Saturday, March 06, 2010

Objective aesthetics

An Ottawa Citizen editorial caught my eye this morning, defending the new director of the National Gallery of Canada, one Marc Mayer, against criticism after he stated that he prefers artistic excellence over skin colour. Some people, including from his own curatorial community, took exception to that, seeing it as a coded excuse for the Gallery's past practice of over-selecting European art, and they sent him a letter about it. Mayer says he was ambushed by the media, and the Gallery is not, in fact, "a racist institution." Well, that's a relief.

The Citizen editorialist concedes that the protests of the 1990's against the Eurocentrist canon achieved much-delayed recognition of unjustly neglected artists, but he insists on casting doubt upon the motives of the signatories nevertheless. Are they, heaven forbid, into "identity politics," "postmodernism" or "deconstruction?" Does the writer know what he's talking about? (That last question was a rhetorical one.)

The notion of a culture-free aesthetics tickles me--aesthetic principles that, oddly enough, appear to favour overwhelmingly the cultural products of the very culture in which they are enunciated. That might seem to some a tad tautological. But no matter:

I trust my readers will not think me unduly subjective for preferring the often brilliant works of Norval Morriseau, who had to wait until the end of his days to enter the Gallery, to that high-end bit of Abstract Impressionist fakery called Voice of Fire, or a giant spider.

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