|Picture: British Museum|
On the opening day of the Royal Academy Manet show, the Guardian hosted a discussion on the merits of blockbusters, loaded with cliches and specious arguments. The show at the RA is described as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity ... after all, it's almost two years since the last Manet blockbuster. The craziest argument (against tough competition) is the claim that, "To create a blockbuster exhibition is quite a political statement, it says something broader than just 'Manet: a great artist'. It says – to a government that couldn't care less about the arts – that people love culture."* I just don't know what to say to that.
Then there's the claim that, "If you go to a blockbuster you shouldn't necessarily think it's all about the art – it's about the crowd, too." So you pay the RA £15 for the privilege of hanging out in a scrum? You can do that on the London Underground, still for slightly less money than the RA charges.
I like Manet and I live in London, but I don't think I'll go. The RA puts on some of the crassest crowd-pleasers and draws the biggest crowds. You never see very much. I queued up for opening time to get a few quiet minutes at a recent exhibition, but the galleries were already mobbed with well-heeled invitees to private early-doors viewings. I'm especially appalled that they're now offering a less crowded Sunday night viewing ('Enhance your visit') at £30 a head - double the normal rate - including a drink and an audio guide. It would be worth paying to get a quiet view, but I don't believe that they will keep numbers sufficiently low, I want to see art not have a drink and I don't want an audio guide. Above all I find it disgusting that they knowingly sell far more tickets than can be compatible with anyone seeing anything during the normal time slots.
* Thanks to Gareth Harris for flagging this quotation on Twitter, @garethhar