Vegas to LA

I was in Auckland recently and took the opportunity to visit the Auckland Art Gallery, mostly to see the Degas to Dali exhibition there which is on loan from the National Galleries of Scotland

The more than 70 works, both paintings and sculpture, cover the roughly 100 year period from the French Impressionists to American Pop. So, I guess Corot to Lichtenstein would have been more accurate as a title but Degas to Dali has a more alliterative appeal apparently (See, I can do it too.) Although I suspect that Degas and Dali are more instantly recognisable – and therefore marketable – to the art-consuming public than Corot and Lichtenstein.

So what’s the purpose of such an exhibition? Is it now, as Robert Hughes suggests in his updating of The Shock of the New, ‘the new job of art to sit on the wall and get more expensive’? I ask that because it has seemed to me for some time that the decision makers of the art world have been pre-occupied with value and celebrity. That the showbiz mores of Las Vegas and Holywood have more to do with the exhibition of art than curatorial, aesthetic and, er, educational criteria.

Certainly, the intent of the artist, whatever it may have been, has been overtaken by the need of the galleries and museums to provide blockbuster shows of generic material, advertised and presented in a way that emphasises the value and fame of the exhibits. That doesn’t mean that the curatorial and interpretive roles don’t matter any longer, because they clearly do. But they don’t get final cut. That goes to marketing.

What brought this to mind was when I was standing in front of Van Gogh’s Olive Trees, I was struck by a curious analogy; Looking at Vincent’s furious brushwork, the blazing sky and the olive trees themselves clamouring for our attention – I saw Vincent as Jack Nicholson’s Joker in Batman, weighing up his post-impressionist rivals and whispering menacingly, ‘Wait ’til they get a load of me.’

6 responses to “Vegas to LA

  1. I’ll be hanging on your every word Alan. Exhibiting past art works is a history lesson for newcomers. Exhibiting new works challenges the mind. One cannot understand the present until one understands the past.

  2. Hi Colin. There’s no doubt of that. My point is about art as celebrity and the focus on that by exhibitors.

  3. Art speaks a universal language, but some are growing up illiterate.

  4. Agreed. I’d like to see galleries and museums spending more of their budget engaging their publics in a dialogue about the purpose and production of art – in its broadest sense – rather than reinforcing art as celebrity. Increasingly, creative friends and contacts express their position as ‘the artist as outsider’. Our institutions need to lead the charge toward inclusiveness rather than exclusivity.

  5. What a good vision of Van Gogh… earless? staring down the barrel of time directly at… Matisse, and hey – what kind of natter would he and Duchamp have had… I also love your take on the ‘bums on seats brigade’ appalling really that it comes down to an industrialisation, commodification and as you say ‘marketing’ (add to this mix – number crunching bean counting economics) of what was a pretty pure response to the world. Good writing – more art musing please.

  6. Thanks b’art. I probably need to get out more, aye. Here’s a link to something I wrote in Casual Parking, an earlier blog.

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