The founding principles of New York’s Museum of Modern Art are not unclear:
Our ultimate purpose is to establish a permanent public museum in this city which will acquire . . . collections of the best modern works of art . . . We solicit the support of those who are interested in the progress of art . . . . The Museum galleries will display carefully chosen permanent collections of the most important living masters . . .
I’m having a hard time reconciling such principles with the fact that MoMA screened the film Jackass 3D last month.
How tempting it is to end this post right there. Contrasting MoMA’s founding ideals with an isolated event might generate some eye rolls, and were any of us sensitive enough, perhaps even a tear. But such a jab would lend a false impression. The Van Goghs haven’t quite been bubble-wrapped. MoMA still has much to offer, even if it resorts, on occasion, to Abramovician stunts to draw crowds. If antics can foot the bill for what is more enduring, then all the better. The current list of exhibitions ( take a look ) is nothing less than substantial, with nary a mention of crazy glue removing chest hair. As the Wall Street Journal’s Eric Gibson has pointed out, lowbrow subsidizing highbrow may not be the best scenario, but nor is it the worst of arrangements.
Criticism, to be sure, has its place. Frankly, it’s also more fun. But why not fast, for a season, from strictly negative cultural critique? Western civilization may be in rapid decline, but most of us have gotten the message, and grumbling about it does little to slow the rate of deterioration. The appetite for gloom need not always be fed. A different strategy is called for: Seek and celebrate the good (and if you haven’t found good, you haven’t looked hard enough). Call it the cultural version of Jim Neuchterlein’s inspiriting reflections this month On the Square , entitled Apocalyspe No . “Conservatives need no instruction in the dangers of inordinate optimism, but they might need some help with its opposite.”