Friday, July 01, 2005

The Museum

“Throughout the 1990s biennials and other art events were founded across the globe, while cities built new museums of contemporary art, or expanded old ones. The activities of these museums became steadily more commercial as they internalized corporate models of activity, establishing alliances with business, bringing their products closer to commercial culture, and modeling themselves less on libraries than shops and theme parks.”

“Art Incorporated” by Julian Stallabrass p14 2004.

The museum is the best job I have ever had, (though still not good enough to tolerate for an extended period of time). The people, at least on my level of the workforce, were goodhearted and intelligent, and I don’t use these adjectives in some clichéd sense because they sound nice. They really exemplified these particular qualities. It felt good to be in a place where my usual social paranoia was assuaged and I could just be myself, and the people were intelligent enough to have conversations that were fruitful in themselves, as opposed to noise to avoid awkwardness.

Now we are done with the good parts; on to the inevitable bad. It felt like the artists, the cultural equivalents of the people who actually made the artwork hanging up in the museum, were always at the bottom with the worst jobs in the museum. To be in a management position one had to be a white girl from a middle class background with no passion for art with training in a corporate field. That is why I like the excerpt above so much, and particularly the sentence “internalized corporate models of activity.” The management of the museum has a love affair with these perfect (though useless) white girls with huge engagement rings, and particularly with corporate models of activity (though the department I worked in had notable exceptions and was free of these people up to a certain level) .

For example, I was working in the coatroom during a special event. A special event occurs when the museum is essentially set up to be a cheesey night club ( the first Batman) after hours wherein a specific corporation would have the Dali exhibit all to itself. I would hang up their coats and listen to their Dali chatter. For the most part the people were nice though there were some exceptions (I would list them, but every group had nice people). On this particular night I was by myself, which wasn’t a big deal, but “special events,” one of the more corporate departments in the museum who had no problem trashing a room for you to clean up the next day, felt that only having one person in the coat room was giving a bad image to the corporation which in attendance. They instructed some of their younger ones to go into the coat room to give off the image of having two people, but this did not imply, as one might think, that they would actually have to hang any coats up. That would be demeaning. So there I was hanging up coats with a useless white girl next to me just standing there because they were too good to hang up coats.

The point to this example is that I think the museum should stop hiring these people and drop its love affair with corporate models of activity. A place like the museum should be filled with people who are passionate about art, not people who are just trying to get an easy semi-prestigious job so they can tell people they work at the museum, and definitely not people who feel they are too good to hang up a coat. There are plenty of intelligent, hard working art graduates out there willing to devote themselves to something like the museum, and one does not have to have a degree in communications to sit in on meetings all day. Keep corporate America and all of its dogmas out of the museum. Fine art is already too isolated from certain portions of society to be hiring perfect little rich girls to control its destiny.

It must be noted that I was completely cut off from the artistic part of the museum (i.e. conservationists and curators) though I assume they are people are dedicated to art, and had to endure a great deal and competition to get where they are. I think the museum is, on some level, concerned with ensuring everyone is able to see the art it collects, and it sees its close ties to corporate America as a necessary evil in that quest. Unfortunately, by having these “gala” events the museum is playing right into its stereotype as a place that is foremost a social tool for the rich with a secondary role as a museum during the day.

Another issue is that there is always an air of bankruptcy at the museum. Many answers to visitor questions went something along the lines of "well we need to do this because otherwise we would go under." The reason why I don’t buy this excuse is because I think the museum is financially well off, it just makes it seem as though it is not. I think it is unfortunate that the arts everywhere are starving, but these huge city wide art museums are rolling in cash yet they still demand more. It seems as though the museum has taken in the dogma of economic growth; a kind of manifest destiny for the museum that that sees more wealth as always preferable to making the museum a better place to see artwork. I can say with confidence that if any institution cannot survive with the money that museum is making, changes should be made.

What I believe is happening (and I could be wrong) is that when the museum gets more money it expands its operations or collection to the point where it needs more money. Not that this is a bad thing in itself, but the money could probably be better spent, for instance in art programs in public schools that really do reach out to the entire population. When a corporation gives money to the Philadelphia museum of art it isn’t really moving the money that far away from itself. It is shoring up its own interests.

I originally wrote this about two weeks after after I stopped working (mid May). Not long after, the answer to all of the money grubbing showed up on the front page of the newspaper. This is a colossal waste of resources for. How many masterpieces can one imbibe in a day?

PMA Expansion

And some snazzy graphics to go along…

No comments: