To the editors:
I read with great interest "The Culture Club" column of May 6, 1994, in which Lewis Lazare describes Michael Hopkins's dealings with the MCA. Mr. Hopkins made a number of important points, and I support his beliefs. My primary reason for writing, however, has to do with Mr. Consey's characterization of suggested separate gallery space for local artists as a "silly" idea. And then he goes on to say that "We believe it demeans local art and ghettoizes it."
The best contemporary example I know of in which a large museum has set aside a portion of its space for the exhibition of works by local artists is the Seattle Art Museum, in Seattle, Washington. That particular gallery is the first one the visitor enters, and it is the entry into the rest of the collection. The space is clearly labeled as being a gallery devoted to the works of local artists. The space is well planned, quite large, and when I was there last year the works were pluralistic in every respect. What the curators have done that is quite innovative is to use lengthy quotes from conversations with the artists in order to assist the viewer toward an understanding of some aspect of the images within the gallery. By doing this, the viewer is given the opportunity for an expanded dialogue with the artist that moves beyond the object being looked at. This desire for understanding, once established to a degree in the first gallery, is carried throughout the rest of the museum. The curators have accomplished two important goals. One is to educate their public, and the other is to encourage the making of art within their community. I believe that Mr. Consey would agree that both are important goals for any museum. The disagreeable aspect of "ghettoizing" is that with it usually comes second-class citizenship. The Seattle Art Museum extends as much care to the hanging and presentation of the local artists' work as they do to the rest of the collections. No artist in such a setting should feel "demeaned" or feel like a second-class citizen. The ghetto per se isn't always a bad place to be.
We live in a time of diminishing private patronage, for example the tragic loss of almost half of the commercial galleries in Chicago over the past five years. Institutions should consider the possibility of providing some of the support that has been lost. I understand and respect Mr. Consey's concern for the maintenance of the high artistic integrity of the MCA. It is a highly regarded and important institution, but Mr. Hopkins's question is a good one. There are a number of other examples in this country where the answers to his questions have provided positive opportunities for greater understanding, support, and respect within the community that the museum serves; why not in Chicago?
Sculptor and associate professor
University of Chicago