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The Lee-o’s for Amazing Museum Advertising

Jean-Baptiste Oudry, “Rhinoceros,” Staatliches Museum Schwerin
After a while, I tired of the editorial puffery (from which I exclude Holland Cotter‘s provocative think piece) in yesterday’s NY Times Museums section. So I found myself focusing on what that section is really about: the ads. Some of these were more interesting than the articles, in terms of what they said about the institutions.
So let’s get right down to the meat of the matter and give credit where credit is due. You’ve heard of the annual Clio awards for advertising excellence. Introducing (drumroll) the Lee-o‘s for creative museum self-promotion:
Most Astonishing: The Getty Museum wins this category, hands down, for its two-page rhinoceros (see above) centerfold, proving that the museum with the most money has no qualms about flaunting it, despite a much criticized history of notoriously extravagant expenditures.
Most Lame: No serious competition here, either: “Come for the Weather, Stay for the Art,” from the Los Angeles County Museum. Perhaps it should be, “Come for the Smog, Stay Stuck in Traffic.” (Now I’m in big trouble with the LA boosters.)
Best in Show (and I’m NOT kidding on this one): “What will you find this time?”—a truly engaging full-pager from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, depicting a Monet “Water Lilies” gazed at wistfully by an “Amulet of a Frog” who presumably would like to hop onto one of those lily pads. It’s charmingly understated and clever, and the tag line perfectly captures what I like best about wandering around museums—serendipitously happening upon something unfamiliar and captivating.
If Sen. Charles Grassley really WERE looking for truth-in-advertising violations (a previous joke of mine that backfired), he might cast a critical eye on “Life Takes Root Downtown” from the Museum of Jewish Heritage. The ad claims that the oak saplings planted in small openings atop the hollowed-out granite boulders of Andy Goldsworthy‘s outdoor installation “honor those who perished and pay tribute to those who survived. They flourish today, and will for generations to come.”
Last Sunday, while sipping coffee with my mother in the museum café overlooking those boulders, I commented to her that the piece was sending an unintended message, because (from my vantage point, at least) it appeared that only one sapling had actually survived the winter.
At least we have proof that there is still a strict wall between advertising and editorial on the “Museums” section: the Seattle Art Museum took out a half-page ad trumpeting the May grand opening of its expanded facility, but on a U.S. map titled, “Expansion, Coast to Coast,” which the Times speckled with more than 40 construction projects, the entire Northwest (as ruefully noted yesterday by Regina Hackett in her Seattle Art to Go blog) was blank.

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