Unreal Nature

September 30, 2014

Ends as Things

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… These pictures are means, let there be no mistake about that — means to the gratification of man. When they are removed from sight their purpose is violated.

This is from ‘The Storage of Art from Germany at the National Gallery, Washington’ (1946) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 2, edited by John O’Brian (1986):

As we all know from the newspapers, two hundred important paintings by masters ranging in time from Giotto to Daumier have been brought to this country from damaged or destroyed museums in Germany by the United States government for safe-keeping in the storage rooms of the National Gallery at Washington. They will be returned to Germany whan “definitely established as being of bona fide German ownership … and when conditions there warrant.” Meanwhile, “it is not contemplated that any of these works of art will be exhibited to the public at present.”

I have seen the list of the pictures involved in this transaction, and the number of great masters and the quantity in which they are represented take my breath away …

… That these works should come to this country and remain unseen is of a piece with everything else that distinguishes an age which, even when it wants to, can no more tell the difference between man as an end and man as a means than it can tell the difference between things as ends and things as means.

These pictures are means, let there be no mistake about that — means to the gratification of man. When they are removed from sight their purpose is violated. And to handle them at the same time with such care (air-conditioned storage) is to regard them in effect as objects solely of great material value, which is to pervert their function. The money value the pictures represent becomes more important and more of an end than the delight they would afford countless people in this country who will never be able to travel to see them in Europe.

-Julie

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