in the new york review of books dated november 19, peter brooks, a lit crit with a line in henry james, reviews some books about the louvre and the founding of the modern mega-museum, a development which i would say reflects and also drives an entirely new conception of art in the west that develops in the late eighteenth century. in the familiar narrative, napoleon loots europe and sticks the loot in a gigantic more-or-less abandoned palace. then the british follow suit and the americans etc and pretty soon you've got a mega-museum in every capital etc. now despite all the problems in the assembling of these collections, brooks gives a merry little tribute to the monster museum at the end of his piece. "a consensus has emerged that it is the fate of great art to end up in the museum - it's neither safe nor viewable elsewhere.... We might never have had the museum without cultural looting, but who would give it up today?"
well, i might. but right now i won't. i only want to point out that, for example, the metropolitan museum says that it possesses 5 million objects. now how many of these are on display? 20,000? so in what sense is the work "viewable"? it's like - correction: it is - a massive bunker of art, a miser with a stashed hoard of useless gold. the point isn't to display the art; it's to segregate it or insulate it, to assert its priceless uniqueness by, um, burying it forever etc.
but the good part about this is that by taking all the masterpieces and the whimsical astonishments of the avant-garde and sticking them all in big stone bunkers, these institutions demonstrate that the art they house is dead. these institutions are tombs. so that frees us from the endless weight of tens of millions of masterpieces and lets us breathe in a world of actual art that's alive: you know, good cooking, well-made clothing, our rose bushes, excellent pop music, your quilt, and stuff. in yanking the dead art with its infinite weight, its more-than-human status (which, admittedly, is a status that is manufactured by the institution and its accompanying practices in art history etc), out of our lives, the mega-museum frees us to live.
[one side note: the worst possible argument for the proposition p is "a consensus has emerged that p." if a consensus has emerged that p, p is certainly false.]