This blog continues the discussion of the differences between art galleries and museums and questions whether art galleries are changing their model.
My last blog was a review of sorts about the Art Gallery of Ontario’s exhibition David Bowie Is which closes this week. I had a problem with the exhibition because it seemed more like artifact than art. But is this a problem? I received a lot of feedback from the public suggesting that it is. Many people like to go to museums for one reason and art galleries for another. The art world however seems to have other ideas. I asked the AGO to qualify why the Bowie exhibit ended up at our provincial gallery instead of a museum. Here was their answer:
Jim Sheddon, Manager of Publications for the AGO:
“The AGO and the V&A in London have had a long relationship and we are good partners. We got the Bowie show cause we asked, we knew we wanted it and knew that we could it do well. David Bowie is a profoundly visual performer, and the identities he has created for himself over the last five decades have had an enormous impact on contemporary art and culture. A master of sustained reinvention, Bowie has always avoided artistic boundaries and, to that end, has collaborated with the most significant figures in fashion, photography, design, film, theatre, and visual art. His restless creativity has influenced more artists than anyone else in pop music, whether we’re talking about fellow musicians, choreographers or performance artists. The exhibition David Bowie is, coming on the heels of Patti Smith’s photography, speaks to the AGO’s commitment to do more than just show art, but to talk about art and the evolution of visual culture.”
This answered my question and though it took two weeks I am satisfied and grateful for the effort. But….I still have a niggling issue with this answer. Check out the last line, “the AGO’s commitment to do more than just show art, but to talk about art and the evolution of visual culture.” Is this a paradigm shift? Is the gallery charting a new course of didacticism? Are we to believe that attending an art exhibition at the AGO now means instruction as opposed to experience?
Perhaps not, and perhaps I am scratching an itch that I should just leave be. Art galleries all have didactic areas where children are introduced to impressionistic painting techniques for instance or there are lecture series on the era an artist created in, and even lively panel discussions on art in general; all this is good and worthwhile. I think however that the rooms where the art is to be exhibited need to be left unfettered from intellectual pontification or overt curatorial guidance. Sometimes we need to be alone in a room with a Rothko. I fear this is an activity that is dying out in our culture.
Talking about art has become the newest trend in art; not the art, just the talking
While galleries struggle to find funding and make their case for their future relevance what might get trampled is the experience of seeing art itself. I know very well that this kind of thinking is considered extremely old school and that by suggesting that much art needs places of contemplation I am not adapting to our new, shiny, interactive app driven world. But what I constantly champion here in this blog and throughout social media is that art doesn’t have to cower behind popular culture, feeling sheepish,slovenly and ashamed like the poorest member of a family at Christmas dinner. Art and culture is a powerful economic sector that employs lots of people, has enormous indirect benefits to towns, cities and rural areas through supporting small businesses and local economies, charts new ideas and innovation that goes toward progressing our civilization including inspiring new technologies, helps young people with confidence, seniors with loneliness, and opens doors for the marginalized.
The AGO and institutions like it need to add up their public engagement numbers and do some deep analysis. It will astonish us all to see that these places which once put art in a lofty, maybe elitist realm in our society are in fact economic turbines. We just need to connect those dots and then we can get back to spending a quiet hour with our favourite art work.
Photo from my own archives.