Art Rearranged: The Shock of the New and the Comfort of the Old By ALAN RIDING NYTimes.com Homepage: July 22, 2006
PARIS, July 21 — Pity the curator in the age of the blockbuster. While art museums are usually rated by the quality of their permanent collections, it is all too often their temporary shows that stir excitement and draw crowds. Not infrequently, a work of art that is barely noticed while on permanent display is suddenly lionized in a short-term exhibition. One answer is to make the permanent collection seem, well, sexier. And to this end, some leading museums of modern and contemporary art are testing a fresh approach: if collections are frequently rearranged, either by bringing works out of storage or by changing the focus of installations, they can acquire something of the buzz of temporary shows.
“It’s something we talk about a great deal,” said John Elderfield, chief curator of paintings and sculptures at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. “How does one try to engage people with the collection as much as people seem to be willing to be engaged with temporary exhibitions?” At MoMA, Tate Modern in London and the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris, which boast the best 20th-century collections, curators have even given conceptual names to some displays to suggest they are pursuing an innovative intellectual theme rather than simply offering a lesson in art history.
“We have become more like temporary exhibitions,” said Frances Morris, who is in charge of displays at Tate Modern, which has just reinstalled its collection only six years after opening. “Temporary shows have driven the agenda for the last 30 years. It was always in these shows that new ground was being broken. I’d like to think that we are also now being experimental with permanent collections.”“Collections are not static, so why present them statically?” asked Vicente Todoli, Tate Modern’s director. “When works are always in the same place, people say, ‘Oh, I’ve seen it already.’ You have to encourage visitors to come more than once because, with each visit, the work is viewed differently. You have to surprise and confront the visitor.”