Guidebooks are useful and popular tools for travelers planning itineraries. But when it comes to picking museums, books can fall short. True, they do a fine job of describing permanent exhibits and often provide overall rankings (such as one to five stars) of the best museums. But they don't list temporary installations, which makes it hard to compare what's on display in one city vs. another.
Now there's a new online tool called MutualArt.com that aims to solve the problem. Launched just a few months ago, it claims to be a "revolutionary online information service" that provides more information about the art world than has ever before been available on the Internet, including notification of upcoming events tracked by artist, genre, and location. The site says it has already attracted 25,000 subscribers since March.
To draw more attention to itself, MutualArt.com recently released a list of the top 20 must-see museum exhibitions of this summer. The exhibits straddle four continents and showcase the work of artists spanning multiple generations and genres. "The art world can be intimidating and the information hard to find," says Ben Crawford, the chief marketing officer at MutualArt.com. "What we are trying to do is to provide people with a simple way to reach it."
Whether featuring a retrospective of a master's oeuvre or examining fresh themes threaded through the work of newcomers, all of the exhibits focus exclusively on artists who have lived within the last 150 years. Among the 20 listed exhibitions are actor Cheech Marin's collection of Chicano art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the works of Dutch fashion designers Viktor & Rolf in their first-ever art exhibition at London's Barbican Center; and an exploration of how humans have been interpreted in art at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. "The museum-going public has a lot of interest in contemporary art right now," Crawford says. "It's the direction the art world has been going in."
The "Importance of Discovery"
Aside from their modernist bent, however, the shows differ widely in almost every other respect. Some of them include works from masters such as Dali and Picasso, while others showcase more recent and controversial artists including Jeff Koons and Gilbert & George. The genres and concepts presented cover all manner of media and disciplines, as well. Cubists, expressionists, and surrealists share the list with jewelers, architects, and performance artists.
In fact, it's difficult to surmise what criteria MutualArt.com used to select its finalists. But Crawford says every exhibition had to meet a combination of factors, including historical significance, freshness of concept, and contemporary attraction. Additionally, he says, some exhibits were chosen for their attempts to explore the boundary where art becomes design (for example, Alexander Calder's jewelry exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, or the Whitney Museum of American Art's presentation of Buckminster Fuller's architectural feats).
Crawford notes that MutualArt.com did not necessarily choose the "best" exhibitions as critics might define them. "We don't view ourselves as deciding when one museum is better than another," he says. Instead it judged what it deemed was most important for the full spectrum of art-lovers, whether they be veteran collectors, academic enthusiasts, or just casual travelers. "There's the importance of discovery," Crawford says, "things they never knew they wanted to see until they've seen them."
MutualArt.com plans to continue publishing lists each season to encourage art awareness and attendance at the world's most notable museum exhibitions.
Check out our slide show for the 10 U.S. and 10 non-U.S. "must-see" art exhibits of the summer of 2008.