15 Bytes | Exhibition Reviews

Heroes and Monsters

The first thing you notice when driving up to Brigham Young University’s Museum of Art is the long neck of the Loch Ness Monster emerging from within the flower bed. In fact, seeing such an apparition made me laugh, out loud, with both delight and excitement, giddy as I was to see curator Jeff Lambson’s much anticipated We Could be Heroes: The Mythology of Monsters and Heroes in Contemporary Art, which runs through April 6th. Giddy because BYU consistently brings a professional caliber to their exhibitions in ways that very few institutions in Utah are able to do. We Could Be Heroes is no exception. In the breadth, research and excellent educational resources, it rivals exhibits at some of our nation’s finest institutions.

Laura Hurtado reviews curator Jeff Lambson’s new exhibit at the BYU Museum of Art in the January 2013 edition of 15 Bytes.

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  1. At first, I was dismayed that Laura Hurtado seems to have allowed Jeff Lambson to mediate her experience of his show: to tell her where to look and what she was seeing. A review written under these conditions will lack independence and end up rehashing the ‘curator’s’ intentions and hopes, rather than enabling viewers to see the work through their own eyes. But as I read, I realized that she was actually alerting her readers to the curator’s attempt to control her responses, offering us a chance to see through his efforts to mesmerize his audience by remote control. This is one of the reasons seasoned museum-goers learn to approach exhibition signage cautiously. In fact, Hurtado eventually rebels against Lambson’s friendly extortion and criticizes his failure to acknowledge some of the arguable flaws she sees in the work on display. She could go further; to take just one example, what he wants her (and us) to see as a subtle ‘influence’ of Caravaggio on one painter — which he, the expert, perceives and points out to us — is, in reality, a rather obvious parody of one particularly influential and well-known composition. Hurtado, meanwhile, perceives in the work a level of penetrating irony, even mockery, that Lambson misses, or chooses to overlook. Anyone who’s ever watched Lambson confront an unfamiliar artwork will probably agree that the former is closer to the truth: while his polished credentials and ‘fit’ within the Provo community lend him authority, perceptive individuals will discern through this aura a posturing-but-shallow academic who lacks the perception to see clearly into the art he gazes upon. Kudos to Hurtado for resisting this Svengali, though in the future she might try what restaurant critics have long-since learned to do: attend the show incognito, in order to see it like the rest of us. As for us, we need to view with suspicion that recently-invented pseudo-artist, the ‘curator,’ who is just another egotist, drawn to art like a moth to a flame, who having failed to make it in the gallery, is trying to make a name for himself on the door instead.

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