the expense of importing art. Our plain republican ancestorsrnwere, for the most part, fully employed in building their ownrncivilization on classical models. Let the Europeans worshiprntheir ancestors. Our aristocrats were investing their energiesrninto descendants. The connoisseurs among them were gentlemanrndilettantes who did not confound private taste withrnpublic good.rnOne of the first American promoters of connoisseurship,rnJames Jackson Jarves, was also a collector who called for therncreation of public art museums in which “a mental and artisticrnhistory of the world may be spread out like a chart beforernthe student.” Jarves’s The Art-Idea was published in 1864, onrnthe eve of the nation’s metamorphosis from republic into empire,rnand, “by the time of his death in 1888 [as Karl Meyerrnnotes in The Art Museum: Power, Money, Ethics], he had witnessedrnthe first-fruits of his art-idea: a half dozen new art museums,rnmost of them open without an admission fee, each ofrnthem determined to rival the Louvre in the scope of its collection.”rnA museum is no place in which to look atrnpaintings. Like the European tour, the greatrnmuseum is a fast-food experience, programmed,rnpackaged, and ultimately stultifying.rnThe Metropolitan Museum in New York, the greatest ofrnAmerican museums, was established only five years after thernwar. The founders were—appropriately enough—membersrnof the Union League, but the Museum’s greatest benefactorrnwas J. Pierpont Morgan, the living embodiment of the bestrnand the worst the nation had become during the Gilded Age:rna brilliant corporate raider, Morgan had little aptitude for runningrna company or making anything but money. A “piousrnEpiscopalian” in an age that did not require these quotationrnmarks, he bribed politicians and lavished money on his mistresses.rnAn educated gentleman by New England standards, herncultivated the arts by spending top dollar on relics of a previousrngeneration’s fashions. The Met of recent years, with its vulgarrnhuckstering, suspicious business practices, and pretentiousrnhypocrisy, really is the fulfillment of its patron’s character.rnThe Metropolitan became temporarily famous under thernreign of director Thomas Hoving and his team of professionalrnart vandals. Hoving cashed in the Met’s unparalleled collectionrnof ancient coins and sold off major works in order to stagernhis publicity coups. The greatest of his stunts, the acquisitionrnof a Greek vase looted from Italy, was Hoving’s downfall, butrnmost of the great museums of the United States routinelyrnwaste their scarce resources on blockbuster exhibitions thatrnhave all the good taste of a Hollywood opening. The crowdsrncome in to gawk at the famous pictures in the same way theyrnwould gawk at Bruce Willis or David Letterman if they madernan appearance at the mall.rnThe Met, which during its over-frequent special exhibitsrncan be as nightmarish as the Louvre, has the broadest andrndeepest collection of art in the New World. To me, it has alwaysrnseemed an ugly place, dingy and soiled, to house so muchrnbeauty—a Greek revival bordello that has seen too much business.rnErom its collection of ancient vases and sculpture (not sorngood as the British Museum’s) to its great Impressionists (inferior,rnin my opinion, to the Art Institute’s, to say nothing ofrnthe D’Orsay’s), the Met represents, far better than the NationalrnGallery, the American claim to be an imperial civilization.rnMuseums are an exercise in cultural self-definition, andrnthe Met’s newer collections of Native American bric-abrac,rnAfrican primitives, and contemporary junk are attemptsrnto redefine America as something other than a purely Europeanrncolony. Nothing, by the way, gives a better indication ofrnour failure than the creeping Third Worldism that has infectedrnthe West’s educated classes since the late 18th century,rnwhen oriental art was all the rage. There was, however, somernexcuse for an imperial nation falling for chinoiserie. While “Irndo not long for all one sees that’s Japanese,” Chinese andrnJapanese porcelains arc undeniably beautiful artifacts of highrncivilizations. The best I can say of most native primitives isrnthat they are no uglier than most contemporary art. (Much ofrnThird World art is so bad, it might have been supported byrnNEA grants.)rnA museum is no place in which to look at paintings. Likernthe European tour, the great museum is a fast-food experience,rnprogrammed, packaged, and ultimately stultifying. It isrnbetter to see two or three good paintings in a single poorly litrnchurch than to walk through a long cafeteria line of masterpieces.rnMuseums, in general, are places to put dead things in:rndinosaur fossils and grave goods, and works of art that werernonce bursting with life are buried in the clean, well-lightedrncatacombs of the National Gallery.rnAn indefatigable museum-goer might agree with the generalrnprinciple. “But where,” he (more likely she) will ask, “could wernsee these things, if there were no museums? Most of us do notrncount Gettys and Morgans and Guggenheims among our acquaintances.”rnIn the first place, I shall try to explain, art forrnthe masses is an entirely bourgeois idea. Imitating the tasternand manners of the old aristocracies, the commercial classesrnwere forced to democratize their principles to avoid beingrntaken for parvenus. The bourgeoisie always spoke for the nation,rnwhen it was claiming a privilege. In setting up the greatrnnational museums, the goal was to acquire a veneer of culturernon the cheap.rnThe masses may have been indoctrinated into thinking theyrnwant art for their children, but for themselves, they preferrnMarried With Children or Eddie Murphy goes Disney. A vitalrncivilization is marked by a certain populism. Greek tragedy, Jacobeanrndrama, Italian opera all had broad appeal. In more degeneraternages, a serious devotion to painting and music hasrnalways been confined to small groups, and for the real enthusiast,rnobstacles to gratification only intensify his passion and hisrnpleasure.rnThe opposite of the tour is the pilgrimage. Nineteen ninety-rntwo was the 500th anniversary not only of Columbus’ discoveryrnof the New World but also of the death of Piero dellarnErancesca. Not terribly well-known in his own life and subsequentlyrnignored, Piero came into his own in the late 19th century.rnIn recent years large numbers of art-lovers have made thern”Piero pilgrimage” so famous that it has even reached the noticernof the Smithsonian magazine (December 1992). Althoughrnsome of Piero’s paintings can be found in London’srn12/CHRONICLESrnrnrn