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,