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Seattle Tattle—Part III: Wailing with Walsh

John Walsh, former director of the J. Paul Getty Museum, was in Seattle last weekend to give a speech to assembled VIPs about how the expanded Seattle Art Museum compares with other recent museum architectural projects.
He couldn’t resist taking a dig at the Guggenheim, saying that Washington Mutual, the bank that now shares a building with SAM, “is certainly a more reliable partner” than the Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas (where the Guggenheim Hermitage is housed) and “the [SAM] audience is more dependable than gamblers in the desert with their families.”
But John, if you’re going to try to speak not only the rarified language of art and architecture, but also the earthy language of Yiddish, you’re must learn to pronounce “chutzpah” correctly. Please repeat after me: It’s “hutz’-puh” (not “hutz-pahhh”).
Chatting outside the auditorium before his talk, Walsh told me that his next project is going to be teaching an objects-based course at Yale in “applied art history,” wherein he will advise students who conduct museum tours on how best to communicate with visitors about specific artworks.
The key, he told me, is to “speak the language of the art,” not the lingo of abstract theory. In this he reminded me of the late Kirk Varnedoe, who always spoke about the primacy of the object and the importance of letting it speak to you directly.
But then the incorrigible CultureGrrl (whose words he professes to read regularly) started engaging Walsh in a conversation about the Getty. She finally summoned up the chutzpah to ask whether, with hindsight, he would have handled the Getty’s antiquities complexities any differently. “That’s a long story,” he replied.
At that moment, he felt a sudden urge to enter the auditorium.

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