On writing in art museums

I’m not the only one who has apparently noticed the poor writing in many art museums. The Wall Street Journal writes:

When the show opened last month, artist and critic Carol Diehl blogged about the “impenetrable prose from the Whitney Biennial.” As examples, she offered “random quotes” about individual artists and their work taken from the exhibition’s wall texts and catalog. Among the gems:

• “. . . invents puzzles out of nonsequiturs to seek congruence in seemingly incongruous situations, whether visual or spatial . . . inhabits those interstitial spaces between understanding and confusion.”

• “Bove’s ‘settings’ draw on the style, and substance, of certain time-specific materials to resuscitate their referential possibilities, to pull them out of historical stasis and return them to active symbolic duty, where new adjacencies might reactivate latent meanings.”

Ms. Diehl’s complaint was quickly taken up by others. Richard Lacayo, on a Time magazine blog, likened reading the show’s introductory wall text (“Many of the projects . . . explore fluid communication structures and systems of exchange”) to “being smacked in the face with a spitball.” To combat such verbiage, he recommended banning five words long popular with critics that nonetheless say nothing: “interrogates,” “problematizes,” “references” (as a verb), “transgressive” and “inverts.”

This is nothing compared to the placards at the Experience Music Project in Seattle, which, at least when I visited two years ago, were so vapid as to make me wonder if they’d been written by a high school intern. I wish I’d kept some examples.

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