Monday, 16 February 2015

Curators + Extremists = Win-Win PR

Towards the end of January this happened
An artwork depicting high-heeled shoes on Islamic prayer mats has been removed from an exhibition after a Muslim group warned of possible violence in the wake of the Paris attacks. The French-Algerian artist, Zoulikha Bouabdellah, withdrew the work from an exhibition in a northern Paris suburb with a large Muslim population after an Islamic group told local authorities it could provoke “uncontrollable, irresponsible incidents”.
A few days ago, a film called 50 Shades of Grey opened and this happened 
As stars Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson walked the red carpet in London’s Leicester Square with director Sam Taylor-Johnson and author El James, who wrote the original novel, protestors made it clear they would not be among the four and a half million cinemagoers who have already bought tickets to view the movie this weekend across the globe. The group, which calls itself 50 Shades is Domestic Abuse, said it was determined the film should not arrive in the UK unchallenged.
A few years ago, Tate Modern included Richard Prince’s notorious painting of a naked 10 year old Brooke Shields in its Pop Life show, and this happened
Tate Modern has bowed to pressure from London's Metropolitan police and permanently removed a controversial photograph of film star Brooke Shields from public view. The image, which depicts the 10-year-old actor nude and heavily made up, was originally taken in the 1970s for a Playboy publication, then reproduced by artist Richard Prince in a 1983 work entitled Spiritual America. It had been a key part of Tate's Modern's Pop Life show, which also contains works by Warhol, Jeff Koons and Cosey Fanni Tutti, but the room containing it was sealed off following a visit by officers from the Met's obscene publications unit two weeks ago.
Even the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid got in on the act last year, with a tiny piece of work about burning churches by a group you will never hear of again.

I am not going to go on a rant about freedom of speech and artistic creativity. Someone did that in the case of the Tate, and they missed every relevant point while discussing a bunch of meaningless art theory twaddle. This isn't about freedom of speech and political correctness.

 It’s the PR coverage, stupid.

Many curators now look for at least one piece that one or more single-interest activist groups (aka “extremists”) might take exception to, maybe by some kind of public demonstration, or threatening communication that the PR department can pass on to the Press. If the Press does its job properly, everyone wins: the artist gets their name out there, as does the gallery, and as do the extremists. Everyone gets a sound-bite in favour of their cause (the extremists) or of some highfalutin’ principle (the gallery, the artist).

But most of all, everyone gets to feel, for a brief moment, as if they matter a sparrow’s tweet.

There is little that matters less in this world than modern art, except the views of a single-issue group. (I like art, even modern art, but I don’t think it matters.) A junior product manager putting together a "compelling" Powerpoint slide to persuade the product team to persuade the marketing team to alter the wording on a brochure has more impact on the world than a modern artist or a single-issue-extremist. And if there is one group of people haunted by the sense of the pointlessness and utter insignificance of their jobs, it’s junior product managers. So the artists and gallerists and curators get in on the politics game, because that makes their daubs significant. This creates an over-heated world in whch it matters if Dasha Zukova sits on a couch that looks like a black woman . Everyone got props on that one, especially Claire Sulmers, editor of, a fashion blog of which you will never hear again in your life.

The curators do it deliberately (I don’t think the Zhukova chair incident was deliberate: Russians just don’t get the American way of moral posturing). In fact, I would be utterly unsurprised to learn that the PR departments of the galleries and museums, uh, prompt some of the groups who subsequently object.

Capitalism turns everything to its advantage. Absolutely everything.

Should you think I’m being a trifle conspiratorial, well, way back in 1997 Charles Saatchi put the infamous Myra Hindley children’s handcasts painting in his Sensation show at the Royal Academy. Someone threw eggs and ink at it. Other people cried. The painting was taken down and cleaned, but not put up again. The queues were round the block.  This journalist got the point.

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