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Go with the Bowie Flow? Fans Usurp the Brooklyn Museum’s American Art Galleries (with video)

Ground Control to Major Anne (Pasternak):

Why have you allowed the your museum’s American art galleries to be commandeered by throngs of David Bowie fans?

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Just a month ago, I had taken the Metropolitan Museum to task for allowing its Medieval and Byzantine art galleries to be invaded and upstaged by the crowded “Heavenly Bodies” exhibition of contemporary fashions:

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

That’s nothing, though, compared to the Brooklyn Museum’s mistreatment of its collection of American art. As you can see in my top photo, if you want to eyeball (let alone peacefully ponder) a large chunk of its superlative holdings from our country’s artistic heritage, fuhgeddaboudit until David Bowie is isn’t (closes Sunday).

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Even before you come upon the Bowie throngs awaiting timed entry, your view of key American works is likely to be partly blocked by people checking their cell phones while sitting on benches that are exasperatingly placed so that you have to stand either too close or too far away to properly view the art.

I stood on the far side of the bench below, where three people (one of whom was actually looking at the painting) blocked the bottom of Brooklyn’s famous Albert Bierstadt, an image of which accompanied my 2016 Wall Street Journal piece on the reinstallation of the museum’s American collection:

Visitors in front of Albert Bierstadt, “A Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Rosalie,” 1866
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

I wanted to get a closer look at an iconic work that depicts “an enslaved family charging for the safety of Union lines in the dull light of dawn,” as described in the museum’s label:

Eastman Johnson, “A Ride for Liberty—The Fugitive Slaves,” ca. 1862
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

To reach it, I had to charge through the Bowie lines, while assuring all those around me that I was not trying to cut in. The Eastman Johnson (the frame of which you can glimpse below, just to the right of the wall text) is located beyond the downcast bust of Abraham Lincoln in this photo:

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

To get a better sense of what American art lovers are up against, come join me, via my CultureGrrl Video, below, as we make our way through the scrum and experience the frustration of those who might have actually come to view the permanent collection. I also include some quick peeks at other aspects of the museum—the vexing European paintings installation and the admirable restoration, in public view, of the museum’s Assyrian reliefs:

There are only a few more days before the rock star leaves the building. But if you must visit this weekend, and if viewing American paintings is your primary objective, you’d do well to heed the admonition in David Bowie’s haunting “Space Oddity”:

Take your protein pills and put your helmet on.

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an ArtsJournal blog