Tuesday, November 27, 2007

View at Your Own Risk: Open Thread

Twice in our gallery's history we've exhibited work that, if the viewer were unfortunate or not careful, they might have hurt themselves on. Once the situation was easy enough to handle (a warning on the door), but the other time, the work was interactive and no matter how explicit our warnings, folks still seemed to find a way to interact in a dangerous manner. It became a running joke...the increasingly alarming notices...leading us to ponder whether "Do Not Under Any Circumstances Even Consider Moving or Breathing While Interacting With This Art" would do the trick.

I came away from that experience realizing that some work is simply too dangerous to let the public interact with without strict supervision. With this lesson under my belt, then, I was a bit surprised to see the openness with which visitors were able to roam the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern where Doris Salcedo's breathtaking, but clearly dangerous installation, Shibboleth (seen above, with Bambino, somewhat blurry, I'll admit), is on exhibition through April 6, 2008. I mean, I get it conceptually, just not liability-wise.

As could have been expected, folks are hurting themselves on it. From artinfo.com:
Fifteen people were injured in the first four weeks after the installation of Doris Salcedo's Shibboleth at Britain's Tate Modern on October 8, the Times reports.

A crack that widens as it runs the length of the museum's 548-feet-long Turbine Hall, Salcedo's work is intended to symbolize racial hatred and division.

The Tate has positioned staff to monitor visitors around the hall, posted warning signs in the gallery, and distributed leaflets warning of potential injury, but four of the 15 accidents, some of which resulted in minor injuries, have nevertheless been reported to government authorities.

In an internal email, Dennis Ahern, the museum’s head of safety and security, wrote that higher levels of control of entry, barrier or demarcation lines, and laying a sturdy transparent material over certain sections should be considered if it appeared that the existing measures were not enough.

A Tate spokesperson said that there are no plans to employ these protective measures, which, Ahern wrote, have been avoided to preserve the integrity of the work.
I feel for both Ahern and Salcedo in this. The piece does depend on the viewer's ability to sense the danger of it, IMHO, but short of the integrity-compromising steps outlined, how do you ensure no one breaks their leg? In the highly more litigious U.S., I can't imagine a museum taking such a risk.

There is a part of me that feels that Darwinism should be permitted to run its course here. Still, I wouldn't want to be the director/owner of the institution that exhibited such work sitting before the judge and jury deciding the lawsuit brought by the 80-year-old woman who took her grand-daughter to her first museum only to trip on the art and break her nose in the fall.

Then again, I wonder, is the institution solely responsible? Does the artist share some of the liability here? No institution that wants to attract other notable artists would dare not indemnify the artist, but if the integrity of the work truly depends on the risk that viewers will hurt themselves, where do you sensibly draw the line? Consider this an open thread on dangerous art.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about "warning - enter at your own risk"?

I guess art viewers are so conditioned to looking at the walls that they don't notice anything on the floor.

11/27/2007 10:02:00 AM  
Blogger Christopher said...

I once got hit by a pack of cigarettes at a fair in Miami. Oh wait, that was art in Gavin Brown's booth...

11/27/2007 10:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

It's one thing to catch your leg on street holes while sewers are being repaired.

I would need to hear how it happened exactly that people hurted themselves in that installation, because obviously people were visiting this piece to see one large piece of art, and I assume that from the start you can see this work stretching on the floor.

A lot of contemporary art sculptures are dangerous, especially in the case of public art because they are often not expected by the casual viewer. Anyone can knock themselves on a Di Suvero any day.

If this piece had been part of a biennial with a lot of other works surrounding it, it would also have been a problem, but I can't understand that people couldn't use better judgment when the whole space is enclosing this one work.
If it really becomes a source of legal suits, than they can surround the thing with glass panels like they did with Michael Heizer at Dia Beacon. Sometimes protecting the work is enough to demonstrate how dangerous it is, and then everyone is happy (except the artist). I mean, I'd much rather have a dangerous work protected than have it censored not not shown. That's my main concern.

I've had personal worries about censorship too for exhibiting dangerous art in the past (like an unloaded gun attached to a metal string that people could use if they had bullets). Sometimes art is just about trusting your audience (performance artist Marina Abramovic has used a lot of audience trust in some of her own self-dangerous performances). I just think some of art is for adult audience only.

I would not let children run in the Turbine Hall these days, that would be pretty stupid, and kids wouldn't really get anything out of it. Same goes for the Serra retro at Moma recently. With children being refused at the door, than maybe some of the protective glass could have been put aside. Hard to say because in places that attract large public you should always expect lunatics that will touch or press the work just to see if they are REALLY dangerous (like the moron who pressed power on a blender with a fish inside, work by by Marco Evaristti, an artist very interested in this notion od danger).

So the limit to dangerous art to me is "no limit". Just have it protected by glass if too much anxiety arise. I want to see the piece and make my own mind.

As far as Shibboleth, I must be missing some great sense of sensibility. I just can't attach the work to racism. I could read in it something about intellectual elitism provided by art institutions, how much of the art discourse happens in closeted spheres with the common mortal having no influence, or it could be Smithsonian entropy, about museum decay. Or a comment about the utopies of architecture, or about danger itself. But... errr...racism?

"You're a white man Cedric, you can't understand..."

Allright, pass the butter and salt,

Cedric Caspesyan

PS: following the first comment of the thread which I just read: YES !
Have people sign papers that they agree to face the danger ! s simple as that. I wrote these contracts a few times already and never regretted it (yet).

11/27/2007 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

No matter how many signs and warnings posted, the property owner is ultimately responsible. I once worked as a bar tender, there was a trap door behind the bar to restock from the basement. Even if you were aware of or opened the door yourself, someone would,almost every time, fall thru, "dhoow". I hit my head several times on Thomas Lendvai's last installation, large wooden beams really hurt!

11/27/2007 10:49:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I wasn't even talking about Tom's installation. I too banged my head on it a few times (especially when painting the floor beneath it).

We had one piece with nails at about eye level once. Great piece, but I rushed over to stand beside it every time someone entered the gallery.

11/27/2007 10:56:00 AM  
Blogger prettylady said...

Area Man Goes and Gets Himself Hit By a Goddamn Bus

..."It's a street. What do you honestly expect us to do?" city councilman Gordon Hutchinson said. "Should we put up a sign reading, 'Please Do Not Walk Out In Front Of Any Huge Oncoming Buses Here To Corner'? I mean, sure, we could do that, I guess, but I'd like to think most people would already know to avoid that type of thing. Can you believe this guy? Geez, what a dumbass."

11/27/2007 11:46:00 AM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Interesting issue you raise, Ed.

Yes,installations can be dangerous to the institution and its viewers. Certainly a warning is appropriate, maybe no-kids-under-a-certain-age restriction, but in general I notice that Europe is much less uptight about liability issues with regard to its art and architecture than the US.

I thought about this a few years ago when I was climbing over the roof of Notre Dame on a narrow catwalk. Thrilling! But through that rush of adrenaline I remember thinking how crazy it was to be up there, and crazier still that I was allowed to be up there at all. Or reaching the open-air rotunda atop St. Peters and looking out over the Seven Hills--the same view Anita Ekberg and Marcello had in La Dolce Vita. My heart was pounding, and not just from the 342steps I'd just climbed. Could you imagine the Empire State Bulding, for instance, without its 20-foot-high parapet fence? Probably the closest we've come to danger is walking between Serra's massive slabs.

For artists, though, danger is not just in the art on exhibit. There are far greater dangers in the studio as we (mis)use solvents, pigments, resins and other materials, or as we climb too high on ladders, stretch too far to hang work, lift too much when crating. The legacy of all this: lung cancer, brain tumors, getting squashed by elevators, even something as "minor" as carpal tunnel syndrome. Sorry, this is more depressing than I'd intended.

Art can be dangerous to your health.

11/27/2007 11:46:00 AM  
Blogger Tyler said...

Your post brings to mind Antony Gormley's installation at Sean Kelly... when I was there I was thinking, 'I can't IMAGINE this being institutionalized.' And loved it for that.

11/27/2007 11:48:00 AM  
Blogger hovie said...

NY Mag reviews Urs Fischer's "big dig" at Gavin Brown: Can You Dig It?


11/27/2007 11:54:00 AM  
Blogger tim atherton said...

"No matter how many signs and warnings posted, the property owner is ultimately responsible."

Thankfully, in Britain, people who fail to use common sense are more often than not still regarded as fools - even by the courts (and awards for damages are also usually comparatively minimal)...

here's a good first hand take on the Crack


11/27/2007 12:01:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

wonderful write-up Tim...thanks for the link.

Antony Gormley's installation photos don't look that dangerous, Tyler...what are they not capturing? (I know, I know, I have to get over there).

Urs Fischer's "big dig." A zeitgeist...an archaeological metaphor...a freakin' fabulous gesture.

11/27/2007 12:08:00 PM  
Blogger Sean Capone said...

Maybe living in NY has turned me into a curmudgeon of sorts. At any rate my mind is not as open as it used to be regarding the merits of so-called provocational art. Without getting into the debate of 'good art/bad art', I'm thinking more about the role and responsibility of challenging or dangerous art. In a crazy/dangerous/loud/aggravating world, do we really *need* art that seamlessly replicates or reminds us of these experiences? I would ask: in what way is the artist implicated in the danger that he/she is exposing others to? Putting a big crack in the floor, or digging up a gallery foundations (see Urs Fischer at Gavin Brown, another 'Enter at your Own Risk' exhibition), just seems lazy to me and doesn't do much to elevate the discourse on the unexpected and hazardous danger and stress that defines modern life. It's a far cry from shooting yourself in the arm a la Chris Burden, whose brand of danger-as-performance seemed a more provocative statement that implicates the artist and the audience in a discourse about mortality. The danger of art should be (to me) to the mind and senses; creating a hazardous physical environment for hapless and largely non-conceptually minded museum-goers, with the attendant panicky disclaimers and warnings, is pretty boring spectacle-mongering.
Of course, I didn't see the exhibit myself, I'm only speaking to an abstract concept of 'dangerous art' as offered by Ed. People are going to enter an art show thinking they are confronting a mock-danger, like in a carnival, despite the warnings, don't you think?

11/27/2007 02:39:00 PM  
Blogger Tyler said...

Spoiler alert:

The Gormley is a giant room of fog/steam. Once you walk five feet into the thing you're effectively blind and disoriented. You can't see out, you can't remember in... or up or down. The floor is quite slippery.

11/27/2007 02:43:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

Sean Capone brings up an interesting point. Does a work of art succeed if it has to be "real" to the point of being able to break someone's leg in order to work?

Another way to look at the same problem:

As a graduate student, I was (like a good graduate student should) getting all that performance art out of my system, and I got the best advice in a critique I have ever gotten. A professor was watching some video of me doing something I found very thoughtful and relevant on a street, and he stood up and said,

"I've had enough of this! People have better things to do than deal with people like you on the street!"

There is a world of truth to this criticism, and I think about it a lot now that I make public art and work in a public art park.

Context is incredibly important to art, and so it is very easy to just make something that is wrong for the context and mistake that dissonance for thoughtfulness. I haven't seen Salcedo's effort. But if people are tripping in it, then my guess is that people are not seeing it, and that the context is therefore inappropriate.

Chris Burden's Samson is an interesting comparison. Same Threat-In-A-Museum scenario, but set up much more fairly (sensitively?), so that the viewer had a chance to see and control that threat.

11/27/2007 03:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder...

Is the art of 21st Century going to be an expensive one liner group of vacuous objects, performances, installations and copies?

11/27/2007 03:27:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Personally, I've been seriously injured by any number of works of art.


11/27/2007 04:09:00 PM  
Blogger hovie said...

tyler - no spoiler warnings needed. the gallery's press release explicitly mentions the vision limitations as an important part of the work ("the visitor is disoriented by the visceral experience of the fully saturated air, in which visibility is limited to less than two feet"). the artist's website has detailed photos of the phenomenon. (i think ed referred to these photos above). i particularly love the way some people drag their fingers on the glass to keep themselves oriented! (i couldn't help but think of a horror movie, except that the finger trails are horizontal in this case...).

11/27/2007 05:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...sounds just like Disney World...yep, a little better than Disneyland, CA.

...Mickey Mouse can be visceral too!

11/27/2007 06:07:00 PM  
Blogger Tree said...

Even sadder still are all the mothers who now have broken backs...

11/27/2007 08:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

>>>Antony Gormley's installation >>>photos don't look that dangerous

the last one was quite dangerous.
The hundreds metal circles? You had to jigsaw your way inside.

Hey I had an idea for an installation with fog a few years ago but it was (and is still) too expensive for me to realize. It's very different anyway, but if I make it some day you'll know I was not copying Gormley. Lol!

Incidentally, Gormley is preceded by Kurt Hentschläger in the domain of fog installations, and his required the viewer to sign a contract that they were not responsible for personal injuries (it's fantastic but too loud to be exhibited at Moma ever). Kurt was also preceded by James Rosenquist, who also used fog in an installation.

James Rosenquist is preceded by fog being used aplenty in Skinny Puppy concerts in the lates 80's, them preceded by.....you get the idea. ;-)

Cedric Caspesyan

PS: Yes, Europa! So many narrow stairs next to your possible doom !
And just the idea of driving in the Pyrennes in France or the Alps in Switzerland?? Or Corsica, Greece, etc? Many narrow roads next to unprotected cliffs (and filled with cows and whatnot).

11/27/2007 08:15:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Chris burden did a lot of "dangerous" work a long time ago. It's interesting to me that it gets repeated - and Saltz's review in in the NY Mag is as much a rehash as the work itself.

This raises an interesting point, which I'm sure insiders have been discussing for some time - What is the point of keeping these traditions alive?

I understnad the ephenmeral nature of any work of art,a dn that the current (and unoriginal) crack will be soon forgotten. Indeed There is a show soon that consists of no concrete work at all (pun intended).

This is all of course immaterial. Art is whatever people will buy.
Will this post disappear? Sooner or later. Who cares.

11/27/2007 10:41:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Gormley's mist room is devoid of intellectual merrit, but lots of fun. In the same way dangerous work is phenomenologicly interesting, but ultimately vapid. Take for example Andy Goldsworthy - his populist appeal is second only to dale Chihuly. Do you see the link? Ad in Stuff like indoor "suns" and bathrooms with waterfalls you piss into, and you got an art movement.

11/27/2007 10:46:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Calling a crack in the floor "shibboleth" is pretty funny though, if you think about it. I guess titles are important.

11/27/2007 10:50:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Engineers have a principal, I wish I knew what they call it, that you can't re-design people so you have to design for the people we have. Not everyone reads signs. Sometimes people assume a public space is safe and are looking the other way when they encounter an unprotected hole in the floor. This is not a flaw of people. It is a flaw of design.

It really bugs me that some, many, artists believe they are above the consideration of common sense.

Next time try using a metaphor.

11/28/2007 04:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

>>> There is a show soon that >>>consists of no concrete work at >>>all (pun intended).


What's the PR?

>>It really bugs me that some, >>>many, artists believe they are >>>above the consideration of >>>common sense.

Oh no, I don't think common sense is a good thing to drag into arts.
You sure? I think the signed contract will do. Not everyone is forced to enter a XXX Peep Show, and so not everyone should be forced to confront harsh art. By making them sign a piece of paper, you make sure that your audience agree to enter a space where common sense is a bit thrown upside down.


Cedric Caspesyan

11/28/2007 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

can you dig it?

reads like nostalgia to me.

11/28/2007 12:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Oh my God, this Sehgal is pretentious shite.

Not that I would mind a guard undressing himself in a museum, but, all the market surrounding the pieces, it's just such a big lack of generosity. Go buy yourself a Yoko Ono instruction book, bummer.

And immaterrial art is far from new. This is again just a system of righ ear - right journalist - right gallerist than makes people believe they've found something.

There was a whole show with only cardboard titles in the UK at some point. I did a piece in 1994, was called "A Soul Has No Name", it was not presented as a piece of art but as a theatre piece. The piece was that, as soon as you walked inside a space you had to take a sheet and read it (and say some part of it aloud if you fell like it).

The only reason I draw this example is...I called it "theatre", goddammit. Get a clue about the medium you are using. Sehgal is doing theatre-performance, he's only trying to sell his script or scenario. If it's a visual tableau a la Vanessa Beecroft, than you can't really involve narrative. That's just like video art refusing to be called cinema when they present standard drama.

The worst trend these days is really more like other fields (cinema, theatre) trying to
be objectified and sold as works
of visual arts. It's just awful.
It's just brings the Jesus In The Temple barking within me.


Cedric Caspesyan

11/28/2007 01:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

You know, when Beuys talked about social sculpture, he meant doing projects for the greater good of everybody. And so, the objects he sold in galleries were often objects used in real life achievments, and their sale simply meant to finance those projects (and lend an artistic aura to more political actions).

Basically, if art is idea than the social is sculpture.

Attempting to sell ideas that involves social participation, like Sehgal does, is kind of like trying to patent and market social behavior. It's almost a precedent to police of thought. Maybe I'm stretching, but something is wrong here.

Will I get sued because I pronunce a Sehgal script freely in a museum? "This Is New", I'm saying it right here on a chat. Is that legal? What's the copyright of talking? What is owned?

Something tells me that Sehgal is working against my social sculpture. I don't like it. It wasn't that pretty as it is.

Expiation !!!
(Now I feel like that lady in The Mist)

Cedric Caspesyan

11/28/2007 01:40:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

don;t go to fist city

or you will just legitimize it. If you do attend, then of course you are creatign buzz, but on the other fist, you are taking away form the cache of exclusivity.

Attention or entrainment is a commodity, if not the commodity of advertising.

11/28/2007 02:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Nah, I don't think art can durate when it's merely well advertised.
You need approval.

Sehgal succeeds because people really think that naked guards in a museum is fun, and that's totally understandable.

I was more questioning the behind-the-scenes here than the legitimity of the artworks. Most people including me would probably enjoy a Segahl intervention, but I question the politics or ethics behind happening at places where it starts to be less fun ("this is MY work, pay for it you bastard, and don't you take photographs, cos I'm Mr. Immaterial, etc..").

I assume most people encountering a piece by Sehgal would consider it an "event" more than a work of visual arts, and I'm baffled at the intelligentsia that is trying to shift common sense in order to expand art as a market. That's where I'm coming from. Everything can be art, but not everything can be visual arts, unless you intend to insult the longstandig codes of other artistic traditions.

The art of now is not the art of now but the art of edition. Anything is thrown as a limited edition. Beckett or Fishinger must have been pretty stupid cos they could have sold their theatres of films as editions of 4 or 5 copies at expensive prices to museums. See where I'm getting? It's not art the problem, it's the culture of edition, privacy, ownership, luxury, and Sehgal is just baffling my intelligence by how he is gettig away with it.

Mind you I am perhaps not so much in need of money to make such a hustler of myself culturally.

Cedric Caspesyan

11/28/2007 05:58:00 PM  

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