Thursday, January 05, 2017

Take my museum, please

I was going to say Close Encounters was my favorite George Lucas film. But then I checked. And, nah, that one’s Spielberg’s. So I guess I’ll have to stick with American Graffiti. Which is not just my favorite, but my only George Lucas pic, if you don’t count the 20 minutes I lasted in the first Star Wars. Just not my thang.

But I do have to admire the guy for his creativity, and for coming from nothing to become a kabillionaire. And I do have to feel kinda sorta bad for him that he’s got the money, concept, and “art” for a $1.5B museum on his hands, but he just can’t seem to find a taker for his largesse.

He wants to construct a Lucas museum to house and display his art collection—much of it proudly lowbrow, such as works by the sentimentalist Norman Rockwell; original Flash Gordon comic book art; Mad magazine  covers; and memorabilia from his own Star Wars films. According to an early plan for the museum, his trove of Star Wars material includes 500,000 artifacts from the prequels alone. Lucas refers to such works as “narrative art,” the kind that “tells a story.” He believes they’ve been unfairly ignored by snooty critics and curators, and he wants his museum to rectify that. (Source: Bloomberg)

Sure, I’m something of a bluestocking, but anyone whMad30o manages to binge on Fixer Upper, who’s been known to watch an occasional episode of My Six-Hundred Pound Life, and who cries at the very thought of the ending of Old Yeller, cannot exactly parade herself out there as a highbrow’s highbrow. And yet the thought of a museum with a collection anchored in the likes of Mad magazine covers – “What, me worry?” – does not stir any great desire to browse its galleries.

Oh, there’s good stuff. Like Maxfield Parrish. And R. Crumb. And I’m something of a softy when it comes to Norman Rockwell. But still.

I realize we’re living in the Age of Anti-Elitism – and there is certainly room for kitsch out there; plus I do have a sweet spot for the Smithsonian hokum – but I like the idea that art museums have “free days” so that everyone can scoot in at least once in their life and stand gawping in the presence of something brilliantly beautiful. Which, as much as I enjoy Mr. Natural, is not the same as gawping in the presence of R. Crumb.

Lucas has offered to build his museum in a major American city for free. Including construction costs, an endowment, and the value of the artwork, his organization says the total value of his gift is $1.5 billion. “It’s an epic act of generosity and altruism,” says Don Bacigalupi, the museum effort’s president. “George Lucas, as with any person of great resources and great success, could choose to do whatever he wants to do with his resources, and he has chosen to give an extraordinary gift to the people of a city and the world.”

No arguing that it’s an act of generosity. And $1.5B is pretty epic, even though not monstrously epic, by museum standards. (To compare, the Getty Museum was built in the early 1990’s for somewhere in the $1.3B range, and it’s got an endowment of $6B+. And stuff like Van Gogh’s Irises, rather than Star Wars memorabilia.) But I’m missing the altruism here. Sure, he can do whatever he wants with his money, including packing it in a pipe and smoking it, but is a cover portrait of Alfred E. Newman really an “extraordinary gift to the people of the city and the world”?

So far, the Lucas Museum has been turned down by San Francisco and by Chicago “after being assailed by local forces.”

Some people derided his architecture. Others knocked the artwork. Lucas seemed to find most irritating those who said they didn’t mind his proposal but thought he needed to be more flexible about where he put his building. He had long suffered highfalutin critics as a nuisance when he was selling tickets to movies. Now they were thwarting his will when he was trying to give something away.

He hasn’t given up on San Francisco, and at present he’s trying to get both SF and LA interested in accepting his gift oSargent paintingf the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum. Cultural arts that aren’t just R. Crumb and Mad, but Winnie the Pooh illustrations, Doonesbury strips, Betty Boop.

Snobby old me: sounds more like a fun exhibit than a museum. Maybe I’m just miffed that he didn’t offer to plop it down in Boston. Guess I’ll have to make do with John Singer Sargent at the MFA…

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