Monday, June 11, 2012

Gold rush

For our art schools the traditional Publish or Perish of academia is more like Show or Go. The goodies of academic life (which seem to be mainly about time off from teaching and funding for projects) are showered on those staff members who exhibit most often and most prestigiously. 

And as these art school based teachers often also bring cash with them to subsidize the presentation of their work, the enthusiasm for their showing them and producing publications is growing in museums as well as artist run spaces. One day someone is going to work out how much money the universities put into the production and presentation of art and art catalogues - we haven't got the spirit for it. 

Virtually all university teachers are required to enter the PBRF (Performance-Based Research Fund) process, those who don’t are eventually buried deep in the university basements. Essentially details of research outcomes are entered into a fiendishly unrelenting database which is then reviewed. At the end of the process a grade pops out: A, B, B- etc. 

The first evaluation in 2003 was a bit ragged. Staff were even allowed to include exhibitions held in the gallery run by their institutions and curated by their colleagues. This I’ll-show-them your-art-if-you’ll-show-them-mine approach (conflicts of interest as they are known elsewhere) is now more tightly monitored. How does this affect the art audience? First up, more extravagant (university funded) exhibitions, a rash of publications their lavishness having little or nothing to do with the art interested public’s reception of the work, academic texts rather than explanatory ones and nothing much that would rock even the unsturdiest boat. 

This is not to say that some PBRF funding doesn’t support an important exhibition or a thought provoking publication, but they are increasingly the exception to the rule. But as they say, somewhere between the market and the PBRF, there’s got to be a pony. For our Dummy’s Guide to PRBF go here