Not Bad … for a Museum in a Mall
The Boca Museum of Art (BOCA) in Boca Raton is a small, attractive, elegantly appointed museum located in a building whose exterior is nothing short of ghastly. But then so is the entire “Plaza Real” area: faux-Spanish architecture in shades of peach and salmon lines a broad boulevard clotted with desperately snooty shops, over-priced restaurants, and what has to be America’s largest unofficial parade of the nouveau riche––ostentatious, gas-guzzling mega-cars straight out of the Sopranos catalog, yappy dogs and sour-faced children, and women with gibbous bosoms constructed of what appears to be reinforced concrete. If you’ve seen Queen of Versailles, you’ll recognize the Siegels (pre-crash version) on every street corner. Where this outdoor shopping mall comes to a dead-end, that’s where you’ll find BOCA.
All this is important as preamble because it provides context for two significant aspects of the BOCA experience. First, if it weren’t for the nouveau riche and arrivistes of Boca Raton, some of whom apparently died and left their collections and/or money to cultchah, there likely wouldn’t be a BOCA museum. By all appearances, the museum has never acquired a single piece on its own initiative.
That’s why there are very nice works of art alongside both the deeply unimaginative (the obligatory Warhol, a forgettable Lichtenstein, a cookie-cutter Morandi) and a large amount of astonishing dreck (the sculpture “garden” is especially hair-raising: there’s one nostalgic Robert Indiana piece and the very interesting Labirintite by the Italian artist, Rabarama; the rest of it is scrap metal).
That’s also why there are a couple of beautiful (tiny) Picasso sketches and a decent Chagall in the same gallery as Delacroix’s and Degas’ drunken telephone doodles. Most people wouldn’t have even bothered to frame them, but when Abe and Mitzy Fatwallet donate their collection to you, you have to take ALL of it. In short, BOCA is a very mixed bag.
The small display of African masks is lovely, as are the two contemporary blown-glass pieces set among them, though the African grouping is inexplicably jammed up against a series of Mayan ceramics and stonework. (That, one guesses, is meant to be the “primitive” gallery.) The Mayan pieces are gorgeous, but all the signage in that part of the museum seemed deliberately vague, as if in sideways acknowledgement that the provenance of at least some of those pots, vessels, and effigies is suspect.
The current exhibitions––a half-century of haute couture and a display of American quilts––are OK if you like that sort if thing. The Vera Wangs and Oscar De La Rentas certainly seemed to act as bees to honey for a certain demographic (elderly white women), while at least a half-dozen fairly stunning photographs can be found among the mediocrity of the “Draw and Shoot: Fashion Illustrations and Photography” exhibit that accompanies the main event. Oh, and by the way: giving a title like “Politics NOT as Usual: Quilts with Something to Say” to an exhibit of quilting and then neglecting even to mention the Names Project Quilt is just plain perverse.
In any case, the second feature of BOCA that is explained by the museum’s physical setting in the heart of the Boca Raton socio-cultural habitus is the astonishing, outrageous ticket price: $15. (Keep in mind that this is a city where they charge you $12 for access to the beach.) No, you don’t even get a printed gallery guide for that.
BOCA’s apparent attitude, which is both bone-chilling and increasingly widespread throughout arts and cultural venues in America these days, is that art is for them what can afford it, and hoi polloi needn’t bother showing up.
BOCA, at least in the context of the vast cultural wasteland that is South Florida, is a great little museum, but that doesn’t give them the right to take advantage.