Metroblogging the DIA: “Hey you! Look at this! Think about that! Check this out!”

Along with a restored and expanded building, the DIA re-opens with a new, “visitor-focused” interpretive philosophy. Those old, erudite descriptions with fancy words–baroque, mimesis, fauvism, and zeitgeist among them–have gone the way of the dinosaur. That’s right, they’ve been exterminated by a massive comet that crashed into the Earth’s surface, causing a radical change in the Earth’s atmosphere and killing off all life forms unable to live under ground or in the water.

Well, not quite, but they’re just as extinct from the museum as our reptilian forebears. In their place, the visitor experiences galleries put together by themes like “Art and the Cycle of Life,” “Grand Tour of Italy,” and “Images of Spiritual Power.” The visitor is directed to “look at the contrast of color,” “see how these objects relate,” or “think about the different variations,” or “play Eye Spy.”

The curators, who call this approach more “democratic,” are open to the accusation of “dumbing it down.” And, indeed, they are.

Yet, I can’t really say that I have any objection to it. I taught high school for a couple of years and found that students reacted better to directions like “look,” “see,” and “think,” rather than dropping a difficult passage in front of them and asking them to come up with something brilliant. The DIA curatorial staff have attempted to re-think the experience as a series of “teaching moments.” They give the visitor something to do. These new descriptions and themed galleries are, indeed, thought-provoking (that is, they provoke you to think thoughts).

Sure, there will be naysayers and snobs. But anyone can go to the museum store and browse a book of scholarly theses to their hearts’ content if they are not satisfied. I’m certain I’ll hear complaints from sorry snoots as I’m walking the galleries. But soon enough, the time of these Cry-rannasaurus Rex and Tear-odactyls will end as well.

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