An Open Letter to Peter C. Marzio, Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Dear Mr. Marzio-

I am looking forward to a first visit to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Spending a bit of Sunday morning reading the New York Times feature on the future of the Brooklyn Museum of which I am very familiar, I wonder aloud where Houston’s museum could be heading. With your response, I couldn’t disagree more.

You wrote:

“The Brooklyn Museum is pioneering a new path that many older encyclopedic museums will have to follow if they want to survive. It is transforming itself into an ecumenical museum by focusing its collections and programs on the diverse neighborhoods of Brooklyn.”

A great art collection is built over time. New York is one of the most diverse cities in the U.S. to be sure, I believe a zip code very close to the Brooklyn Museum (Kensington) is known as the most diverse in the U.S. The people and ethnic groups who make up those neighborhoods, however are in continual flux. While it’s good to know where you are, art is not local. Confining it to one block or twelve or this a borough larger than the City of Philadelphia is short-sighted.  The Brooklyn Museum, like all great museums, is of course made up of world-class art that spans both geography and time.

You wrote: “By looking closely at Brooklyn, by exploring the ideals and values of its citizens, the museum is opening a dialogue that is creating a sense of community ownership.”

Community ownership would imply a space for the community, which could be referred to as a “community center.” A community center is a valuable asset for any place, but it’s not the same thing, nor can it exist incorporated into a world-class museum. Again, the museum is great-and that’s not a word to use lightly here, because it transcends place and time, and any particular community or group of people.

You wrote, “I will bet that not only will it survive these difficult economic times, but it will also mutate into a new type of museum that will grow beyond anyone’s imagination.”

Brooklyn does not need a “new type of museum.” It need the proper place and prominence of it’s collection restored. I hope for the people of Houston you read former Met Director Phillippe De Montebello’s response to the Brooklyn Museum’s future: Great museums are not just for the people who live within 20 miles. You are not the owners. You are the privileged guardians or custodians of the artistic heritage of all mankind.

About UAA Team

Urban Art and Antiques first published in 2007. If you are interested in becoming a contributor, let us know. Email urbanartantiques (at) gmail.com

3 comments

I was shocked by what Wenda Gu commented:

Attendance is the most important and objective measurement of the museum. It is also the only measurement of a museum’s success.

If so, all BM has to do is rotating performance by Langlang, Lady Gaga, Blondie, John Fogerty on its large parking lot. You will get the most attendance and diverse groups

…why don’t we let the community vote on what goes in the museum, and let them take home a painting on loan from the community museum? That way the art can really reach the people–in their own living rooms!

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