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Exhibition trailers have been around for a while now, but every once in a while one comes along that’s markedly different. The Toledo Museum of Art has one of those, for the exhibition Manet: Portraying Life, which opened at the museum yesterday.

The most successful exhibition trailers I’ve seen often include shots of the artwork in the show, plus behind-the-scenes discussion with the curator or artists. The Toledo Museum has scrapped most of that and gone for a striking 30-second spot that’s sort of a cross between an ad for a TV show and one for high-end perfume or jewelry. With the dramatic titlecards — every moment unfinished — and the emotional piano music accompanied by a breathy female voice, I kept expecting the video to end with a man proposing to a woman by way of a giant diamond on a beach. Instead, very attractive people dressed mostly in outfits I’m not convinced you’d ever see anyone wearing unironically outside of Brooklyn turn into the subjects of various Manet paintings.

It’s a nice idea — that, as the video description says, “life in the latter part of the 19th century is not so different from today.” And the Toledo Museum seems to be responding to two different conditions that make it necessary to try something new: 1) Manet is long dead, his art has been shown plenty, and watching a curator talk about a show of his work might not be the best way to entice new audiences; and 2) given the title attached to the video on YouTube, it looks like the trailer was made for TV. In that medium, emotional music and a breathy female singer may be the only way to compete!

I do applaud the Toledo Museum for branching out and getting creative. I just wonder … well, partly if this kind of trailer will work: Is it long enough to really hook people and convey the necessary information to draw visitors to an art exhibition? And if it could have looked a little less like a high-end luxury product — lord knows we already have plenty of that in the art world — and a little more like actual everyday life.

(h/t @SebastianSmee)

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Jillian Steinhauer

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...

5 replies on “Is This Video Ad for an Art Exhibition or Diamonds?”

  1. wow Jillian… you’re right that this felt more like a TV ad for a luxury good…. the music made me laugh…

      1. Should it be? And if that’s a naive question, maybe the better one is: Even if it is, does that mean a museum (of all places) should market it as such?

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