▼ Report: The Near Future/ of Museums
The New York Times is covering the slow paradigm shift liquidating museum’s of their critical status. In the near future, museums will lose the difference which has always defined them: the difference between a commercial gallery and museum.
“Museum auctions are nothing new — many institutions sell pieces donated by artists or collectors to raise money for programs. But the Guggenheim has taken things a step further, mounting a major exhibition with the intention of selling its contents.”
This is a death of museums, not an isolated event.
The show at the Guggenheim, “Contemplating the Void”, was conceived as a benefit for the museum – but is more than a charity event for an institution. It is part of a testing of the waters for museums who have been searching for a way to compete. Because of inflated prices set by gallery dealers and collectors, museums have been increasingly unable to acquire contemporary works. Museums have decided to imitate commercial galleries. The decision to imitate rather than protest inflated prices highlights museum directors complicity with a corporate ethos.
We are losing the distinction between a cultural space and a commercial agenda. A panel discussion at this years’ Armory art fair in New York treated fairs as the new biennials. A similar upcoming discussion at the Saatchi Gallery in London, framed as a debate over the ethics of art fairs, is a thinly veiled endorsement of art fairs as the most important spaces for contemporary art. This debate at the Saatchi Gallery is interesting becasue it is as transparent as a debate on Fox News. There is a set-up from the beginning. On one side we have the “critics” (not the artists, writers, curators even dealers who criticize art fairs) but the “critics” and it says the critics are “scoffing”. Not very pretty. On the other side we have the business folks who are framed in positive glowing light as just wanting to help promote art to the world and isn’t the art fair the best way to do so and don’t you think maybe art fairs are THE way to experience art? The strange spin in the event’s statement, is a quote from critic Jerry Saltz. It is a supposed attack on art fairs, but again it is a set-up: Saltz is the perfect critic of commercialism for Saatchi to put in the spotlight because he is not a critic of commercialism at all.
“Art fairs are about money not art” / This debate is part of a new initiative presented by the A Foundation called The Economy of the Gift, a boutique-scaled art fair which will take place in Liverpool, 9 April – 22 May 2010.
“Art fairs, scoff the critics, have become shopping malls for the super-rich. They are giant marketplaces for the wealthy to buy, invest and speculate on the commodity of art. Galleries pressure artists to churn out ‘safe’, sellable works, which are not so much looked at as bought in bulk. As the critic Jerry Saltz put it, ‘art fairs are perfect storms of money, marketability, and instant gratification’. Is this criticism justified? Or are art fairs in fact the perfect format for visitors to see art from all over the world which they wouldn’t otherwise see? And by allowing artists to show their work to potential buyers en masse are these shows a crucial lifeline for artists today?”
With its space in Bilbao, the Guggenheim franchised itself with a crass spectacle and shortly after gave the Armani corporation, a fashion corporation, a retrospective after monetary endorsement by the same corporation. The multi-leveled corporate partnership between the New Museum and New York Magazine has debased both cultural entities with a mixture of ad campaigns, project sponsorships and unending favorable articles. The New Museum finished the destruction of its own credibility with its current show, “Skin Fruit: Selections from the Dakis Joannou Collection”; a show devoted to the private art collection of one of the museum’s trustees, curated by the trustees favorite artist Jeff Koons, who is the very image of corporate ethos. New York magazine’s well known art critic Jerry Saltz defended this merger of private collector and cultural institution with two articles devoted to the subject, both of which denounced criticism of the show as “bitterness” and “cynicism”. Saltz exposed his own corrupt bitter and cynical nature, and because of his magazine’s economic dependence on the New Museum’s sponsorship, Saltz destroyed any remaining credibility. In front of us he became an entertainment writer.
All museums seem to be intent now on shifting their function. New York gallery dealer Jeffrey Deitch has been appointed museum director of L.A.’s MOCA. The Museum of Modern Art has renovated itself and now feels like a combination of an austere shopping mall and a bank headquarters. With MOMA’s renovation came ticket prices beyond the reach of most New York based artists. The Guggenheim’s latest gesture – exhibiting a show for profit – is disguised as a charity event, but it is a slip of ethics that leaves only one more boundary to be broken: museums selling art without the false pretense of charity.
Everywhere in the artworld there is talk of museums revolutionizing their practices to compete with galleries. Some have called collectors the new curators. Others have hailed gallery owners as the new museum directors, or others insist art fairs are the most relevant forum for contemporary art, not the museum.
Art’s real value, not its monetary value, was understood in the past. And just as understood was how at odds the business of art was to the real value of art. The real value being resistance: the related experience of human existence. Because it is poetic, this value is resistance to the corporate stream. Commercialism left unchallenged since the 1980s has allowed for the debasement of art.
As the distinction between a commercial art gallery and a museum is obliterated both by museums themselves and by the interests of powerful collectors the museum is lost as a space for difficult work that is not commercially viable. The museum will be a commercial gallery. Commercial tastes will prevail with absolute sovereignty.