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Opinion: Open Wall nights could lead to the next artistic visionary

Preview visitors attend the Neo Rauch exhibition "Begleiter" at Pinakothek der Moderne art museum in Munich, Germany, on April 19, 2010.
Johannes Simon
Getty Images
Preview visitors attend the Neo Rauch exhibition "Begleiter" at Pinakothek der Moderne art museum in Munich, Germany, on April 19, 2010.

A Munich art museum worker has been fired for adding one of his own drawings to the collection without permission. The incident occurred in February and was just revealed this week.

The Pinakothek der Moderne showcases art by Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Nam June Paik and Max Ernst, among many others. The uninvited artist is not named in news accounts; the curators want to discourage others trying the same thing. Unless, of course, they're Banksy. We know only that the rogue artwork was 23 by 47 inches.

Museums and galleries have limited space and budgets, and often display what they know people want to see. This can mean mainly hanging works by artists who are already well known.

"Sometimes it can feel like it's the same 25 artists always being exhibited in museums," Clara Lieu, a former Rhode Island School of Design professor and the founder of the arts education site Art Prof, told us. "I had a small chuckle when I saw this story," she added. "It's an exhibition opportunity that has never crossed my mind."

But she says she hopes other artists won't follow with their own unsanctioned wall hangings.

"I hope all artists respect what museums do, and resist that temptation," she said. "Today, the vast majority of the time we look at artwork is on a phone. That makes museums even more important, to create experiences where we can engage with art more deeply. But all artists have a fundamental desire for their artwork to be seen."

I wonder if museums and galleries might consider having Open Wall nights, the way comedy clubs have Open Mic nights. Let people who paint, sculpt, knit, spray-paint, or make collages put their work on a real museum wall or pedestal for a night, with permission.

Most of the dozens or hundreds of artworks displayed might move people to say, "Hmm!" and move on. But a few might be extraordinary, and get them to linger in amazement. Maybe one or two of the artists could become another Salvador Dali, Frida Kahlo, or Jean-Michel Basquiat.

An Open Wall night might open a window through which more artists can be seen. And remind us, too, that creating something with the power to charm, dazzle, or enthrall is not as easy as just hanging art on a wall.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.