A New York Times critic today described the new President's House exhibit on Independence Mall as a "highly ineffectual mishmash" that "overturns the idea of history."
In a Critic's Notebook column, Edward Rothstein cites the memorial and an exhibit at a Queens museum of Muslim contributions to science as examples of a movement toward "identity" exhibitions.
Both, he says, show "the identity exhibition has reached new lows."
"In both cases, there is an accusation of injustice and an attempt to revise history," Rothstein says. "In the science show, the charge is muted and persistent, but the case is made only by distorting history and facts. At the Philadelphia site, many of the claims are fierce - and some just - but they too end up distorting history by demanding the sacrifice of other perspectives."
The President's House, which opened on Dec. 15 after 8 years and $12 million, focuses heavily on the nine slaves of President George Washington who lived there.
Noting that President John Adams, who owned no slaves, lived in the President's House, Rothstein says, "the scanty historical background presented in the exhibition's annotated illustrations is almost mischievously diminishing."
"The result: an important desire to reveal what was once hidden ends up pulling down nearly everything else, leaving a landscape as starkly unreal as the one in which Washington could never tell a lie," he says. "It is not really a reinterpretation of history; it overturns the idea of history, making it subservient to the claims of contemporary identity politics."