Monday, January 05, 2009

The downward spiral

Fewer museums now stick to the no photography restriction. It’s a question of simple practicality. When virtually every visitor has a camera of some sort it has turned into a losing battle. We saw what felt like the last stand at the Guggenheim Museum. A photo taken from the top of the rotunda shows the flash from ten cameras at just that one moment (you can see the view here on OTNStuff). The Guggenheim has given up trying to stop people photographing the wonderful Frank Lloyd Wright building, but still struggles to ban snapping in the exhibition areas. They might as well not bother. Ironically we were attending Theanyspacewhatever, a large exhibition based in relational aesthetics and featuring ten artists. According to the curator Nancy Spector, the ten share the idea that exhibitions, in the widest sense of the word, can be the subject of art and help deflect the power of art object and the traditional role of museums in presenting them. We say ironically because relational aesthetics attempts to integrate art into the lives of its audience, so when people joined in what seemed to be the spirit of the show by photographing each other through the holes cut into a series of Jorge Prado screens, they might reasonably been expected to be applauded rather than sternly told there was “no photography”. Of course most of them took it in their stride, dropped their cameras to their sides for a few moments and then went right on with their pointing, framing and flashing the building and each other.

As is often the way with relational aesthetics there was not much to be seen, so this was an ideal opportunity to get a good look at the Wright building. For most of the people who were there when we were, the building was certainly the main attraction. Like conceptual artists before them, artists working in the loosely defined area of relational aesthetics claim to have an uneasy relationship with the museum and the market. From the prestige platform of the Guggenheim, it would be a tough to peg any of the tightly-knit group of friends with highly successful, professional art careers with any unease with the relationship. The museum is a tough context to disassemble, and the market remains a primary measurement of success.

Only one of the artists seemed to us to come out ahead. Pierre Huyghe’s books of photographs of the exhibition are beautiful and because they are transfers can be ironed onto t-shirts or anything else. Plus they only cost $10.
Images: The audience interacting with a Jorge Pardo screen