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Congratulations! You are now a member of the art cult

Sarah Farrar on the works in <EM>Framing the Museum</EM>


<P data-associrn="36257"></P><P data-associrn="1416446"></P> <P>In Peter Tyndall’s painting, on display in the exhibition <EM>Framing the Museum</EM>, a 1950s-style cartoon family stands in for a contemporary museum visitor: tidy, curious, and well behaved. The viewer is, disarmingly, congratulated on being the latest member of the ‘art cult’. Meanwhile, in the neighbouring gallery, contemporary M&#257;ori artist Peter Robinson’s <EM>Strategic plan</EM> (1996) offers nine cynical strategies for achieving global domination of the art world. These include: ‘Kiss ass and grease as many palms as possible’ and ‘Use foreign language no matter how banal – this adds exoticism and snob value’.</P> <P>Both Tyndall’s and Robinson’s works are a reminder of the power structures that determine what a museum displays, and what never gets seen. As the art critic Brian O’Doherty notes in his book, <EM>Inside the White Cube</EM>, </P> <BLOCKQUOTE style="MARGIN-RIGHT: 0px" dir=ltr> <P dir=ltr align=left><EM>the way pictures are hung makes assumptions about what is offered. Hanging editorialises on matters of interpretation and value, and is unconsciously influenced by taste and fashion. Subliminal cues indicate to an audience its deportment.</EM><SUP><FONT size=2>1</FONT></SUP></P></BLOCKQUOTE> <P>Following this lead, what might visitors deduce through the act of looking, or better still, scrutinising the works in <EM>Framing the Museum</EM>? What can be surmised from what is on display through its content, its arrangement, and its interpretation? What subliminal cues might viewers be receiving?</P> <P data-associrn="1442193"></P> <P><STRONG>We will no longer be seen and not heard</STRONG></P> <P>Let’s start with a rough analysis by numbers. How many works in the show are by female artists? The answer is 30 percent. (The Christo works date from before he acknowledged his wife, Jeanne-Claude, as his artistic collaborator.)</P> <P>In 1985, an anonymous collective of women artists and activists established the ‘Guerrilla Girls’ to ‘undermine the idea of a mainstream narrative by revealing the understory, the subtext, the overlooked, and the downright unfair’.<SUP><FONT size=2>2</FONT></SUP> For almost three decades now, the collective has ‘fought discrimination with facts’.<SUP><FONT size=2>3</FONT></SUP> No doubt an analysis by the numbers is something they would approve of. In fact, if the Guerrilla Girls were to issue a report card to me as this show’s curator, mine might say ‘could do much better’, or possibly even ‘failing miserably’. Ouch. I promise to do better next time, Guerrilla Girls.</P> <P data-associrn="36996"></P> <P>The woman who appears in American artist Barbara Kruger’s work <EM>Untitled (We are unsuitable for framing)</EM> (1985) has her hand up in front of her face and refuses our gaze. She is no passive subject, and doesn’t sit comfortably in either a physical or conceptual frame. Like many of Kruger’s works, this one challenges the viewer to consider the representation of women in Western art and popular culture. Women have long been subjects of art works, and there have always been women artists. But their work remains less well known than their male counterparts. Indeed, it is a sad fact that some of the ironic statements in the Guerrilla Girls’ list of <EM>The advantages of being a woman artist</EM> (1989) continue to ring uncomfortably true today: ‘Working without the pressure of success’, ‘Not having to undergo the embarrassment of being called a genius’.</P> <P>In a 1971 essay, the feminist art historian Linda Nochlin asked, ‘Why have there been no great women artists?’ Reading the essay in 2014, you might be tempted to wonder what’s changed:</P> <BLOCKQUOTE style="MARGIN-RIGHT: 0px" dir=ltr> <P dir=ltr align=left><EM>… the arts as in a hundred other areas, are stultifying, oppressive, and discouraging to all those, women among them, who did not have the good fortune to be born white, preferably middle class and, above all, male.</EM><SUP><FONT size=2>4</FONT></SUP></P></BLOCKQUOTE> <P>This chimes with the opinion of one recent visitor to <EM>Ng&#257; Toi</EM> | <EM>Arts Te Papa</EM>. Responding to a question on the Sounding Board discussion wall, ‘Who does Te Papa represent?’, she commented, ‘As a woman of colour, it’s certainly not me.’</P> <P data-associrn="1454567"></P> <P>Kruger’s other work in the exhibition, <EM>Untitled (We will no longer be seen and not heard)</EM> (1985), is less about gender politics than it is about bringing attention to anyone who feels marginalised or silenced in society. The people depicted in this work are not just women, but men and children too (a group familiar with the instruction to be ‘seen and not heard’). Each of the nine panels includes a single word and a found image of a person making a hand gesture, suggestive of sign language. Collectively, the panels make up the statement, ‘We will no longer be seen and not heard’. </P> <P data-associrn="48048"></P> <P data-associrn="194093"></P> <P><STRONG>On the outside looking in</STRONG></P> <P>Peter Roche and Linda Buis’s original <EM>Museum piece</EM> (1980) was a one-off performance, without an audience. The artists circumnavigated Auckland Museum in the middle of the night, each taking photographs of the imposing edifice at 20-minute intervals.</P> <P>Roche and Buis later created an artists’ book to document the performance, but in <EM>Framing the Museum</EM>, the work meets a wide public audience for the first time. <EM>Museum piece</EM> (1993) is a physical gallery installation. Seven photographs and seven clocks show different times – each representing a different moment in the performance. The artists look at the museum, and look again – methodically, repetitively, almost obsessively – though always from the outside.</P> <P>The 1993 work was conceived as a way of representing the original performance in a form that could enter the national art collection. (Roche had been in discussion with National Art Gallery curator Christina Barton, who recognised that performance art is by its nature fleeting and therefore difficult to collect. It continues to be woefully under-represented in museums.) An ephemeral performance that was never intended to have an audience has now been brought, definitively, <EM>inside</EM> the museum. What does this say about the way exhibitions ‘stage’, or construct, experiences? How does the performance’s transformation into a ‘museum piece’ change the way the viewer interprets it?</P> </P><P data-associrn="39059"></P> <P><STRONG>Institutional critique</STRONG></P> <P>Artists who make works that challenge the art system – whether their target is the art institution, the art academy, or the art market - are referred to as practising ‘institutional critique’. Such artists engage activist tactics, but predominantly work within the system they critique, rather than outside of it. </P> <P>The German American artist Hans Haacke is widely considered to be the godfather of institutional critique. His art works often involve extensive research into things that most museums would prefer to gloss over or ignore, such as dodgy provenance, or contested ownership. His artist’s book <EM>Framing and being framed</EM> (1975) documents several of his projects, including <EM>Manet-PROJEKT ’74</EM>. That work charted the history of ownership of Édouard Manet’s <EM>Bunch of asparagus</EM> (1880), up to the point where the painting entered the collection of the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne, Germany. Haacke revealed that the work had passed through many hands over the years, including a Jewish family and a collector with Nazi sympathies. The Wallraf-Richartz Museum refused to loan the Manet painting for any display of Haacke’s project. Haacke instead chose to display an obvious reproduction of the work, underlining the ways in which museums may refuse to engage in critique, or seek to control the interpretation of the works in their collections.</P> <P data-associrn="39944"> <P><STRONG>Social grease</STRONG></P> <P>Another project Haacke featured in <EM>Framing and being framed</EM> is <EM>On social grease</EM> (1975) - a series of plaques inscribed with quotes from political and business leaders about the economic and social benefits of arts philanthropy. The book is open to a page with this gem from David Rockefeller, which I’ve made a note to try and incorporate into my next pitch for corporate sponsorship:</P> <BLOCKQUOTE style="MARGIN-RIGHT: 0px" dir=ltr> <P dir=ltr align=left><EM>involvement in the arts can … provide a company with extensive publicity and advertising, a brighter public reputation, and an improved corporate image. It can build better customer relations, a readier acceptance of company products, and a superior appraisal of their quality. Promotion of the arts can improve the morale of employees and help attract qualified personnel. </EM></P></BLOCKQUOTE> <P>If only the owners of the Allied Chemical Tower in New York’s Times Square had shared Rockefeller’s enthusiasm for the arts. In 1971, Christo’s proposal to cover their corporate headquarters in one of his signature building ‘wraps’ was rejected. The abandoned proposal is one of a portfolio of five ‘(Some) not realised projects’ that Christo produced at the time; the other unrealised projects include proposals to wrap New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. </P> <P>Christo and Jeanne-Claude have ‘wrapped’ the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (1969), a large chunk of Sydney’s coastline (1969), and Berlin’s Reichstag (1972/92). It is somewhat surprising that they have been unable to get traction on these major projects in their hometown – particularly when two of the institutions concerned are dedicated to the display and promotion of modern and contemporary art.</P> <P><STRONG>Selling out?</STRONG></P> <P>In 1968, art critic John Gruen asked an obvious enough question: ‘Why does Christo want to wrap things?’ Unexpectedly, his follow-up question is, ‘What does he want to sell?’<SUP><FONT size=2>5</FONT></SUP> Throughout their careers, Christo and Jeanne-Claude have eschewed the gallery system and fiercely defended their artistic independence. They have sold preparatory works and studies for unrealised projects, such as this portfolio, to fund other projects. But they have consistently refused commissions and sponsorship.<SUP><FONT size=2>6</FONT></SUP></P> <P data-associrn="1442192"></P><P data-associrn="37213"></P> <P>In his 1981 project ‘Art for sale’, Billy Apple tackled the ambiguities of creating art for sale head on. Apple agreed to create an exhibition for the commercial Peter Webb Galleries in Auckland - on one condition. As art historian Tony Green explains, ‘The condition was that Peter Webb got the works sold in advance, because it is no use having pictures saying “SOLD” if they’re not.’<SUP><FONT size=2>7</FONT></SUP> Several weeks before the opening, a poster advertising the exhibition was distributed to museums and collectors. On the day, the buyers were obliged to publicly sign the works, along with the artist and the dealer, to complete the transaction. (Green himself signed on behalf of the National Art Gallery.) Apple had effectively stripped the art market bare for all to see. His work challenges audiences to consider: What is art, who assigns value, and who’s in whose pocket?</P> <P data-associrn="1466025"></P> <P><STRONG>A seat at the table</STRONG></P> <P>The contemporary Aboriginal Australian artist Richard Bell poses similar questions in his video work <EM>The dinner party</EM> (2013). Bell performs as himself: a self-declared ‘activist masquerading as an artist’.<SUP><FONT size=2>8</FONT></SUP> In his fictional scenario, a wealthy Brisbane art collector invites Bell to discuss his work during a dinner party. Two puppet newsreaders mock-seriously introduce him as ‘the urbane Aboriginal artist in his natural habitat’. The guests discuss Bell’s work in the context of the fluctuating value of Aboriginal art on the art market. One informs him that he’s ‘not exotic anymore’ and will now be ‘competing on a level playing field’. </P> <P>Bell doesn’t stick around for dinner. Is he simply rushing to his next engagement, or has he not been invited? (Perhaps he was only there to provide the pre-dinner entertainment.) He leaves the apartment with his glamorous, young, white entourage, then joins another group of people, who appear to be indigenous Australians, for a BBQ and chat around the fire in front of a suburban house. Both groups discuss the inaugural speech of a hypothetical first Aboriginal president of an imagined People’s Republic of Australia, and the significantly different implications this would have for their lives.</P> <P><EM>The dinner party</EM> offers a contemporary riposte to the other works in the exhibition, which were made in the 1970s and 80s. It also exposes the fact that contemporary Aboriginal Australian artists were rarely invited to exhibit in art museums during that period. The work seems to beg the question: What’s the point of reaching so-called equality in the art world, when the division between ‘us’ and ‘them’ (as the dinner party’s guests put it) in contemporary Australia remains so deep? </P> <P><STRONG>Paying attention</STRONG></P> <P>The works in <EM>Framing the Museum</EM> challenge visitors to pause and consider: Who makes the decisions? Who do museums represent? Who’s on the inside, and who’s on the outside? </P> <P>Close observation of things we take for granted can be remarkably revealing. Stopping to consider why things are the way they are is a critically important life skill, but one underrated in contemporary society. The works in <EM>Framing the Museum</EM> may at times frustrate visitors’ expectations, expose assumptions, or speculate upon possible alternatives. They may ultimately spark debate. If there is one overriding message in the exhibition then it is - to quote American artist Bruce Nauman, channelled via contemporary Aboriginal Australian artist Tony Albert – ‘Pay attention motherfuckers!’<SUP><FONT size=2>9</FONT></SUP></P> <P><BR><STRONG>Sarah Farrar</STRONG> is Senior Curator Art at Te Papa</P> <P><STRONG>Endnotes</STRONG></P> <OL><FONT size=2> <LI>Brian O’Doherty, <EM>Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space</EM>, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London, 1986, p. 24.</LI> <LI> Guerrilla Girls website, <A href="http://www.guerillagirls.com">www.guerillagirls.com</A>, accessed 15 October 2014.</LI> <LI>Ibid.</LI> <LI>Linda Nochlin, ‘Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?’, 1971, in Linda Nochlin, <EM>Women, Art, and Power, and Other Essays</EM>, Westview Press, Boulder, 1988, pp. 147–58.</LI> <LI>John Gruen, ‘Art in New York,’ <EM>New York Magazine</EM>, 24 June 1968, p. 12, <A href="http://www.books.google.co.nz/books?id=puECAAAAMBAJ&amp;printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&amp;q&amp;f=false">www.books.google.co.nz/books?id=puECAAAAMBAJ&amp;printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&amp;q&amp;f=false</A>, accessed 15 October 2014.</LI> <LI>Barbara Rose, ‘Christo’, <EM>Interview</EM> magazine, 14 March 2014, <A href="http://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/christo/print/">www.interviewmagazine.com/art/christo/print/</A>, accessed 15 October 2014.</LI> <LI>Tony Green, ‘Billy Apple’s Art for Sale’, <EM>Art New Zealand</EM>, no. 20, Winter 1981, <A href="http://www.art-newzealand.com/Issues11to20/apple20.htm">www.art-newzealand.com/Issues11to20/apple20.htm</A>, accessed 15 October 2014.</LI> <LI>Richard Bell, quoted on the Artspace (Sydney) website, <A href="http://www.artspace.org.au/gallery_project.php?i=184">www.artspace.org.au/gallery_project.php?i=184</A>, accessed 15 October 2014.</LI> <LI>Bruce Nauman’s lithograph <EM>Pay attention</EM> (1973) contains the phrase ‘Pay attention mother fuckers’, written in reverse. Contemporary Aboriginal Australian artist Tony Albert co-opted the phrase in his work <EM>Pay attention</EM> (2011), which was first exhibited in the exhibition <EM>roundabout°</EM> at City Gallery Wellington. </LI></FONT></OL> <P><BR></P>
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Peter Tyndall, detail / A Person Looks At A Work Of Art / someone looks at something ... 1979-86, 1979-86, acrylic on canvas,
Purchased 1988 with Ellen Eames Collection funds.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

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Peter Robinson, Strategic Plan, 1996, oil stick and synthetic polymer paint on unstretched linen,
Purchased 2014.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

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Guerrilla Girls, The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist, 1988, offset lithograph on paper,
Gift of Sarah Farrar, 2015.
© Guerrilla Girls www.guerrillagirls.com
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

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Barbara Kruger, Untitled (We are unsuitable for framing), 1985, colour photograph face-mounted to acrylic,
Purchased 1986 with New Zealand Lottery Board funds.
© Barbara Kruger. Reproduced courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery, New York
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

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Barbara Kruger, Untitled (We will no longer be seen and not heard), 1985, photolithographs,
Purchased 2014.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

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Peter Roche, and Linda Buis, Museum piece, 1993, colour photographs, clocks,
Purchased 1994 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

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Christo V. Javacheff, Whitney Museum of American Art, Packed, Project for New York. From the portfolio: '(Some) Not Realised Projects', 1971, lithograph with collage of fabric, twine, thread, staples and transparent polyethylene,
Purchased 1989 with New Zealand Lottery Board funds.
© Christo
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

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Christo V. Javacheff, Allied Chemical Tower, Packed, Project for 1 Times Square, New York. From the portfolio: '(Some) Not Realised Projects', 1971, lithograph of photomontage,
Purchased 1989 with New Zealand Lottery Board funds.
© Christo
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

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Billy Apple, Art for sale, 1981,
Found in collection, 2016.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

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Billy Apple, Sold, 1981, screenprint inscribed in pencil,
Purchased 1981.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

Richard Bell, &lt;EM&gt;The dinner party&lt;/EM&gt;, video, 2013

Richard Bell, The dinner party, video, 2013