A Glass of Chianti

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Vatican museums + modern art?

When I read this teaser of an article quoting the director of the Vatican museums as saying that new purchases ("above all in sectors like contemporary art") were in the works, my heart started beating a little faster. Never having been to the museums, I thought it might be helpful to browse around a little just to see what Mr. Buranelli was already working with in the hopes of doing a little Saturday morning quarterbacking*. Unfortunately, it didn't help and I had (and have) other things to do. Before giving up entirely I thought I'd try a shortcut - find the "mission statement" of the museums, and work off that. Less looking, less thinking.... it's a perfect Sarah plan! From the museum director (quoting our Great former pope, John Paul II):
The museum's "function ... remains that of 'expressing the renewed will of the Church to seek dialogue with humanity in the sign of art and culture, putting at the disposal of everybody the heritage with which history entrusted her'".
I've read that at least a dozen times and I still have no idea what that means, let alone how that will serve as a guide to future acquisitions. I'm not ever mistaken for one with even moderate intelligence, so I guess I shouldn't feel so bad that it quite goes over my head.

The more I think about this the more I realize that it's really a difficult job to have. Much of modern art at its best is that which addresses the subject of what, exactly, art is and the like. The collection is going to be a coda at any of the Vatican museums, and I'm not sure that meditations on that question would make for a satisfying one. I am excited to see where Mr. Buranelli goes but I do feel the project will only be a success if the vision is clear from the outset. The "we'd like to have a Picasso" thing in the article makes me worry a little that there isn't much behind the acquisition strategy. There are a thousand points that one could step off to make a nice collection of modern art that puts the human condition front and center (my personal favorite that doesn't seem a very good fit at first but then it all starts falling into place- a late Boccioni) but I'm having trouble of conceiving of one that begins with or is centered around a Picasso.
I guess the consolation is that we won't see how this shapes up within the next 50 years or so. By the time things really get going, I likely won't even care.

*Which, in Texas, only occurs on Thursday in any meaningful sense.