The Globe vs. The MFA

Sometimes, even accuracy is misleading
By EDITORIAL  |  August 24, 2011

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The Boston Globe's need for a public editor — a reader's advocate of the sort employed by the Globe's corporate parent, the New York Times — once again became painfully clear in the wake of the paper's bipolar coverage of the Museum of Fine Arts' upcoming premiere of Christian Marclay's celebrated 24-hour art film The Clock, which is to serve as the centerpiece of the museum's September 17 opening of its new contemporary galleries.

Coverage of the Globe/MFA flap has focused on the mechanics of the situation: who wrote what and whether that reflected or distorted the totality of the museum's effort. Obscured in the din is the work itself, and, to a lesser extent, the artist.

Art-world celebrity pales in comparison with the jangling 24/7 brand of fame that accompanies stardom in the mass markets of popular culture. Still, after receipt of the Golden Lion earlier this summer, proclaiming him the best artist in the 2011 Venice Biennale, the already critically acclaimed Marclay became an undisputed highbrow hero.

The Clock is three times as long as Andy Warhol's epic eight-hour black-and-white meditation on time and light, Empire, a fixed-camera study of Manhattan's Empire State Building.

While Marclay playfully acknowledges his debt to Warhol, The Clock is a hyper-charged installation, a grand video collage painstakingly composed of slivers and shards of movies and television synchronized on screen to reflect real time. Marclay's intense art work curiously raises some of the same questions about time's envelope as Warhol's deceptively passive piece.

The Globe's initial coverage focused with more than a hint of obsession on the fact that the MFA was charging $200 to gain admission to the opening gala and quoted local representatives of the art community protesting what they perceived to be craven commercial behavior that compromised the MFA's responsibility to serve the public.

The paper dutifully reported that there were three tiers of tickets: $200 for a 7 pm gala; $100 for an 11 pm party with a deejay; and $50 for an early morning party at 3 am. In addition, at 7 am on September 18, the museum will open its doors for 12 hours of free "community day" access. A free 24-hour viewing of The Clock is also in the works. The Globe also noted that the money collected would be used only to cover the costs of the festivities.

The facts of the Globe report, written by arts reporter Geoff Edgers, are not the issue. It is the tone and context — or lack there of — that raised hackles.

While factually accurate, Edgers's story managed to convey an impression that something untoward and out of the ordinary was a foot.

By the standards of top-drawer cultural institutions, a $200 ticket is not an anomaly. (And rock concerts and sporting events often cost as much or more, when all costs are considered.) Kick-off celebrations for new wings, galleries, or exhibitions are standard operating procedure. The MFA's three-tiered ticketing approach was clearly geared to a young audience already familiar with multimedia nocturnal revels.

It would not be surprising for some readers to conclude that the Globe's first round of coverage was intended to put a ding in the halo worn by MFA director Malcolm Rogers, whose credentials as an impresario were burnished to a gleam with the opening of the museum's Art of the Americas wing this past winter.

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