There is an accelerated eagerness to rate art institutions today. Those whose missions include the new and the alternative prove most vulnerable. Commentary on these agencies surge from extreme praise to discourtesy, and most of these observations occur in the digital realm, often cloaked by anonymity. As a result, art institutions are in a belligerent popularity contest: for visitors, artists, exhibitions, events, donors, space, and sales.
On a recent trip to Chicago I noticed two alarming advertisements on two separate institutions. The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA) announces on its shop window that Fodor’s has rated it the number one museum gift shop in the world. Close by, the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) has four bold #1 Trip Advisor awards for four consecutive years broadcasted on its main entrance.
Why are art institutions compelled to advertise such recognitions? What credence do these rankings even give? Do such rankings influence program- ming? If institutions now embody populism, what kind of confidence is given to those defining the institution? Do Instagram likes and traveler reviews hold such authority?
It is crucial for authentic institutions to exist and to serve our creative and cultural communities without the disruption of ratings. Our generation’s marked propensity for uncritical, snappy judgment eclipses much needed critical discourse. Institutions must ditch the popularity contest and instead focus on substance and maintain their dignity.