Tag Archives: The Morgan Library

windows “into our best selves and our shared humanity”?

 

 

 

The Morgan, Connected
A Message From Our Di/rector
The Morgan Library & Museum
October 28, 2020

 

A Message From Our Director

I last wrote in late August, when we reopened our doors with a members’ preview and a free, sold out opening weekend. We have since unveiled our incredible fall season including Betye Saar: Call and Response, David Hockney: Drawing from Life, and Poetry and Patronage: The Laubespine-Villeroy Library Rediscovered.

During our temporary closure, we looked deep into our collections and programs, and reaffirmed the value of art and literature as windows into our best selves and our shared humanity. This gives us a new appreciation through which to consider and present our exhibitions. Recent events have also brought new awareness and urgency to longstanding issues, both within the Morgan Library & Museum and in the wider cultural community. Over the summer and early fall, in partnership with a cross-departmental group of staff, we developed the Morgan’s first Diversity, Equity, Access, and Inclusion Action Plan. [italics added]

We are united in our belief that significant transformation is needed to change the ways that museums and archives benefit from and reinforce harmful societal norms, including racism and white supremacy. Our plan focuses on the critical work of the next six months, which will inform long-term initiatives and strategies in order to make the Morgan a more welcoming, equitable, and inclusive institution for visitors, employees, and volunteers alike. [italics added] I encourage you to learn more about these efforts by exploring the plan.

Thank you all for your continued encouragement, enthusiasm, and engagement with our exhibitions and programs, both onsite and online.

With best wishes,

 

Colin B. Bailey
Director

 

 

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This message to museum subscribers and museum goers is, I am sorry to say, laughable. I am sure I will be accused of insensitivity as a manifestation of attitudes associated with benighted white privilege for saying this.

I have been a patron of The Morgan Library (don’t be confused by the name, it’s really a museum) over the years, for exhibits (most recently on Charles Dickens, Henry James, and Walt Whitman) and some outstanding concerts. I like the museum cafeteria and museum shop. I have always found the staff welcoming. Many of the staff members at the front desk seemed to be young New Yorkers, enthusiastic and friendly. It made the visits more pleasurable.

The museum itself (the physical interior) is very nice and not cavernous like the Met, which (the latter) I often find overwhelming.

 

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The museum’s exhibits seem mostly to be from their permanent collection — or the permanent collection plus borrowed items. Anyway, the museum’s strengths seem to be medieval art (mostly illuminated manuscripts) and J. P. Morgan’s collections of rare books and letters and manuscripts of famous writers. Need I say that, unlike a lot of private collections, the Morgan’s is so rich and deep and broad in scope that there is no sense of the visitor feeling or sensing limitations. (I had a different feeling the few times that I visited The Frick Collection on Fifth Avenue. When you have seen it once or twice, you have seen it all. Some great paintings, but it’s not the Met. Whereas, at the Morgan, they are always coming upon with some new, often interesting exhibition. I forgot to mention that J. P. Morgan also collected music manuscripts — scores by the likes of Schubert and Mozart.)

 

 

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To return to the Director, Colin Bailey’s, message. This is a faux mea culpa and unnecessary pledge of reform — of mending one’s ways — which is unneeded and was written as a public relations gambit. The letter says nothing and addresses no real issues. By real issues, I mean — not that there are not festering issues and glaring injustices (hazily alluded to by Bailey) occurring at this very moment here — in our cities, notably — they are in the headlines staring us in the face. But what does this have to do with the Morgan Library? Nothing. And what does what the Director of the Library thinks mean? Nothing. His opinion does not matter. It might if he were dealing directly with issues of racial injustice. It might to him as a private citizen. Introspection is a good thing.

During our temporary closure, we looked deep into our collections and programs, and reaffirmed the value of art and literature as windows into our best selves and our shared humanity.

This is the kind of writing my writing instructors said to avoid. Art and literature can be enlightening — this is a truism. Do we need to be told that? And can deepen our understating of life and humanity, which should make us “better” people, or whatever the cliché is? I know that already. One would hope so.

Recent events have also brought new awareness and urgency to longstanding issues, both within the Morgan Library & Museum and in the wider cultural community.

Really? What “longstanding issues”? The Director is being coy and the opposite of forthcoming here, no doubt deliberately. Without a modicum of knowledge about what issues the Director is talking about, this is useless. I was never aware of anything that could be called discriminatory or racist about the museum or its exhibitions. Undoubtedly, there was probably not much “racial balance” in the content of the exhibitions. I would guess that this is due to the nature of the Morgan’s collection and focus in terms of the works and items in the exhibits.

We are united in our belief that significant transformation is needed to change the ways that museums and archives benefit from and reinforce harmful societal norms, including racism and white supremacy. Our plan focuses on the critical work of the next six months, which will inform long-term initiatives and strategies in order to make the Morgan a more welcoming, equitable, and inclusive institution for visitors, employees, and volunteers alike.

“[T]o change the ways that museums and archives benefit from and reinforce harmful societal norms, including racism and white supremacy.” Whew! This is boiler plate diversityspeak, meant as propaganda, and it is sheer nonsense. None of this has been in the least bit observable by me as a visitor to the Morgan. I vaguely recall that there were employees of different races, and they seemed on the surface to like their jobs. But I am talking about the museum as a whole, its policies, “mindset” — whatever can be inferred by a person not familiar with its inner workings, but familiar enough with the museum that evidences of racism and white supremacy would be noticeable, should they exist, which of course they don’t. The Director is writing this apologia, not because it is called for, but because he thinks it is required of him to do so, or will make the museum look good.

White supremacy? This code word is being used so loosely nowadays that is has no meaning in most cases. The museum is staffed and managed by white supremacists? Of course not. If it really were, there would indeed be a need for such breast-beating, and for reform. I like the museum as it is. Not because I am a white supremacist. Because I like to visit and enjoy the treasures on view there.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   October 2020