The final Urbis exhibition, Urbis has Left the Building, manifests the same symptoms as many shows I have seen at Urbis. There is no argument, no nuance, no exciting interplay between objects or images. Just one side of the story is told, and hammered home with every item and every curatorial technique to hand.
Reading Jonathan Jones' blog on criticising institutions, I feel reassured that I'm right to notice that Urbis has never provided the intellectual jungle gym I am looking for. Even the exhibitions which should have been delightfully jam packed with objects and images, just used them to heavy-handedly support one rhetorical point of view. Urbis may have presented little seen aspects of popular culture, but when they were told with such stifling hagiography how could we expect the vibrant, complex and conflicted nature of popular culture to emerge?
So what? This exhibition is the story of Urbis told in the Urbis style. It's boisterous and blustering, a perfect essay in corporate PR. Relying on exhibition posters to tell it's own story, it does serve to remind me of everything I have experience in that glassy wedge.
The first exhibition I went to at Urbis was the advertising one in 2008. It was unquestionably terrible, a bit of professional propaganda which rightly had no place in a publicly funded building. Looking at the poster for the D&AD Advertising & Design exhibition I felt like pointing a finger at it and shrieking "SHAME! SHAME!" in a manner combining both Donald Sutherland at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and an early American puritanical witch hunter.
If you love Urbis, Urbis has Left the Building is a one dimensional retrospective you might enjoy. But if you are looking for an honest, thoughtful and thought provoking exhibition, go somewhere else. Urbis may have tried to do something incredibly difficult, but that is no justification for the dangerous simplifications it habitually employed.
Am I sad to see it go? A little... the failure of Urbis may discourage future attempts to present popular culture, it's perceived successes perhaps encourage simplistic, dictatorial curatorial practises and, as I've previously commented, sets a dangerous precedent for how we deal with cultural institutions when they don't meet predefined standards of success.