This is the first of three blogposts that comment on six short videos prepared by Axisweb. Axisweb is a website and network that showcases all kinds of contemporary art practice produced by its membership. It’s not my intention to transcribe the films so I recommend watching them before going any further.
Watch Part One here
The speaker in the films is Alistair Hudson, the newly appointed Director of MIMA (Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art). He has experience of all sorts of contemporary art provision having previously worked at Grizedale Arts in Cumbria, the Anthony d’Offay Gallery and for The Government Art Collection.
In the first film he lays the ground for a new way of thinking about art and the way it is shown in galleries and museums. Art, he argues, has become something specialist in the wake of the idea of the individual producer of art selling work to wealthy collectors. This, he implies, is a two hundred year blip; for a long time there was no such thing as ‘art’ at all as we know it. He returns to this theme throughout the films. He argues that art has become separated from society and is not really part of our lives anymore and if it is then it’s largely compartmentalised. He’s talking here about non-artists and he’s got a good point.
How many people have contemporary art in their homes?
How much contemporary art would be suitable to put in a home?
In the post-2008 era art is expected to be value for money when supported by the public purse. That is often equated with tourism and/or the ‘attention economy’ and economic regeneration, but what, Hudson asks, if institutions change the way the think about the provision of art?
In the second film he expands this speculation to think about how the museum might reboot itself to change its relation with its public.
Watch Part Two here:
Art needs to be useful, he says. To do that the museum’s need to reverse the way we think. Putting ‘social development’ first means that the museum would take its place alongside the library and so on as a place much more integrated in the lives of the public.
This would change the purpose of art and the status of the artist, placing some of the onus for a programme with the civic world that surrounds the gallery.
If this model did take root, what would happen to curators?
Would people want to get involved with this or is there something reassuring about being told what to think about a ‘great’ artist?
Would a more ‘ground-up’ model cater the lowest common denominator or be genuinely democratic?
Do contemporary art galleries (MIMA, Tate Modern, The Baltic, and so on) still have a place in society?
What happens to the art that’s being made in studios now?
These questions are troubling to experts and those with vested interests (like me), but perhaps in the current economic climate, they are inevitable.
What else might fall from these changes? The rise / return of the patron of the arts? We’ve already seen a version of this with the Saatchi Collection, but does one wealthy collector unbalance the discussion around art?
I’m not sure what I think about a lot of what he’s saying and he does use on some art-world / academic jargon. You might consider him an art-world insider with much to lose, so perhaps his cause is even more noble. Would he have a job in this Brave New World?
The biggest question – and one we should all ask, even if we never come up with a satisfactory answer – is the title of the series: What is art for?
In the next two films (there are six in all) Hudson takes on the idea that artists are ‘sovereign geniuses’ that point at and criticise society without really getting involved in any positive way, and then asks how artists might get their validation in this new system.