French Salon or Binder Full of Women? Critic Pans ‘Babes at the Museum’

Pretty much apropos of nothing, Kriston Capps, senior editor at Architect magazine and prominent art world Twitterer, took to the

Capps (L) Aaronson (R) (Courtesy Twitter,
Capps (L) Aaronson (R) (Courtesy Twitter,

Pretty much apropos of nothing, Kriston Capps, senior editor at Architect magazine and prominent art world Twitterer, took to the social media platform last night to shake a fist at the website Babes at the Museum, a years-old Sartorialist-style site that regulates its ogling to arts institutions, and women.

“Not the first effort to turn museum workers into objects but maybe the most blatant,” he wrote, “What the dill @museumbabes? ”

“@kristoncapps most literal is more like it,” shot back Xavier Aaronson, who runs the site and takes its photos. He then linked to an essay on the San Fransisco Museum of Modern Art blog that deconstructs the Babes at the Museum aesthetic (e.g. “…the BATM is an object of the gaze. But she is more than that”).

Mr. Capps said he didn’t buy it. Mr. Aaronson quoted The Big Lebowski, in response. Pedro Vélez and Hrag Vartanian joined the conversation and this went on for several hours.

“I don’t really know the guy,” Mr. Aaronson said over the phone this morning of Mr. Capps. “He’s a senior editor at Architect I guess? I got that from his Twitter handle. Maybe he should be editing some en-dashes or something right now, instead of stoking a fire that has already been stoked.”

Mr. Aaronson, who does “foreign-language services for a media company,” said he’s no stranger to criticism. So how does he usually respond to accusations of sexism?

“Man that’s such a heavy word,” he said. “I don’t think it’s sexist, I just try to explain celebration of style and looks and attitude in a place where people don’t normally want attention, where they just want to enjoy some beauty without paying attention to themselves.”

“I hadn’t seen it until yesterday,” Mr. Capps said. “But today I was looking it over and I just thought it was bullshit.”

The site mostly features museum visitors rather than workers, but when it does feature women who work at museums, Mr. Capps said, it seems to conflate them with gallerinas. “It’s not just that that I feel this is sexist and pervy,” he said. “I also have experience talking to museum workers who hate this stereotype,” that they’re hot, like librarians.

“The use of ‘babe’ is actually really difficult here,” he added. “‘Babe’ is the way a lot of my girlfriends,” female friends, “describe themselves on Twitter and Instagram, it’s a recently reclaimed term. And it feels like this project is an effort to re-reclaim it as pervy.”

On Twitter Mr. Capps went so far as to call the site a “binder full of women,” a reference to Mitt Romney’s infamous faux pas during the last election. Mr. Aaronson called the joke “weak” and, again, disagreed.

“I try to curtail the creepiness as much as possible in my approach,” he said. If someone at the museum doesn’t want her picture taken, he walks away politely. Most are flattered, he said, when he asks, and many boyfriends send photos to the site. Mr. Aaronson also receives a large number of selfies. “Sometimes you’re flyin’ solo and you want to babe out,” he said. “They send me that photo.”

“In the 18th century in Paris,” he added, “there was a salon culture where the art was exhibited  A lot of that was about being seen, being noticed and admired as you commented on and waltzed through the salons. There’s a 300-year difference here, but it’s still somewhat parallel in that way.”

You might say that Mr. Aaronson was documenting a specific moment in our current cultural history. Though Mr. Capps wouldn’t.

“Just look at the interviews!” Mr. Capps said. “This is not a journalistic project! I believe the photographer describes it as celebrating them for their sartorial whatever but there’s no discussion of fashion, there’s no discussion of art, there’s no discussion of work, there’s no discussion of their careers. It’s just his opinion about their bodies! How could it be any easier to call this bullshit?”

Mr. Aaronson has now allegedly started trashing Mr. Capps on Instagram, according to a tweet Mr. Capps posted 11 minutes ago. French Salon or Binder Full of Women? Critic Pans ‘Babes at the Museum’