The Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Christopher Knight, an art critic for the Los Angeles Times, took a recent walk through LACMA and found it unpleasant. LACMA is the Loss Angeles County Museum of Art. He said LACMA used to be one of the country’s most interesting museum of historical art, exhibiting a tremendous variety of art dated millennia old and coming down all the way to modern and contemporary times. “LACMA,” Knight said, “has largely swept aside its impressive art history collections for modern exhibitions that are too often less than museum worthy.” He explained that a few years ago billionaires bribed the museum to set aside its old and ancient ceramic pottery, paintings, and sculpture for largely third rate modern and contemporary artifacts. Knight says these plutocrats are funding extremely expensive new LACMA galleries for these modern artifacts.
I, too, used to like LACMA. I visited the museum more than once, spending hours looking carefully at some exquisite pottery, paintings, and sculpture from ancient Greece, China, Renaissance Europe, and Latin America. But, with some exceptions, I have little interest in modern, post-mid nineteenth century, or contemporary art, mostly 1945 and after. Why?
Art that speaks to me
Because I love art that speaks to me. The ceramic bowl, painting, or statue must have a historical message, mirror its age. It must also be beautiful. Much of modern and contemporary art fail this test of beauty or significance. It could not be otherwise. Artists since the mid-nineteenth century have been surrounded by disaster. Factories, skyscrapers, countless cars and machines, the overthrow of millennial-old agricultural order, perpetual pollution, endless wars, and nuclear bombs and a warmer planet threatening their existence and the survival of the Earth. What could be attractive or inspiring from the petroleum-powered factories, animal farms, and billions of cars and engines making the planet dangerous? Or the existence of thousands of nuclear bombs. How can such weapons of dark ages inspire artists?
The Norwegian artist Edward Munch painted his masterpiece, The Scream, in 1893, in order to warn the world it was fabricating death rather than life. In fact, his painting is most appropriate now, the third decade of the twenty-first century, showing humanity and the planet caught up in an all-consuming climate chaos.
However, most modern artists try covering up the darkness all around them with trivial artifacts, a red dot at the center of a large canvas, for instance. And the plutocrats of this dark age buy these trivial artifacts and fill entire galleries and museums with them. They want to convince themselves and the viewing public that this art is great and, of course, superior to the art of the Greeks and the Chinese. They certainly don’t want Americans to fall in love with the beautiful art of the Greeks, lest they demand the return of democracy and more equality in America. So, they weaponize art.
In contrast, I look at Aphrodite of Melos (now in the Louvre Museum and sculpted by the Greek artist Alexandros, and dated to about 150 BCE), and I am attracted to the marble naked body of the goddess of love like a magnet. I cannot explain why, save for the beauty emanating from the cold marble. I see perfection and I am attracted to perfection. How did the sculptor translate the perfection of the body of the goddess of love, deep in his mind, into marble? That’s the mystery and supreme craftsmanship of the artist, which encircle most Greek art. And yet, Greek art is not appreciated any more in America.
Greek art almost irrelevant in America
According to Andrew F. Stewart, a scholar on the history of Greek art, “modernism has marginalized the Greeks.” Americans, for instance, know much more about Elvis and Madonna than about Aphrodite, Alexander the Great and Achilles. Forget about Plato and Aristotle. Occasionally, Greek art makes a big splash in “blockbuster exhibitions” but, Stewart says, Greek art “has become culturally all but irrelevant: a curiosity for tourists to gawk at, merchants to profit from, collectors to hoard, museums to display, postmodernists to pillage, and academics to argue about.”
Stewart’s comments are prescient. Greek art is the antithesis of weaponized modern art. It is also a victim of racism. The plutocrats of America fear the wrath of black Americans, so they bamboozle them with tokens designed to raise their self-esteem. One of those tokens, hiding all premodern art, especially Greek art. This complements the classical scholars’ denigration of the Greeks. I came across this loathsome practice at LACMA in April 2022. The museum dumped all its Greek treasures in its basement. The excuse I heard was “renovation.”
Liberate LACMA’s foreign treasures!
But LACMA may be on a road of no return. With the plutocrats holding the purses, who is to say that wisdom will ever return to the gilded galleries of abstract paintings? The museum should not keep foreign treasures in the closet. It should return them to their owners: Greece, China, and other countries from which these treasures were looted. Keeping hostages Greek art treasures does not help anybody. Greek art does not mirror the plutocrats’ obsession with modernism or other fads of prettying the ugly ecological and political wounds of excessive power in fewer and fewer hands.
1. Andrew F. Stewart, Art, Desire, and the Body in Ancient Greece (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997) 3. ↑