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Occupy Museums: What do you want from OUR museums?

by Brian Sherwin on 11/2/2011 11:24:15 PM

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, Conservative Punk, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint, Vandalog, COMPANY and Art Fag City. Disclaimer: This author's views are entirely his/her own and may not reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc.. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

A few years ago I wrote an article that explored the question, "What does the public want from art?" The article focused on the complications between art that is coveted by art market trends compared to art that the public is most likely to desire viewing. Within the context of the article I mentioned some of the protests that had occurred throughout the world concerning artwork exhibited at specific museums. Today -- several years later -- that early momentum of public criticism concerning museums has been given a new 'voice' in the form of the Occupy Wall Street movement. One movement born from Occupy Wall Street has been at the forefront of this question -- that movement being, Occupy Museums.


In my opinion, questions of this nature are important to ask -- I'm glad that supporters of Occupy Museums are shining light on these issues. After all, current artwork -- as in art created by living artists -- that tends to be held high within the world of high profile art galleries and jet-setting auction houses is often not the type of art embraced by the majority of the public. That said, the question opens up a can of worms among many art professionals in that it is not really clear what exactly the public would prefer to view at museums -- for example, if the public had more of a say would our museums become a Thomas Kinkade fest? In addition to that -- is the public informed enough to have more of a 'voice' in regards to artwork chosen for display at state-funded museums? These are questions that have yet to be worked out.


One concern shared by some supporters of Occupy Museums is that state-funded museums have become overly influenced by the global art market. Some who ally themselves with the movement feel that the artwork shown at museums is less about preserving an aspect of culture than it is about securing the art investments of influential private donation contributors. Point blank -- there is growing concern that state-funded museums are throwing the foundation of their mission aside in exchange for dollar signs... all while receiving government funding under the guise of serving the larger public.


One does have to ask if the public is being served if state-funded museums have become a place where only a small percentage of artwork is considered based solely on the importance said artwork has within the global art market. After all, one would assume that state-funded museums would place some focus on regional art within their respected state. However, one would be hard-pressed to find many of examples of that. In fact, I would suggest that our state-funded museums have failed to look outside of the carefully crafted box of the mainstream art market. Any artwork outside of that 'box' stands little chance of being considered -- no matter how important said art is within the state... and to the public at large


These concerns existed long before art-focused Occupy Wall Street movements. In 2010 I stated, "There are those who feel that culture-- as far as art is concerned-- is being hijacked by the higher echelon of the art market and the very institutions that should strive to focus on how art defines us as a people today based on our respected geographic or regional locations." I further suggested that, "there is a sense of cultural loss-- or cultural manipulation depending on how you view it." And that, "Those who take that view feel that our collective visual culture is being raped by the mainstream art market, art institutions that seem to embrace artwork based on controversy or value within the current market alone, and media hype-- which often focuses on said factors rather than the artwork itself." Again, these opinions were surfacing long before Occupy Wall Street... long before Occupy Museums. These concerns have long lived within many of us... even when they were not popular to entertain.


The irony of Occupy Museums -- and the general acceptance it has had within the core art community within the United States -- is that other groups had championed some of the same causes in the past with very different results. Unfortunately, those groups were often scoffed at by some of the same writers who empower Occupy Museums today. For example, the international art movement Stuckism has had a long history of protesting museums and other institutions of art based on concerns that the public is not being served. The two movements share some similarities -- yet they have been handled differently by art writers in general.


Art writers -- specifically those based in NYC -- never took the Stuckist museum protests seriously. In fact, if the Stuckists were mentioned at all it was often in the form of being described as "moronic" or worse. Today, some of those same NYC based writers are championing Occupy Museums. When you have one group of museum protesters lampooned and another taken seriously one has to start asking questions. This goes back to the larger questions -- what exactly do people want from Occupy Museums in general... and what are their motivations? Are minds really changing among art writers -- or is it a convenient way to avoid being stamped as an elitist during a time when the elite have been drawn into question? That is something I plan to explore within the context of an upcoming interview with one of the leaders of Occupy Museums.


In closing, we are living in exciting times. The fact that so many can now raise these questions without being bombarded with ridicule and disdain speaks volumes for the direction that the art world is going. The strength of public opinion can no longer be denied. As I pointed out recently... this direction makes some art professionals nervous. Could it be that we are standing on the threshold of change within the larger art world? Can the public reclaim art from the grip of market investments, power dealing and those who give their stamp of approval to art based on market value rather than social value? Time will tell. In the meantime I want to know what you think -- what do you want from our state-funded museums? Should there be more of a regional art focus? What do you want from the art world in general? Voice your opinion -- you will be heard now more than ever.


Take care, Stay true,


Brian Sherwin



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Related Posts:

Why Occupy Wall Street makes some art world insiders nervous

The Occupy Art World Problem

Occupy Wall Street: Should the Art World be Occupied?

Topics: art criticism | Brian Sherwin | FineArtViews | Think Tank | art museums 

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Brian, it's a really thought provoking article you have written. The situation is an expose in itself-- the status of the art world is the output of our times, including the fuzziness and esoteric posing that is confusing stuff often thrust at us by the confused.
When we are dug up some 5000 years from now what will they surmise from our ruins? Pockets of really same same same art at the exclusive NYC galleries-- and other pockets of "folk art" at the other less trendy places.
And will someone look at my primitive art next to a piece of current chic from Chelsea and say...hey, this is pretty good. Let's make a museum of art like this. People might be interested in this as a historic phenomenon!

There were always artists kept from the salon. It didn't last forever. The special stuff will rise to the top, whether it's out of the local hills or out of a cool gallery in Soho. Just takes a while...often the artist is, by then, dead! Yahoo!

Should we stand by our museums? I think they will be subsisting on their patrons and shaved down tax dollars. We reg'lar folk will not be paying many dollars to the IRS-- we are not earning anything. And the agencies that choose the 1 percent for the Arts will continue to choose what greases their palms, and never mind whether it's good as long as it passes the current panel's jaded eyes. One hopes to get a fresh eye on the panel! Yours, maybe, Brian?

Brian Sherwin
Susan -- Thanks for reading and adding your thoughts. You make a good point about the future... NYC, as much as I like it, does have a stranglehold on art in the US... or should I say, the 'image' of art in the US has been cultivated by the wealthy and influential powers that be within that scene? That is the benefit of being located in one of the most influential cities for business in the world I suppose.

That said, you know and I know that NYC -- as interesting as the art scene there is -- is not the end all, be all of art in the US. Museums don't serve the overall public by further cultivating that 'image'... not to mention that it is a disservice to the preservation of history as well.

Because of the influence of NYC the focus on the value of art has become more about monetary value than meaningful visual discourse. That is not to say that all art in NYC is meaningless -- but I'm sure we have all seen work that is not exactly up to par with what the artist is capable of doing... yet is praised for how much it went for at auction.

Social/cultural impact is not always defined by dollar signs. In my opinion, museums should focus on that impact instead of top dollar marketability when it comes to current artwork. A power collector like Charles Saatchi may love the piece... may spend millions on it... but what does the art say beyond that interest and price tag?

I mean to come off like I'm picking on NYC all the time... but lets face it -- many of the problems in the artworld originate from that scene, if you will. Heck, just a few years ago even NYC art insiders were referring to the market there as an off-shoot of Wall Street.

Well, once, not very long ago, Paris was the center...and before that I suppose it was Rome. NYC will founder eventually and it may be Reykjavik by the year 2050 or 2100 for all we know.

Now the internet has widened even the less-traveled person's experience, and we are presented (no bombarded) with all kinds of art, sometimes even really wonderful close-ups and wide-angle views we might not see in museums. Hooray, I say!

I'm not one who is cheering for the homogenization of cultures into one big happy(?) mix. I LIKE the variety of views and insights, and I hope there are always camps of preference. The fads will rise and fall. (remember beehive hairdos?) The wonder of the Sistine Chapel is as interesting to me as Andy Goldsworthy's purposely impermanent constructions. The money thing? I pretty much think that fads run the perceived value of what is currently "fine art" in our society. Most of those fade and fizzle once everyone has a print on the wall.

What can museums do? They can use their wealth to bring us an offering of gems, whether their curator shares our personal taste or not. We will get an opinion by going to those exhibits. And we will buy within our budgets accordingly.

What will you take with you when you flee from Egypt? A piece of the Pharaoh's gold or tress of your mother's hair?

Thanks for the forum, Brian.

Carole Esk'ridge
How would you go about looking for a gallery with a desire to exhibit a new topic in art called Pro-Life versus Pro-Death?

This show would be done through the talents of unknown young men and women Artists who have experienced the tragic use of substance abuse, a misuse of sex, abortion and other major problems that are tearing our society apart.

These Artists are fighting for a solution through turning their back on past mistakes and devoting their lives to creating a new inter-being in their souls and lives through faith in the Blessed Trinity through the Roman Catholic Church.

This would be an unusual art show that tells the conflict in the world today of opposite value systems. It's roots are as deep as Christ's love for sinners and Christ's battle with those who preached religion without living the message of Christian love. I know Christ loves these modern day sinner for I am one of them.

The Expressionists Vincent van Gogh and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec spoke from their hearts through art. I am certain Jesus understood their heartbreak. Just as I know Jesus loves the Artists I want to help.

It is my dream to help young men and women Artists who have experienced this in their personal lives by creating an art exhibit that will tour major galleries and museums in ten years with a grand finale at the Vatican Museum and sell the art work toured in the museums to establish a community of these Artists where they could live together as single, divorced with annulments, and families in a village. We would share our joys, sorrows, hopes, talent and at the same time pay our bills. Giving to Roman Catholic charities who help other who are poor physically and spiritually would be one of our goals .

I have a BS degree in Art magna cum laude. The Birmingham Museum of Art has a textile sculpture in its art collection of mine. The Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts has exhibited my work in three of its shows. Both these museums are in Alabama and are in the top 40 art museums in America. The National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, has a file on me in its archive.

Thank you for letting me share my dearest dream with you! Any advice you could give me would be deeply appreciated.

Most sincerely a Grandmother,
Carole Esk'ridge

1 (256) 429 -8697

Please don't include my address in your comment. It is for you not the world to know. Thank you!
Crestwood Apts. F6
500 College Drive N.E.
Hanceville, AL 35077

Carole Esk'ridge
Could you please remove my address. It is ok if you can't.

Carolyn, there was a traveling exhibit some fifteen years ago from University of NH on the effects of addiction, particularly alchohol. It was created by a Call for Art in the magazine Art Calendar. There are often such invitations.

Various foundations and Non Profits support exhibits focusing on specific human problems. The church may have opportunities to create such an exhibit.

Carole Esk'ridge
HI! Susan,

You are in very good company. The author Jack White, of "Mystery of Making It" just a little while ago suggested doing a show at a church. The introduction to his book is wonderful. He made me laugh at myself and really think about producing ART. I just pray I can follow his advice excellently and yours as well.

Thanks! Carole


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