Sunday, 24 April 2011

Eating in Art Galleries- Is this really news-worthy?

The Director of Enjoy Inspire Consulting, a company which consults to tourism and arts sectors in stage planning and risk management, wrote a rather interesting article. He believes that art galleries have become inaccessible, a fact which I have believed for a number of years, however, while I believe it is directly related to the snobbery and elitism which engulf the arts and the public’s reluctance to engage with the unknown and apparently scary world of art, Darren McClelland believes it’s because he can’t eat his lunch in the gallery.

He conducts a risk assessment and deduces that the risk of someone touching a work of art with soiled hands could be avoided through signage, security, ect., therefore the risk would be small. After all, ‘many of the works were framed in glass’ and consisted of works ‘of the 20th century’ so even in the event said signs and security did not work the damage would be minimal and far less drastic than had the work been ‘a Botticelli in an early Renaissance exhibition.’ So damage to modern art is apparently A-OK.

McClelland then moves on to discuss how galleries are willing to allow food and drink inside- risks be damned- during an opening. Director of the Ian Potter Museum of Art in Melbourne, Chris McAuliffe, elaborates on this, ‘We are more likely to accept the associated risks if the works are from our own collection... But the art comes first: I’d rather the loan (from another gallery) with no food and drink than the other way round’. Exactly. The art comes first. Hence the no food and drink rule. Also, an opening is a highly controlled environment from the amount of food and drink available, the type of food and drink served to the number of people allowed into the usually controlled space. Security is usually able to be concentrated in this one particular area- unlike a normal lunch hour in which control would be a great deal more difficult.

However, according to McClelland ‘The CBD gallery I visited was denying the opportunity for thousands of office workers to take in their exhibition at a time of day that makes it practically possible for them.’ He continues to explain that damage to art is unfortunate but, hey, art does get damaged ‘from time to time’ and art is merely a ‘fragment of life. In life bad things happen.... But life goes on.’ Yes, life does go on but perhaps not for that irreplaceable Andy Warhol which thousands of office workers have soiled with their food covered fingers on their lunch break. Food covered hands is only a part of it. Food and drink is not allowed in galleries for the same reason it is not allowed in libraries or on public transport- because no matter how many signs you put up or how many extra staff you need to pay to police these new regulations- accidents happen and at the end of the day it will be up to someone else to clean up your mess. Most stores will enforce a “you break it you bought it” policy; well perhaps such a policy should be instilled in galleries? Perhaps if you accidentally spill that drink on a Picasso then you should be responsible for the couple of grand price tag.

A smart gallery, according to McClelland, would perform risk assessments for each exhibition and steps can be put in place such as roping off valuable works with signage which prohibit touching of work and littering. I’m fairly certain that touching and littering are already things which are not permitted in galleries- right up there with food and drink. He then concludes that ‘visitors are mostly respectful of their environment and the few who are not should be educated by gallery staff, not banished.’ Finally, something we agree upon- yes, people should be educated about art and galleries and made less apprehensive about them but not so they can eat in a gallery without fear of persecution. To be completely honest there are greater issues in the arts then simply whether a visitor is allowed to munch on a sandwich whilst checking out a Monet.
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Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Are Art Fairs Killing Art?

A while back I wrote about the advent of the online VIP Art Fair and was told, in no uncertain terms, that I had interpreted the whole thing wrong. Therefore imagine the validation I felt when I read a few months back that the first VIP Art Fair left dealers disgruntled and more than one person asking for their money back. Apparently the organisers had underestimated the popularity of the site and it caused pages to load slowly and the chat function was disabled altogether. Amidst rumours of refund demands, the organisers offered a 50 percent discount to all participants while they begin to re- examine their business model.

Organisers believe they can move forward from this turbulent start and make the VIP Art Fair more than simply a once a year occurrence. Visitors can use the site to map out their trip to galleries within certain countries- essentially becoming an electronic Lonely Planet- and they can retain access to their favourite artworks. Galleries will be able to continue using the private rooms of their virtual booths all year round which claim to be far more elaborate than your average jpeg. This is all well and good and kudos for making amends but I still don’t think I’m convinced on this whole VIP Art Fair thing. The name alone just irks me. It implies an elitism that I don’t feel is present at Basil or Frieze or Zoo, at least, not immediately.

One man who is completely against art fairs- virtual or no- is Charlie Finch. Writing for Artnet, Finch claims that the worst month of the year in New York is that of the art fairs. “Art fairs are to looking at art what porn is to making love: a wide variety of partial impressions which draw one away from and ultimately shatter the whole experience.” He taps into the neediness of artists and the steady increase of artists being represented by galleries over the last few years. He believes this increase is due to art fairs. Instead of shows in galleries these artists are shipping their work to art fairs as this is where the cash flow is for the gallery. Finch believes “... the product, the art, has become formulaic and debased.” Art is product, “wall filler for people so wealthy that, after six cars, four houses and two boats, they have run out of things to buy, except for the product called art.” And I thought I was cynical.

So as with most things there are two sides to every story. I do wonder how Finch would feel about the VIP Art Fair. Does it perpetrate the formulaic and debased product we call art to those looking to simply fill a blank wall? Or does its online nature eliminate pretenders?
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