Because of the art market capitalism on display last week in NY, the Occupy Museums people decided to protest the New York Armory Show by inviting all NY artists to show up outside the Armory and exchange artwork with other artists, the Armory visitors and the public. They requested that artists eschew profit in order to trade or give away artworks. They posted a few videos of the
|Mierle Laderman Ukeles performs "maintenance art" at a museum, 1973. [Image: black & white photo of a young white woman cleaning a glass case with a cloth.]|
GAH.... I really want to be excited about #OccupyMuseums but they need to get their shit together and provide, or at least propose, some real alternatives to the for-profit gallery system. I mean really, they want me-- a broke artist-- to produce art at my own expense (time and money, no matter how you slice it), then show up on a cold street-corner and hawk it to strangers who don't appear to want it anyway? I can do basically the same thing at a gallery, plus indoor heating and personal safety.
I think the thing that really irks me about the #OccupyMuseums people is that they don't pay their respects to the decades of art activists, cooperative galleries, critics, scholars and communities that have already been exploring this issue, the institutional critiques of feminist performance artists like Mierle Laderman Ukeles or curatorial artists such as Fred Wilson (Mining the Museum, 1992). No acknowledgement or building upon what has already been tried and suggested in terms of critiquing the gallery system. No only that but no critical, art historical recognition of art movements such as conceptual art that re-interpreted art as something other than a physical object to be traded or sold, or media such as video and computer-based or web-based art that are poised to operate completely outside the market of physical art objects. In fact the contemporary art world is bursting with artists, cooperatives, organizations and even gangs seeking to subvert, critique, re-invent, or obliterate the world of galleries, museums and the art market.
|Detail of Fred Wilson's Mining the Museum (1992), showing "Metalwork: 1723--1880." [Image: photograph of a display of an ornate silver tea service with a pair of iron slave handcuffs.]|
So after many of the greatest talents of the contemporary art world have devoted entire careers to the issue, why is #OccupyMuseums trying to reinvent the wheel? Because they are ignoring and dismissing the work already done, or because they never bothered to look into it in the first place before swooping in to rescue us all? Additionally, as Murdock Pemberton pointed out a century ago, artists tend to act individually while bristling at collective action, which makes the Occupy movement a particularly bad fit for the role of art intervention.
I would love to see #OccupyMuseums join with artists, connect the financial critiques of OWS with institutional critique, use their networks to educate and excite ordinary people and protesters about what artists are already doing today in this realm.