WHO NEEDS art critics, anyway? The Hirshhorn is inviting the public to cut out us middlemen and decide for themselves what they like or don't like about modern art.
Curator Judith Zilczer has picked 15 pairs of paintings and sculptures by a broad range of artists, from Josef Albers to Ossip Zadkine, for a do-it-yourself course in art appreciation.
Instead of telling visitors about the works, the exhibit asks about them. Of "Young Girl Reading" (1894) and "Baby Charles" (1900) by Mary Cassatt, the wall text inquires, "Is the subject of one of the two pastels more appealing? Are there areas in either drawing (or in both) that appear awkward or unfinished? Has Cassatt used light and color to focus your attention on particular features of her subjects?"
The gentle catechism grows gradually more searching as the exhibit continues. Of Albers's "Homage to the Square: Elected II" (1961) and "Homage to the Square: Glow" (1966), the visitor is asked, "Is there a connection between the order and size of the squares and the arrangement of colors in either painting?"
In a blatant attempt at sabotage, Weekend's critic here reveals all the answers: Yes, 30; No and Maybe, 3 each. You'll have to figure out the questions yourself. For extra credit, there are also four essay questions, two of them about Jackson Pollock. I don't do essay questions, especially when they're about Jackson Pollock.
Actually, of course, there are no "correct" answers, curator Zilczer says. "We're trying to encourage visitors to look at art from within themselves, instead of telling them what they're supposed to see. We want to replace intimidation with enjoyment."
There's even a card to fill out in the end, to let the Hirshhorn know what you think of the exhibition.
If this sort of thing spreads, it could be the end of art criticism as we know it. Please boycott the show. I have kids in college.
COMPARISONS: AN EXERCISE IN LOOKING -- Through April 21 at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Eighth and Independence SW. Open 10 to 5:30 daily. Metro: L'Enfant Plaza, Smithsonian exit.