Britney @ MoMA
"Backpedal! Backpedal now!" cried the diplomat's voice in my head...but it was too late. I had to own that I had insulted my host. (I think I first quickly scanned the room for Bambino, but he was off charming someone, and well, there was nothing to do but stew in it.) I received a response to why the show was in the museum, but I have to confess to not really hearing it...so loud was the diplomat's voice in my head berating me.
My boorish behavior notwithstanding, I doubt the rationale would have changed my opinion. I like the few temples of fine art we have to reserve their limited resources for fine art projects. Pop culture rules the rest of the world (truly, is there anywhere you can be and not find it?). Why must the fine art venues show it too?
Oh, I suspect the earnest answer to that question would be that only a well-trained curator can properly show us how transcendental or sublime Pixar's images truly are. And while I might quibble with that if pushed, I'd suggest that this education is equally possible in museums not reserved for fine art, where the mixed messages being sent to the public about intellectual and aesthetic (over commercial) pursuit or artist's intent (over producer's) won't water down the impact of their educational mission.
Then again, a perhaps more earnest answer might be that presenting the cream of the crop in intellectual and aesthetic pursuits takes money and lots of it and that crowd-pleasing exhibitions with mass market appeal bring in money and lots of it. I fully understand that, especially in these economic times. But the risk here isn't really that occassionally museums will need to present blockbuster crowd pleasers...rather that pop culture will insidiously seep in and like the weed it is continue to displace other efforts.
Don't be silly, Ed, I can hear curators saying. We're not spending all the time we are at school and in galleries and in studios to be defeated in our efforts to bring the best art we can into our museums. The thing is, I don't think it will happen that way. It will happen the other way around. Charlie Finch hints at how the takeover will occur:
There is a new Vonage television commercial, in which satisfied customers toss their old, higher phone bills over their shoulders to form a pyramid-like stack in a corner which looks exactly like a Felix Gonzalez-Torres pile of hard candy, the difference being that, in the commercial, you add to the stack, rather than taking one away.Bambino and I read the disclaimer on the AT&T commercial the other day and scratched our heads. The New York Times recently talked about it:
This is not the first time that some enterprising Madison Avenue type has appropriated the work of an artist unknown to the world at large to sell something in TV land. Among recent such borrowings are Doug Aitken’s video billboards and his video of an empty shopping cart in a parking lot, Maurizio Cattelan’s little boy on a tricycle and his elephant covered in a sheet. AT&T is currently bigfooting the trope with a TV spot directly ripped from Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s The Gates, a borrowing so over the top that it may have inspired Vonage’s sly art world rejoinder. The reasons these familiar art world motifs are so easy to steal is that no one in the outside world knows about them. [emphasis mine]
Back in the 1950s. Madison Avenue played on the familiarity of fine art to its wider audience in order to sell things. Dutch Masters Cigars was self-explanatory, and Whistler’s Mother and the ever-popular Mona Lisa were ubiquitous. All of Magritte’s distortions dominated liquor ads. Nowadays, the Ad Council runs a piece of stupidity under a Caravaggio pic of a young swain with the caption, "I’ll bet your kid thinks that Caravaggio was one of the Sopranos."
Far from its ostensible claim to educate the public in the finer things artwise, what Big Media wants is to obliterate fine art as a recognizable cultural touchstone so that episodes of Lost, Avatar and Geico caveman commercials will dominate the virtual museums of tomorrow. And our art world accommodates this policy perfectly, both high and low.
Here is a response from Steven Schwadron, a public relations executive at Fleishman-Hillard who serves as a spokesman for AT&T: “The artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude have had and have no direct or indirect affiliation or involvement with the creation of AT&T’s advertising.”The part in quotes appears in small print in the commercial, although I don't recall seeing it the first time we watched it, leading me to wonder if they added it in response to inquiries. Either way, I have to wonder if that's all they feel it takes to totally rip off an artist (a declaration that the artists have no direct involvement with their efforts). UPDATE: The fact that the same disclaimer appears on AT&T's homepage suggests that perhaps there are lawyers involved.
Now I actually have no issue with virtual museums (or physical museums) of tomorrow showcasing all the truly creative efforts that go into pop culture or even advertising. There's a lot of talent out there that deserves to be recognized. Indeed, build a new space, exhibit what you want, and I'd probably visit it. I simply don't feel that blurring the line between work created first and foremost with commercial concerns dictating decisions (usually with a committee of others, many with non-creative objectives, having major influence) and work created with intellectual and aesthetic decisions first and foremost guiding its creator, un-interfered with, will serve anyone but the advertisers. As Charlie notes, Big Media wins it all if they can "obliterate fine art as a recognizable cultural touchstone." Our fine art temples shouldn't be helping them in that effort.