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High Museum changes Monet “Water Lilies” exhibit

The High Museum has quietly added its two most important Monet paintings to “Water Lilies,” the loan show from the Museum of Modern Art. I did make that very proposal in my review, but who could take credit for the change when it’s such a no-brainer?

The proportion of four artworks to the mount of wall texts and reproductions (including one of the three galleries holding no art at all) was out of whack, I commented. “Something’s amiss when wall texts take up more space than actual objects,” and I suggested taking advantage of its own paintings, “Autumn on the Seine at Argenteuil (1873)” and “Houses of Parliament (1903)” to show Monet’s evolution.

“They show the progression of his mark-making, the dissolution of the object and the expanded scale,” I wrote. “They document his ongoing fascination with water, reflections and atmosphere. They would have brought home dramatically the magnitude of conceptual and visual leap the water lily paintings represent.”

A reader tipped me off to the change, and yesterday I went to see for myself. The two High paintings hang in the last gallery, where a wall text with their reproductions had been hung. It’s not the optimum spot: Docents have to traipse to the end to reach the logical starting point of a tour and presumably double back — but it probably would have taken too much effort to rejigger the whole thing.

Mine was not the only complaint. A docent told me that a number of colleagues found the exhibition “thin.”

One incensed friend called the installation an abdication of its responsibility to art and audience. The High, too, is a victim — of its own hype. Perhaps to justify those big Monet banners outside, it tried to turn what would have been a good small-focus show into a major to-do. Ironically, it only succeeded in diminishing the art.