The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is handing over the walls of its galleries to the voting public, in its first-ever crowdsourced exhibition. Between today, Jan. 6 and Jan. 26, patrons will get to vote in what goes up in the museum’s upcoming Valentine’s Day-opening show, “Boston Loves Impressionism.” For the next twenty days, those who feel strongly enough about European impressionism can vote for their favorite pieces of 50 from three categories: “On the Water,” “From the Land,” and “Of the People.” The 30 most-voted for will go up.
The practical matters of this move are simple: the MFA’s impressionist wing is undergoing renovations. What better way to spice up scaffolds and construction closures than with a gimmick like this? This comes off as a simple way to engage the community while the next big thing goes on out of sight, a curatorial sleight of hand.
But who needs a curator anyway? In this case, the term “content strategist” might be better applied. It is generally a curator’s job to have all the background that brings together an enlightening show to the public, not the other way around. Latching the reins of such a historically complex, high art like impressionism to a populist carriage risks dissolving the cultural significance of seeing the movement’s development. The goal “to tell the story of impressionism,” as the press release states, might fall away to the appeal of choosing simply the most aesthetically pleasing works—masters such as Renoir, Monet, and Van Gogh are on the ballot and sure to be on show. Yet, out of the 50 paintings up for the vote, only 30 will be displayed—the illusion of choice is slight.
In the end, it’s a blip in the museum’s longtime love affair with impressionism; the MFA’s main impressionism gallery will reopen June 4.
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