Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Art, PR Stunt, Vandalism, or Merely Shallow Self Promotion, at the IMA?

Shortly before 3am, while checking my email, I received a notice, come press release about an artist stunt performed at the IMA. The artist, apparently as part of a nation wide "Fine Art Graffitti", where by he curates his own work into a number of the best museums across the country. In short, he sneaks a work into the museums and hangs them on the sly, along with museum styled wall labels. This is really nothing new. Most recently you may have read similar tales from the street artist known as "Banksy". It is not that the work that this artist hung is bad just not really that good or interesting.

I woke this morning and thought I would head to the IMA, first to get out of my house and away from some distractions so I could catch up on some email and blogging and I thought I would see what damage what some of the IMA staff thought about this event. I first noted that there appeared to be a lot more security guards keeping an eye on people walking around on the contemporary floor. I was carrying my laptop bag, so perhaps I gave them more cause than usual but I also over heard a small gathering of guards chatting about the incident as well. After speaking with a number of staff from PR/Marketing people, exhibition installers, and conservators, most had a similar reaction to this as I did. As one person put it "we do not want people putting stuff on our walls". I think that about sums it up.

(image from the press release of the artists painting installed)
While I am not exactly one to cry foul when artists play against the "establishment", I am not quite sure yet how I feel about this partucular instance. I must admit that I did read the press release with a good dose of skepticism. My first impression was that this was nothing more than a self serving stunt for the artist disguised as something more than what it really was. I had not yet looked at the images sent or viewed the links to the artists site when I first felt this way. What did it for me was the artists statement or at least as it was presented by his "representative".

(image from the press release of the artists painting installed)

As stated in the press release:
And his goal? To give back to these 12 museums that give the most to their communities and to show that, when applied properly, graffiti can a positive force directly benefitting the community. The IMA was the 5th installation of the exhibition.
Seriously? "To give back to these 12 museums"? That would make one conclude that these museums actually want something of this nature from random artists. While I a confident nearly all art museums have a list of artists who they would love to get donated art from, I can pretty much guarantee this is not the case here. Especially in this manner. Perhaps the most telling part of the artists statement is the he talks about how "when applied properly, graffiti...", what exactly is the proper application of graffiti? I am actually friends with a handful of graffiti artists, most of which would state that graffiti belongs on the streets and has no real place in an institution. I think this stance can certainly be argued for and against but what is "proper" application? In this instance, did the artist hang the work with the appropriate museum hanging devices? No. Instead the artist, apparently used some sort of adhesive, yes he basically glued the piece to the wall, that when the work was taken down it managed to rip paint of the walls exposing drywall paper. Not exactly properly applied in my book. And now, like a lot f graffiti, managed to do some property damage. Now, the museum must use a portion of their staff and their time to deal with repairing the museums wall. Ok, so it will not be that hard or take much time to do such a fix, but it is after all disrespectful to them, the museum and the viewers who now get to view the marks left behind until the paint crew get to it. How is showing this artists work, who is not known to the greater art community, the museum patrons, let alone the museum staff, going to benefit the community?

From what the press release states as a quote from ABC 7:
"The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is spending over $20 million dollars to commission a piece of artwork by Jeff Koons… It is a shame that an artist would make a museum spend so much money to acquire their art.” Benote said he thinks it's a bigger shame that so much taxpayer money is being wasted in such a manner, it could be better spent helping the community. The goal of his work is to benefit museums by directly gifting artwork to them.
I thought I would comment on this statement as well as I believe his premise is wrong for a number of reasons. While I will admit that $20 million dollars is a lot of money, the idea that the artist should be ashamed for the price of the work. The market establishes the pricing, and in most instances with large scale works there are a number of fabricators and such that need to be paid by the artist as well. I do not know the details of this particular piece in mentioned so can not speak to it directly but a number of artists do give museums a break in price when acquiring a piece and some are even willing to donate works to certain museums. He then goes on to imply that so much of these acquisition funds come from taxpayer dollars. Now again, there is a chance I am wrong in some instances, but as I understand it, most if not all acquisition funds (from the IMA at least) come from donors (individuals, endowments, donations, and the Contemporary Art Society) and not from taxpayers at all. This type of misinformation in my opinion is already believed by and too prevalent for many of those who wish to cut arts funding, both on a local and a national level. For an artists to state something of this nature, is in my opinion not helping the situation in the least, rather establishing more of this same belief. The idea that getting random art from random artists is somehow benefiting the museum is ridiculous. Museums would be flooded with art in such magnitude that they would be overwhelmed and understaffed to handle it. Let alone that fact that he is not taking into consideration the amount of time, effort, space and money it would take to care for and manage all these "gifted" art works. Just because an artist desires to show in a museum does not mean their work should be shown there or even belong there. Let us take into account that the artist in question could as easily show his work in galleries across the country to "benefit the community", if that is his real desire. Galleries, after all are free to all and there are lot more galleries out there than there are museums. A lot of museums still charge admission fees. The IMA does not, but if the goal is to reach the people, he could reach more at free gallery shows than he could at a museum. At least one would think. But the more I write about this the more I feel that in all of this is the artists ego attempting to bypass the hurdles most of the artists he wants to exhibit next to in the museum had to go through throughout their careers before they had a piece in the museum. He simply wants a short cut.

After much thought and consideration on whether or not to even write about this act, I came to the decision that I would write about it but would not link to the artists web site or mention him by name. Why? Well, I personally felt, in the end, that this was little more than a fairly shallow PR stunt to get the artist name out there. Not on the merit of the work itself, rather for what can be viewed as nothing more than a childish act, disguised as a conceptual performance piece. Who knows. Perhaps one day the artist will become better known for better work, and could then very well be invited to show in one of the museums he now chooses to bombard with his "gift". But, for now, I do not feel that I want to help promote this approach to getting into a museum.

9 Responses to “Art, PR Stunt, Vandalism, or Merely Shallow Self Promotion, at the IMA?”

casey said...
August 26, 2009 at 7:18 PM

I hate people like this.

As if anyone wants to see that piece of crap, in a museum.

ChristopherWestPresents said...
August 26, 2009 at 7:52 PM

Casey you are too funny.

I'm actually a little torn how I feel about this. On one hand I'm all for the gorilla exhibit. On the other, this idea has been a little played out.

In this particular case, no harm no foul the way I see it. But the work was not very inspiring and as I said it's been done before.

Now where was that outdoor exhibition where the artist made the miniature sculptures (Oldenberg, DiSuvero, etc if I remember correctly) and secretly placed them near the actual sculptures in the sculpture garden a couple years ago? Seattle maybe? I liked that.

Anonymous said...
August 27, 2009 at 1:23 PM

I say it is a PR Stunt by the IMA. Not that the placed art without permission is a hoax but that the IMA is using this for publicity purposes. By playing the 'victim' and spreading the word of what happened, the IMA is getting face time. Who knows maybe tis incident generates more press than their exhibits. Just saying!

Michelle said...
August 27, 2009 at 1:23 PM

he sounds like a real amateur in many respects. really great job pointing out how this hurts the public perception of museums, galleries, etc!

Michelle said...
August 27, 2009 at 1:31 PM

to anon: if the IMA really wanted to use this for PR, they'd be blogging it... and they aren't, at least not yet.

most organizations prefer to stay positive in their PR.

Scott said...
August 27, 2009 at 1:51 PM

I have to say that the IMA has consistently been getting great publicity for doing much better things in recent months than this. I will also note that the IMA at no point contacted me about this incident. I, along with what I must assume, several others, received a press release from the artists representative. I chose to write this post on my own terms and began doing so before I even approached or talked with any IMA staff.

I agree Christopher, I too was torn to some degree, a prank such as this could possibly have been done in a way that was interesting or even cheeky, but here it did not feel that way for me. In fact I felt that it was the artists own thoughts and words, as expressed in the press release soured me more to the whole project. It seemed disingenuous and stale.

Anonymous said...
September 2, 2009 at 12:52 PM

Banksy's placed pieces were clever, and said something about museum art and the people who view it. This is just...blah. If the artist needs a press release to tell you why it was done, he's already missed the mark.

Plus, as you said, this joke's stale.

James Connelly said...
September 26, 2009 at 6:59 PM

When first reading this article, I found my head nodding in agreement. Other than the part about damage to the wall - ever looked at gallery walls after an exhibit? Walls usually look like the bride of frankenstein! So, not really a big deal, its normal in an art museum. I understand its unwanted and causes some damage, so I understand your point. Not to mention the chaos it would cause if every artist in the country were dropping off their art in museums?

But curiosity got the best of me and I wanted to hear the artists side of things. His last name (Mat Benote) was left in the newspaper quote, so it was pretty easy to track him down. I have to say, he raised several good points too. Namely, that contemporary art has lost its connection to everyday people. I disagree with him that graffiti as an important step in getting people interested in art, but its an interesting concept to mesh urban low art and gallery high art together. I don't know of anybody else pursuing that form of art, specifically. Sure, graffiti artists cross over into gallery work, but their low and high arts are typically kept separate. IF they even continue to practice it once they've hit the "big leagues."

At this point i was hooked. Checking into the Koons thing and the story does check out. LA is footing 20m of the 25million bill. Not to mention, this is nearly half of their budget for total acquisitions last year. And this in a time when california is bankrupt?!? That's a good point by Benote. According to his website he was chastising the LA museum and others like them, and praising the IMA and the other museums he chose for the "gifts." On his website he said he wanted to bring attention to those museums that were doing things the right way, and it looks like he succeeded very well.

Also, attacking a press release is a bit silly - the entire world receives news via press releases. Most artists use this method, if you think otherwise you're simply being naive. That being said,I wonder if this artist would continue in the same vein IF he got big? Probably not, money and power always corrupts, but time will tell. Chances are, he would end up just like Koons, paid handsomely for the art he hangs in the same museums he is lamenting now, but you never know...

Scott said...
October 1, 2009 at 3:32 AM

Hi James. Thanks for your perspective on this post. While I expect that some wall damage is inevitable when it comes to galleries, at least the IMA it is not the norm and it is disrespectful to them to damage their walls. That is if we are to assume he wanted to bestow them with a "gift". As to his point about "contemporary art" losing its connection to everyday people, in my opinion he fails in this attempt before he ever began. Everyday people do not attend art museums. Hell, I am an artist and it wasn't until I dragged my parents to the museum that they ever set foot in it. If his goal is to reach the masses and connect them with art he should consider grocery stores and malls. While I agree that 20+ million dollars is a lot for a work, its not more than a number of Hollywood actors make for a single movie. The price of art is completely relative. And it is not my intent to attach press releases in general. Press releases are needed and desired in the art world. It is how we get info out there. I enjoy the discussion, but I still feel this particular scenario is lacking in execution and interest for me. Nothing more...

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