Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘AHD’

A couple of weeks ago, DIE ZEIT published an article on democracy in art museums.

The article accepts that a museum is ‘a political space’ [1] and that there is validity in arguments calling for greater democracy and diversity therein [2]. However, the article asserts, these developments ‘almost inevitably endanger the freedom of art’ [3] since museums no longer ‘[defend] the freedom of art against all protests’ [4]. This defense, the article concludes, should be based on aesthetic value.

 

Much of what goes on in the article is illustrative of the wider museum-related discourse in Germany, so I feel like making a few observations.

 

  1. The language of war

I find it truly revealing that the language used is that of war. Democracy (and participation) in museums ‘endangers’ the ‘freedom’ of art, which museums must ‘defend’. In other words, this is a scenario of museums vs. the rest of the world; museums ‘defending’ a higher good. It is this kind of attitude that shores up resistance to democratisation processes within museums.

 

  1. Aesthetics as Power

The article places aesthetic values above ethical values such as, for example, animal rights (see below). Ethics, of course, is something that concerns all of us in our daily lives. It is the basis of human societies through laws and religion, it deals with how we want to be treated and how we treat others. In one way or another, we each of us have knowledge, or at least an informed opinion about ethical values which we can voice and argue. Aesthetic value, however, is something quite different. An evaluation of aesthetic value requires knowledge of art history and artistic techniques in order to be more than a simple, and thus easily dismissed statement of personal taste. By placing aesthetic over ethical value we are therefore back to an authorizing, that is, power-giving discourse that asserts that only experts (i.e. museums) can understand and thus determine the value of art. The public’s values, which in this case are ethical values, are being dismissed as less important.

 

  1. Museums in a bubble

To assert that ethical value matters nothing in the evaluation of art and that, in essence, only the expert’s (i.e. the museum’s) aesthetic evaluation should count, is to say that both art and the museums that show it are entirely separate from society and context (see point 1 above). Accordingly, the values, even the laws of society are not to be brought into the bubble. This is why the article can decry the ‘ready’ removal by the Guggenheim Museum in New York of ‘Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other’ by Penk Yu and Sun Yuan after 830.000 people petitioned for it because, alas, animal rights matter nothing when it comes to art. Art and museums are thus a law upon themselves, a separate universe: one which must be defended.

 

  1. Expert cowardice

Ludicrous as I personally find the dismissal of ethical values when it comes to art, I actually have no objection to museums ‘defending’ art on aesthetic grounds. What I do find objectionable, however, is that most museums aren’t actually ‘defending’ their opinions at all – they are simply not putting them up for debate. They use their control of the museum space to present only their own view. So while many, like this article’s author, bemoan the supposedly negative impacts of democracy on museums, in reality most museums are still not engaging in true democracy at all.

 

  1. Political correctness

In my experience of museum discourse in Germany, there are many who, like this article, will readily grant that there must be more participation in museums, more diversity, more inclusion – you name it. I pose that this is said not out of conviction, but out of  political correctness. For when it comes to let action follow words, which can only mean to allow greater debate within museums, to share power, and to make visible other views, these same people argue that for reasons of expertise, science and knowledge more participation/diversity/inclusion isn’t possible. The spectre of lessened quality and false information is raised to scare everyone back into accepting what is really little more but those in power doing everything they can to hold on to it.

 

 

 

Notes

[1] ‘ein politischer Ort’, my translation.

[2] ‘[Museums] have understood that [official art history]…has mostly been told from a Eurocentric, white, male perspective’ (‘Sie [Museen] haben begriffen, dass die klassische Fortschrittsgeschichte der Kunst, die in der Avantgarde ihren Höhepunkt fand, viele bline Flecken aufweist, weil sie meist aus einer eurozentrischen, mnnlichen, weißen Perspektive erzählt wurde.’) My translation.

[3] ‘Allerdings gerät damit die Freiheit der Kunst…fast unweigerlich in Gefahr.’ My translation.

[4] ‘Sie [Museen] hätten die Freiheit der Kunst gegen alle Proteste verteidigt.’ My translation.

Read Full Post »