Friday, September 10, 2010

Tempest in an Irish Teapot

Back in July, I noted how pleased I was that Corban Walker has been selected to represent Ireland at the 2011 Venice Biennale and that Emily-Jane Kirwan, a director of The Pace Gallery in New York (which represents Corban), had been appointed Irish commissioner. In the comments of that thread some anonymous commenter snarked:
gotta love the ingrained conflicts of interest in the art world -- the director of a big commercial gallery picks one of her own artists to represent Ireland. What is great for business is great for art.
I ignored the comment at the time, knowing that it was completely wrong on at least two counts:
  1. given this choice is not at all traditional (i.e., selecting as the commissioner of a nation's pavilion an art dealer who represents the artist being honored), it hardly represents an "ingrained" anything
  2. knowing that the commissioner was not at all involved in the selection of the artist for the pavilion, but will simply serve her nation of birth as an administrator of the pavilion, it is incorrect to assert that she "picked one of her own artists" the artist, she was invited by the the organizations The Arts Council of Ireland and Culture Ireland to serve.
In hindsight, I wish I had made a point of correcting that anonymous commenter's assertions of commercial infestation of the hallowed Biennale. Perhaps such a response would have led to some influence over the somewhat embarrassing article The Art Newspaper has now run on the "controversy." And by embarrassing, I mean mostly the second paragraph quoted below:

Madeline Boughton, the director of showcases and communications at Culture Ireland, responded: “Many artists exhibiting at the Venice Biennale are represented by major international galleries and it is a function of the scale and competitiveness of the international visual arts market that there are often close links between artists, independent curators and gallerists. The selection panel was aware of this when making its decision.”

However, other curators are less convinced. “This is a terrible decision. Everyone has become so cynical that they no longer see any difference between the public and the private sectors and simply do not care about conflicts of interest. Certain lines must not be crossed, certain categories must not be confused or conflated, and ethical stand­ards must be strictly ap­plied,” said a veteran biennale curator who did not want to be named.

I'm sorry, but if the Art Newspaper were publishing the Pentagon Papers or some similarly top-secret expose of international impact (rather than a relationship that the selection panel was aware of when it made its autonomous decision) then offering such an inflammatory and highly subjective quote from some unnamed source might, just might, mind you, pass as responsible journalism, but in this case it's simply laughable. In my opinion, the part of the article that best represents responsible reporting was offered at its tail end:
Boughton said that the Venice Biennale organisers had been notified of Ireland’s 2011 selections and that the commissioner selection criteria does not exclude applicants from working in the private/commercial sector. She also pointed out that the Pace Gallery did not apply for the commissioner position.

She added: “In the case of the 2011 process, the appointment was a tripartite one, with the commissioner appointed jointly with the curator and the artist. It is the entire concept that is shortlisted and subsequently selected by the panel. Kirwan has a history of working with Walker over many years, predating his representation at the Pace Gallery.

Boughton concluded: “It is common practice for commissioners to combine their role as commissioner for Venice with their other commitments.” [emphasis mine]
I am, as noted in my previous post on this, not unbiased in my support of Corban's selection, but that doesn't mean I can't guffaw at a sensationalistic anonymous quote in a report from what I can only assumed must have been an awfully difficult time of year to get someone on record about something.

Labels: journalism, Venice Biennale 2011


Blogger joy said...

Ed, thanks so much for clarifying and untangling... and for point the finger at that particular sensationalist remark, in this case, an anonymous one. (Indeed, they so often are). What really takes the cake is that it was uttered by a "veteran biennale curator" - we all got a taste of how those particular vets love to snipe at their successors from that now-infamous series
of down-and-dirty exchanges between Bonami, Enwezor and Storr (et al.) that hit the Letters section of Artforum like so much slush on a hot frying pan a couple of summers ago... it doesn't get much cattier than that!

9/10/2010 12:15:00 PM  

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