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Bush advisor David Frum becomes an art critic

August 5, 2009 | 10:07 am

Rodin's The Thinker AP Writing in Canada's National Post on Tuesday, former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum -- he of "axis of evil" infamy -- asked, "What killed Detroit?" In addition to the collapse of the automobile industry and "poisonous" race relations, his answer is: an insufficient civic respect for culture.

"A city that celebrated industrial culture spurned high culture," Frum opined. "The Detroit Institute of Arts is very nice. But it does not begin to compare to Cleveland’s museum, let alone the Art Institute of Chicago."

Really? It doesn't begin to compare? It's just "very nice"?

I first visited those three great art institutions in 1974, and even now I'd be hard-pressed to slice that particular pie. Detroit has one of the nation's great encyclopedic collections -- its paintings alone spanning everything from a famously soulful Jan van Eyck depiction of St. Jerome in his study, circa 1435, to Diego Rivera's incomparable 1932-33 "Detroit Industry," arguably his greatest murals anywhere (including Mexico).

And that's just for a start.

What is Frum's argument in making such an otherwise stupid claim? Nothing. Zero. Zilch. He simply declares it -- as if the DIA's supposed failure to measure up is some sort of conventional wisdom, or as if Frum has the established art-critical chops to make the assertion anything more than empty opinion-mongering.

Frum's opinion is certainly useful in under-girding his analysis of why Detroit is in the dumper. But its remarkable vacuity is also what I'd call a "very nice" example of fixing the facts and the intelligence around the policy.

True, it's nowhere near as egregious as events recorded in the Downing Street memo, which got tens of thousands of innocent people killed and millions dispossessed in Iraq. But it's just as intellectually corrupt. Clearly, some things never change.

-- Christopher Knight

Photo: Rodin's "The Thinker" (1904) in front of the Detroit Institute of Arts. Credit: Associated Press

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