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Are audiences killing art and culture ?

If the most important thing about art is its newsworthiness, saysSarah Kent, how do we engage with it on any other level ?

Should audiences be wooed with accessible art?  Photo: Luke Macgregor/Reuters

Should audiences be wooed with accessible art? Photo: Luke Macgregor/Reuters

A transvestite potter is currently delivering the Reith lectures, a pissing automaton is competing for the Turner Prizea blue cockerel struts its stuff on Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth, and the Whitechapel Gallery is filled with wankers and giant penises. It’s business as usual in the art world, or so the media would have us believe.

If the most important thing about art is its wacky newsworthiness, how do we engage with it on any other level? This is one of the questions to be addressed in BBC Radio 3‘s Free Thinking festival at the Sage Gateshead on Sunday in a panel debate: Are audiences killing culture?

Art is often promoted as a leisure pursuit, something fun to see on a wet Sunday afternoon. And it is achingly fashionable. On the first Thursday of each month, galleries in east London stay open late – hundreds descend on Vyner Street in Bethnal Green, sparking a street party complete with food, beer and sound systems; the event is so cool that even school kids hang out there.

Private views in West End galleries attract a slightly older and wealthier crowd who are still primarily there to drink free beer, meet each other and take selfies. The art is an excuse for a social occasion – so much so that when I was a full-time critic, I had a reputation for being rude because instead of networking I would look at the art!

The serious stuff of marketing the work happens at other times and through other channels, including the internet. I find it hard to believe that millions are spent each year by collectors who buy art they haven’t seen, but then I still fantasise about people collecting work they admire, rather than looking to park their money in a safe investment.

It’s why I’m so depressed to learn that the person topping Art Review’s Power 100 is an oil Sheikha from Qatar. Sister of the emir, Her Excellency Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani apparently spends £600m a year hoovering up contemporary western art to sequester in desert museums.

Of course, art has been at the service of the rich and powerful for centuries, but at least the Medici and their like provided opportunities for artists by commissioning the brightest and best to produce great work.

Nowadays, artists are caught between a rock and a hard place. Market domination stifles creativity by seducing artists into producing glitzy commodities that shriek: « Buy me! Buy me! »

Among the most blatant are Damien Hirst‘s diamond-encrusted skull,For the Love of God, which I renamed ‘For the Love of Gold’. The Finest Art on Water is a luxury yacht that Christian Jankowski exhibited atFrieze Art Fair in 2011 with a price tag of £70m. At this year’s fair, Gagosian showed Jeff Koon’s kitten in a sock, which is so far off the radar it creates a category all its own that one might call (M)art.

Since an important part of their remit is to attract large audiences, museums and galleries unwittingly create a trap of a different kind – encouraging artists to woo the public with accessible art. Often the result is bland mediocrity; mirrored maizes are my bête noire. Occasionally, though, an artist responds with something both playful and profound.

When Olafur Eliasson projected a yellow disc onto the far wall of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2003, hundreds came to bask in the light of the artificial sun. The Weather Project tapped into the collective psyche by encouraging people to dream, which is what good art can do – visitors wore swimsuits, brought picnics and lay on towels as if they were on a beach in midsummer. The work demonstrated the power of illusion and people’s willingness to play.

If you visit Derry-Londonderry over the next few months you can earn a couple of quid discussing the market economy with some locals. Not down the pub, but at the Turner Prize exhibition where Tino Sehgal is staging This is Exchange, a piece I remember taking part in at the ICA in London in 2003.

The idea that a gallery could be a good place to raise economic and cultural issues is not new, but Seghal’s approach is refreshingly direct. He employs non-professionals to engage with visitors, sometimes discussing monetary value, sometimes telling stories, as they did earlier this year in These Associations at Tate Modern.

If Seghal wins the Turner Prize it won’t be because his performers argued well or told moving tales, but because he provokes questions about the nature and value of art and the institutions that house it. Audience participation may be crucial, but pleasing the crowd is not; you may enjoy it, but his work is not about having a good time.

Antony Gormley‘s invitation in 2010 for people to take their place on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square was similarly memorable not because someone struck a fine pose or told a good joke; it was not Britian’s Got Talent. Fundamentally it was a conceptual piece that held up a mirror to our lust for celebrity, our desire to be in the frame. And it highlighted the fact that no-one has the faintest idea any more what public monuments and public art are for. What or who is worth commemorating?

Sarah Kent is an art critic and formerly visual arts editor of Time Out London – she is also director of exhibitions atthe ICA

The BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking festival is at the Sage, Gateshead from 25-27 October. Are Audiences Killing Culture? will be recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Tuesday 12 November at 10pm

Source : The Guardian Culture Profesionals Network

Filed under: Analyses, Evénements, Expériences, Gouvernances, Ingénieries, Outils, Politiques culturelles, , , , ,

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