Art, fundamentally, is information

Author : maryuburk
Publish Date : 2020-12-08


Art, fundamentally, is information

The year was a 12-month stress test. When I asked friends “how are you?” the repeat answers came: “anxious,” “depressed,” “bored.” The first two I could relate to, but boredom is something I rarely am. As a journalist, I’m addicted to art-specific information, to taking it in, parsing it, sorting it, trying to make sense of it. And there’s been a ton of it this year, all pretty intense. So as long as I’ve had a laptop, a home library, and at least some access to “live” art, I’ve been OK in lockdown mode. Here are some things that have kept me focused.

https://www.google.com/ 

1. Best in Show
Art, fundamentally, is information. It’s as much about issues as about objects, about how we live and think, ethically, politically, emotionally. This has been clear in exhibitions that have expanded our knowledge of what’s in the world, near and far. Among those I revisit in my mind are “Sahel: Art and Empires on the Shores of the Sahara” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration” at MoMA PS1”; and “Sky Hopinka: Centers of Somewhere” at the Hessel Museum of Art, Bard College.

2. Monuments
And some objects projected information loud and clear, as was the case with commemorative political monuments after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Two that made news this year were in Virginia. In Richmond, protesters transformed a colossal statue of Robert E. Lee into a jubilant paean to Black Lives Matter. And in Charlottesville, the scene of a violent 2017 Unite the Right rally, a new “Memorial to Enslaved Laborers” was installed at the University of Virginia, on a campus famously designed by Thomas Jefferson, a slaveholder, and built, brick by brick, by enslaved Black people.

3. Museums
The lockdown created dire economic crises for art institutions. Possibly even more destabilizing and harder to address long-term was the mounting pressure on museums to conduct moral self-inventories and to begin correcting systemic racial and social inequities. In the event, the learning curve for reform wasn’t just steep; it was a roller coaster.

https://kc.columbiasc.edu/ICS/Campus_Life/Campus_Groups/2019/Discussion.jnz?portlet=Forums&screen=PostView&screenType=change&id=d0a73517-9782-4bf8-8105-521a905e50ea
https://kc.columbiasc.edu/ICS/Campus_Life/Campus_Groups/2019/Discussion.jnz?portlet=Forums&screen=PostView&screenType=change&id=1b387af4-c008-4d45-ae62-47a6ad82cdb9

Last May the Baltimore Museum of Art planned to auction works from its collection to pay for — among other things — equitable staff salaries, only to be hit by a firestorm of protests. A few months later, four museums collaborating on a Philip Guston survey — the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Tate Modern — were critically slammed when they decided to postpone and rethink a show that included some of that artist’s Ku Klux Klan-derived imagery.

https://kc.columbiasc.edu/ICS/Campus_Life/Campus_Groups/2019/Discussion.jnz?portlet=Forums&screen=PostView&screenType=change&id=d6156aca-94f7-4a28-a4fa-57941e80c277
https://kc.columbiasc.edu/ICS/Campus_Life/Campus_Groups/2019/Discussion.jnz?portlet=Forums&screen=PostView&screenType=change&id=496fb7bd-1f53-43fa-b08d-c19aef420cd1

In both cases, art institutions had legitimate arguments to make, but didn’t make them convincingly, and had to pull back. The Baltimore Museum dropped its auction plans, at least for the present. And, in a compromise gesture, the Guston postponement was reduced to two years from four. What a workshopping of the show will produce remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: our major museums now have two-year gaps in their exhibition schedules. How about filling those gaps with art that, unlike Guston’s, is nonwhite, nonmale, and noncanonical, an option that might have been considered from the start.

https://www.google.com/ 

4. Organizing
Following staff layoffs during the pandemic, art institutions felt pressure from inside too. This year, continuing a trend from 2019, museum workers, voicing grievances based on racial discrimination and economic exploitation, have increasingly sought to unionize. In some cases, the efforts have gone smoothly. In others, they’ve hit pushback. Together the results prove two facts: Institutions long assumed to represent the best in us can also represent the worst, and solidarity works.

5. Restitution
After three years of foot-dragging, the French Senate signed off on a bill in November promising to return a group of looted objects to Africa: 26 sculptures, now held by the Quai Branly Museum in Paris, will go back to Benin, and a sword (on loan from France’s Army Hospital to the Museum of Black Civilizations in Dakar) will be permanently repatriated to Senegal. But the returns feel dutiful and small. A 2018 report commissioned by President Emmanuel Macron of France estimated that some 90,000 African works are in French collections. “African heritage cannot be a prisoner of European museums,” Mr. Macron said. But clearly, it still is, which made the news that the architect David Adjaye was designing a museum in Nigeria specifically to house returned objects most welcome.



Category :art-culture
Author Website : Art, fundamentally, is information

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