Yale’s Art Dean Starr to speak on the issues with modern exhibitions

He’s done it all — painting, curating, teaching, critiquing. And now Robert Storr, dean of Yale School of Art, is at Chautauqua Institution to talk about the evolution of art exhibitions at 7 p.m. tonight in the Hultquist Center.

“The economics and demographics of exhibitions has changed,” Storr said.

Instead of being focused on displaying art  the best way possible, he said the focus now is on mass entertainment and spectacle.

“The spaces in [the Museum of Modern Art in New York] are entirely different, which is not inherently a bad thing,” Storr said.

But redesigned spaces can feel overcrowded and busy, distracting from the experience of seeing the art.

Storr thinks part of the problem is that attention has shifted from art itself to artists. Rather than highlighting art to show it in the best possible light, many curators try to focus too much on making statements and not enough on how the art is displayed.

In a similar way, Storr said, art critics now focus on political points or showing off their own cleverness — not sparking in-depth discussion on art.

“Art critics are envious of curators and artists, curators are envious of artists, and artists are confused about their role and more interested in being artists than producing art,” Storr said.

Storr knows what he is talking about firsthand: He served as the director of the Venice Biennale — a massive, international art show — in 2007. To prepare, he had models built of every space where art would be displayed, a first for the Biennale. He spent three months in Brooklyn working with the model and another three or four in Venice figuring out where all the artwork would go.

“Being a curator is a craft,” said Storr.

Despite his current focus on curating, Storr is still an active painter and is starting to shift back to primarily producing, not curating, art.

Through his work at Yale, he can also see the development of the next generation of artists, who he said are producing some great art.

While some younger artists are embracing the more commercialized, spectacle-oriented art world and thriving in it, others are still working slowly and gaining recognition over time, without making a massive splash.

As for the role of arts in society going forward, Storr thinks that the decision rests with artists themselves.

“It’s not up to anyone else to decide what the role of the artist is,” he said.

Regarding the theme of the week, Storr said, art and politics are intermixed, but art does not have to be political, or political in particular ways, for it to be relevant. Indeed, some artists become political through questioning art itself, and thereby confronting to norms of society.

And for those who see politics as a contaminant of art and think they should not be mixed, Storr said “tell that to Goya.”