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The CultureGrrl Curriculum: My Middlebury College Talk on Reviewers&#146 Influence (or lack thereof)

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Middlebury College Museum of Art

Those of you who follow my @CultureGrrl Twitter feed know that one of the reasons I’ll be posting sparsely this week is that I’m preparing to lecture at Middlebury College, Vermont, on the thorny topic of How Critics Influence Museums (and vice versa).

DO we, in fact, influence museums? Only under certain circumstances, which I’ll attempt to define in the Middlebury College Museum’s Twilight Auditorium. I’ll be speaking there, appropriately, around twilight—4:30 p.m. this Wednesday. I’ll be following up the next day in a wide-ranging discussion with Prof. Richard Saunders‘ class on art museums.

To illustrate conditions under which distinguished reviewers’ influence on museums is negligible, I recently queried the Metropolitan Museum about the numbers for its critically drubbed Regarding Warhol show. No surprises there: Some 317,000 visitors thronged the galleries in the first two months. With another month to go, and the show is on track, I’m told, to become one of the top-50 most widely attended shows in the museum’s history.

On the other hand, favorable critical attention can turn a sleeper into a keeper. The president of the under-the-radar Arkell Museum in Canajoharie, NY, told me the other day that attendance there had risen since my “hidden gem” article appeared in the Wall Street Journal. When asked how they had heard about the museum, visitors cited my review. What’s more, contributions increased due to the increased traffic and the museum’s raised profile.

I will also count the ways in which museums attempt to influence what critics write—most entirely appropriate, others problematic. To get the inside scoop, you’ll just have to snowshoe up to Vermont (no blizzards are forecast) and attend my talk. I’m looking forward to attending their museum!

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