ship Art: Part 2
The Case of Cruise Ship Art: Part 2

The Case of Mary Most Holy Mother of Light
The Case of Mary Most Holy Mother of Light

The Case of Leni and the Nuba
The Case of Leni and the Nuba

The Case of the Seductive Souvenir
The Case of the Seductive Souvenir

The Case of the Irish Surrealist
The Case of the Irish Surrealist

The Case of the Developing Dalí
The Case of the Developing Dalí

The Case of Nano-D Technology
The Case of Nano-D Technology

The Case of Dabatable Donations
The Case of Debatable Donations

Edgar Heap of Birds
The Case of the Long-tailed Monkey

Edgar Heap of Birds
The Case of Edgar Heap of Birds

Silent Song
The Case of the Silent Song

The Case of Alex and the Art Aficionado

The Case of the Privacy of the Publicity Photo

The Case of the Potter's Portraits

The Case of the Coy Cornelius Krieghoff

The Case of the Political Portraitist

The Case of the Reconsidered Revolution

The Case of the Anabiotic Abbey

The Case of the Phoney Picasso

The Case of Setsuko Piroche

The Case of being on the Forest Edge with Vern Simpson

The Case of Being at the End of the Storm with Loren Adams

The Case of Being: Under the Table with Thomas

The Case of Wyland's Whales on Walls

The Case of A.Y. Jackson's Smart River (Alaska)

The Case of Red Fish with Blue Breasts

The Case of Looe Poole

The Case of Camaldoli

The Case of MS

The Case of the Misattributed Emily Carrs

The Case of the Doubtful Dürer

The Case of the Purloined Picasso

The Case of the Defrocked Duchess of Devonshire

The Case of the First Wife

The Case of the Dodford Priory

The Case of the Unknown Actor

Art Services & Materials

Confessions Back

Practical Art History
(or Confessions of a Fine Art Appraiser)

by Jim Finlay
Finlay Fine Art

Chapter 34. The Case of Modest Museums and Grandiose Galleries

Do we need large public museums to tell us what we should think of as art? Big museums are display cases for big collectors. Should their choices dictate the public’s understanding and consumption of visual culture? It seems to me that large museums and galleries depend on blockbuster programming to validate their existence.

Joseph Plaskett, Snowscape 3 (2010)

Claude Zervas, Skagit (2005), green CCFL lamps, wire inverters, steel, from the 2009 exhibition, Elusive Elements

I visited a museum where I didn’t need to pre-order tickets three months in advance. Nor did I need to purchase tickets online using a credit card or pay service charges on the price of the ticket. My choices of times and dates of visit were not limited; I wasn’t obliged to plan and prioritize a viewing strategy. No need to jostle for position or look over other people’s heads. There was no need to wait in line or pay for parking. And I wasn’t required to exit through the gift shop (with apologies to Banksy).

Why? This past summer, quite by chance, I visited a show entitled Pilchuk: IDEAS at the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner, Washington. The exhibition featured works from the famous glass school's permanent collection. These pieces from the early days of the revolution in studio glass in the Pacific Northwest were created by some of the most important artists working in the medium.

It was the name of the museum that caught my eye and brought me in. How extraordinary, I thought, that here was a museum whose name avoided politically correct rhetoric and appeared not to place limits on its mandate, and included other voices and artists in the Northwest region. Here was a museum that showed the art of the Northwest.

The building was a purpose-designed open space with a central open rotunda and spiralling stairs leading to the second floor exhibition areas. A domed skylight above the staircase permitted natural daylight to flood both the ground level and second floor spaces. The museum’s street-facing façade is adjacent to the sidewalk, on entry one passes through a short, wide corridor into the foyer, which acts as an antechamber to the exhibition space.

I walked in, was greeted by an attendant, paid $9 at the door and went directly to the centre of the exhibition space. The entire space was there before me, and I didn’t have to search for other spaces or peer around corners – I felt engaged and comfortable and excited.

Small, purpose-designed community galleries and museums sensitive to the local community should be encouraged because they provide a number of benefits in terms of culture, community and economics. More community museums create larger viewing audiences with easier access to visual culture.

The smaller museum permits specialization and encourages diversity of programming. The modest administrative costs of running these centres could be self-funded through modestly priced tickets. The costs incurred by big museums to advertise so-called blockbuster shows could be avoided by sharing those costs with several smaller community museums, which might show a part of the blockbuster collection. Let’s face it. Most of these blockbuster shows held in large galleries are too large and overwhelming in their scope, and by the time the visitor exits, through the gift shop, he or she is exhausted.

Next: The Case of Jasper John’s Gemini 1

 Mon, Nov 5, 2012