Imagine that a pack of MAGA types came up with a scheme to stage a protest at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Their idea was to enter the museum on March 18, the day that key works, including three Rembrandts and a Vermeer, were stolen in 1990. They would approach the frames that have been left empty since the burglary of their contents, and install within them hackneyed images calling for the release of the imprisoned January 6 protesters. But the museum got wind of the plan and closed for the day in defense of its staff and its holdings, forcing the protesters to gather outside and make their demands from the sidewalk.
The reaction would have been howls of rage. Condemnation would have rained down from every art critic in the country. Hyperallergic would have run a screed about the fascist attack on the art world. The USA section of the International Association of Art Critics would have issued a statement about the sanctity of art and the illegitimacy of the protester’s means. Sebastian Smee would have taken to his platform at the Boston Globe to decry the attempted assault in the strongest language he could muster. Jerry Saltz’s Twitter feed would have burned with even hotter temperatures of anti-Republican fury.
This scenario, in fact, just happened. But instead of Trump supporters, the protesters were Extinction Rebellion. The hackneyed art they wanted to put in the frames was about climate change, including “an hourglass filled with the bones of animals at risk of extinction, with a message reading: ‘Stop mass extinction: The biggest heist.’” The museum was forced to close for the day on March 18.
And the reaction? Nothing. Hyperallergic blandly reported that the protest took place. Smee was quiet. AICA didn’t peep. Saltz’s Twitter feed was preoccupied with its usual levels of anti-Republican fury.
Omertà is the code of silence associated with the Italian Mafia, a refusal to condemn or even acknowledge crimes associated with the organization. It is also the attitude of the art machine regarding its real business, which is not art any more than the Mafia’s real business is pizza or concrete, but the advancement of progressive causes. The merits of those causes are beside the point. What happened on March 18 at the Gardner was an attack on the museum, the museumgoing public, and the autonomy of art itself, carried out by extremists. And it would have been broadly characterized as such if doing so did not risk the appearance of tribal weakness - in this case the tribe of progressive politics - and invite reprisals from tribal enforcers.
I have no broader point. I note simply that I have seen the art machine for what it is: a racket.
Of course it's a racket, not only fraudulent but hypocritical, sanctimonious and self-righteous. This is not new or even recent, but it's now so blatant that it's frankly indecent, not to mention contemptible. However, one must remember the fear factor--the players are mortally afraid of transgressing against the ever-more-rigid orthodoxy, and those who are cynical opportunists are not about to rain on their own parade and jeopardize their prospects, as that would run counter to their agenda.
Thanks for posting an image of that superb stolen Rembrandt, Franklin. Even as a photo it's exquisite.