This article is by Brian Sherwin, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint and Art Fag City. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
In recent years there has been an ongoing debate about whether or not art museums-- and museums in general-- in the United States should work alongside art museums located in countries that are known for human rights violations. Events surrounding the arrest of artist Ai Weiwei in China have spurred the debate further-- in fact, one could suggest that the topic has reached a boiling point. This situation begs the question-- should art museums in the United States stop partnerships with museums in China until artist Ai Weiwei is released by the Chinese government? If so, should they also cut ties with other museums that are located in countries that are known for human rights violations? Obviously there is no easy answer.
It is easy to see why people are becoming frustrated with the situation facing our museums-- many of which receive public funding. After all, many view the protests and statements in support of Ai Weiwei's release that have taken place at US museums as a contradiction since many of those same institutions continue to have a working relationship with Chinese museums. They are not really putting anything on the line-- thus, their show of support for Ai Weiwei has no real impact. In other words, some view the continued relationship with China as hypocritical because at the end of the day it is business as usual.
The coin has two very different sides in this situation. On one side it would be a powerful statement if US art museums cut ties with museums located in countries known for human rights violations-- it would send a message to the creative world, if you will, that they had better press their own governments for resolutions if they desire to continue being involved with the global art community. I say that because if US art museums cut ties with countries like China other countries would likely follow the same path-- and I'm certain that some influential art galleries would join with them in the stand. On the other side of the coin a decision like that would harm artists and art professionals who really don't have much control over how their government is ran-- not to mention that it would obviously serve as a wedge between cultural exchanges that would otherwise benefit everyone.
The sides of a coin blur together when flipped. My point -- there are other sides to consider within this debate. For example, some feel that art museums in the United States should be placing a focus on artwork created within the United States instead of reaching out to other countries-- especially countries that technically run against the grain of our commonly held views. The idea being that living artists-- specifically those who are US citizens-- will have more opportunities for recognition and general success if less time and money is spent bringing artwork into the country. In other words, there are individuals who question if it is acceptable for US tax dollars to be spent building the market for foreign artists when those same dollars could be used to strengthen the art market within the United States as a whole. Are these individuals wrong for feeling that way? I suppose it depends on which side of the coin you are betting on.
The debate over this situation opens ground for larger questions to consider. For example, is it ethically wrong for US art museums to isolate museums in other countries based on government policies that said museums have little control over? Should museums, in general, be involved in this form of diplomacy, if you will? If US art galleries were to get involved-- could said isolationism be cultivated as a mere power play for dominance within the global art market? Obviously there would be room for corruption no matter how good the intentions. After all, art has become a worldwide billion dollar industry, if you will. What better way to dominate the art market than to block art from entering the US, true? I'm getting ahead of things with this hypothetical situation-- that said, it is clearly complex no matter how you try to flip the coin.
Consider this an open debate concerning the actions US art museums can take in order to send a solid message to the Chinese government-- or other governments that are known for the censorship of art as well as human rights violations.
Take care, Stay true,