Professors not taking students to Goldin's exhibition? It is not obscurantism or boycott

The open letter from Vicenza teachers who will not take students to visit Goldin's exhibition has caused controversy. But this is not obscurantism or a boycott. Here's why.

I have a feeling that this 2015 will bring a new cliché about art. Namely, “every exhibition deserves to be seen.” A commonplace that, formulated in different variants, is gaining more and more ground. The latest to have formulated it is journalist Alessandro Zangrando in one of his articles in the Corriere del Veneto: “look at all larte, all exhibitions, even those that they advise against, and make your own opinions.” The subject of the debate is yet another Marco Goldin-branded entertainment product, namely the negligible Tutankhamen Caravaggio Van Gogh exhibition, and the trigger is the alleged boycott by a group of teachers from the Liceo Pigafetta in Vicenza (the city where the exhibition is being held), who decided not to accompany their students to the exhibition.

Well: I think it is superfluous to remark that it is not worthwhile to visit every exhibition, even if it were the most blatant commercial operation, to form an opinion. It would be like saying that one has to see all the films produced in a year, including De Sica’s and Cipollino’s, to understand that The Great Beauty is an artistic product of a different caliber. Or going to see Justin Bieber concerts to understand that a PFM concert guarantees an experience of a far different tenor. So, I personally see out of place a schoolchildren accompanied by teachers either at a cinema showing a Cipollino film, a Justin Bieber concert, or a Goldin exhibition. And this is not snobbery, as Goldin’s supporters believe: it is simply the duty of teachers, which here translates into distinguishing well what is art from what is commerce. Nor can we speak of a priori obscurantism, since it is clear in the teachers’ letter that the school had already taken students to previous Goldin exhibitions. However, the disappointment was such that it prompted the lecturers not to repeat the experience: it is therefore unclear where the boycott is, where the obscurantism is. Especially since the lecturers themselves, in the same letter, write that students are very free to go individually to the exhibition should they deem it necessary.

Tutankhamon Caravaggio Van Gogh

In short: I don’t think anyone has anything against Goldin. It’s just a matter of getting a few things right: that is, establishing that Goldin’s exhibitions are not configurable as culture but as entertainment. And I don’t think it is necessary to visit them all to understand this distinction. Of course, the audience has to be enabled to grasp this difference: because if for cinema, for music, for literature everything is easier, for art this feeling still has to be well constructed. And to build it we really have to start in schools: but it is not possible if art history is not considered on a par with the most important subjects. And here we go to topics beyond the content of this post.

Of course, we can then ask questions about the appropriateness of this open letter from the teachers in Vicenza. That is, was it really necessary to reiterate one’s opposition to Goldinian operations in an open letter? Better would have been, perhaps, to suggest that alternatives to Goldin’s exhibition are indeed there. So better to take students to discover the city’s heritage, which is vast, largely free and, unlike Goldin’s exhibition, has a real story to tell. The undersigned, for example, has never been accompanied with his class in the five years of high school, to visit the cathedral of his city: so I hope that this letter will serve to stimulate in the teachers of each school a greater sensitivity to the local artistic heritage. And to make Goldin’s supporters understand that the alternative to Goldin’s exhibitions is not nothing, as is evident from the arguments of the many who say “better a work of art in a Goldin exhibition than nothing at all”: there are exhibitions of greater depth, there is a local heritage worthy of being known, studied and experienced, and all of this constitutes a more than valid alternative to Tutankhamon Caravaggio Van Gogh.

It is also true that Vicenza would have more serious things to deal with than a Goldin exhibition anyway. We have the HST threatening the safety of Villa Valmarana. We have murky stories of building abuse a few meters from UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It would be nice if the teachers’ letter could also be configured as a starting point to talk about these issues: however, will interest continue to be maintained?

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