I was going to write to you here about some interesting mew contemporary art acquisitions, announced on Friday, by the Toledo Museum of Art. But I can’t, really — because what’s the point of writing about a piece of visual art if I can’t show it to you?
The press release from Toledo carried no images, just the line “For images or an interview …about the works, contact…” the museum’s PR department. Thankfully, the release listed two names and numbers, along with emails. Some releases I receive don’t even do that. But I couldn’t contact them, because I was traveling all day Friday until after business hours. Now here is it Sunday evening, and who am I going to call?
I am sorry to pick on the Toledo Museum, because it is far from alone in this practice of sending releases without photographs (or links that don’t require passwords set up and approved in advance). It’s surprising to me because this is visual art I’m writing about… how can I make a call about whether to write about something if I can’t see it?
Respond to the email, you say? I might — if it’s within business hours. But I receive hundreds of emails a day, and I can’t chase down images for everything that might sound promising. Better to push delete.
Sometimes I can find an image on the web, and I do so, but sometimes there are none — as is the case for one of these works puchased by Toledo, When I Last Wrote to You about Africa… by El Anatsui. Google that, and you get the exhibition of that name.
I once asked the PR rep at another museum about this, because I thought it might have something to do with reproduction rights. Sad to say, but they are a relic of the past with everyone taking pictures on their phones.
But not at all, he said. He is trying not to clog up reporters’ emails with images that take a lot of memory/space. Fair enough, but how about a small, low-res image? That’s all one needs for a blog anyway or a taste that would prompt a request.
Is there a larger lesson here, beyond dealings with the press? Maybe — maybe it’s that when museums fail to get notice for an exhibition, an acquisition, a conference, etc., it may have less to do with the merits and more to do with the way the message is delivered.
Now back to Toledo. In addition to the El Anatsui, it has acquired Homeless Child 2, a life-sized mannequin by Yinka Shonibare, Rubber Soul, Monument of Aspiration by South African artist Mary Sibande; Wall of Sea byJapanese painter and film artist Takashi Ishida; and Made in Porto-Novo, by Hazoumè, an African artist from the Republic of Benin.