Art: Staying for a While at A Museum near You

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Byline: Peter Plagens

You might call it "calendar creep." Art-museum exhibitions in America and abroad are running longer and longer these days. New York's financially constricted Guggenheim Museum just closed its video show "Moving Pictures" after a run of almost seven months, Scotland's National Galleries won't take down its big exhibition of "Warhol to Koons" until it's been up almost as long and the St. Louis Art Museum is letting viewers see "The Art of African Cloth" (which opened last July) until March 2. What gives? According to Lars Nittve, director of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, "The thinking is that it doesn't make sense to take down an exhibition if it still has pulling power." That pull, according to many museum people, is a result of a larger potential audience than there was a decade or two ago: more folks who'd just as soon hit a museum as the cineplex, and more cultural tourists wandering the streets. "These six- to 12-month exhibitions give the public the opportunity to come back, look again and think again--and perhaps to give the art exhibition back some of what might be described as its lost dignity," says Nittve.

True, but with the recent economic slump and lingering travel jitters from 9-11, the longer exhibits also allow museums to cut costs. One or two shows a year cost a lot less to install, uninstall, insure and advertise than a half-dozen exhibitions. And as one museum official put it, "Museums need visitors, museums need money. …