When I agreed to write this essay, little did I know that when I finally sat down to tackle it all my favorite museums would be closed to the public, along with every library, theater, concert hall and movie house and, of course, the galleries I own. It’s a bit like our world faded abruptly and unexpectedly from vivid color to black and white.
But it dawned on me that there could hardly be a better moment to reflect upon the importance of art — or, better still, culture itself — than in the face of its almost complete physical absence.
This total loss of actual, palpable experiences with art is like a kind of withdrawal for me. The experience and appreciation — the need — for culture feels like it’s hard-wired into my mind, my soul, my existence and, I’d like to believe, hard-wired into our species. Art is not something that happens at the periphery of our lives. It’s actually the thing that’s right there in the center, a veritable engine.
It’s like my mother once said: “Die Kunst ist unsere Daseinsberechtigung.” Art is how we justify our existence.
We’ve been creating art for much longer than recorded history. The earliest surviving visual art, as in the cave paintings of Sulawesi in Indonesia and El Castillo in Spain, date back to roughly 40,000 years ago. I have to assume there’s earlier work that we don’t yet know about. Our great rivals in the evolutionary race, the Neanderthals, were stronger, bigger and had larger skulls than us, but left behind no sophisticated tools and very little in the way of artifacts. One argument holds that the Neanderthal imagination was limited, and that Homo sapiens’ more complex and adventurous way of thinking — our creativity — is what moved us to the forefront among the human species.
For me, art is not just sensory stimulation. I believe it’s most gratifying as an intellectual pursuit. Great art is, by definition, complex, and it expects work from us when we engage with it. There is this wonderful moment, one that I have missed so much lately, when you stand before a work of art and, suddenly, the work is speaking back to you. Great works carry with them so many messages and meanings. And often those messages survive for centuries. Or — even more mysteriously — they change as the years and decades pass, leaving their power and import somehow undiminished.
Velázquez’s “Las Meninas” comes to mind, as does the intense pleasure I’ve experienced every time I’ve seen it, at different stages of my life, at the Prado museum in Madrid. Thinking about “Las Meninas” today, amid the new reality of a pandemic, reminds me how much I look forward to seeing works of art in their physical spaces again. There is no substitute for the artwork’s materiality, which ultimately and invariably relates to our senses, our bodies and our analytical prowess and intellectual curiosity.
The appreciation of art is, more often than not, a communal experience. It brings us together — when we go to museums, to openings, to concerts, to movies or to the ballet or theater. And we argue, and sometimes we fight, but we certainly don’t wage war over artistic expression. I would contend that art and culture are the most important vehicles by which we come to understand one another. They make us curious about that which is different or unfamiliar, and ultimately allow us to accept it, even embrace it. Isn’t it telling that those societies most afraid of “the other” — the Nazis, Stalin’s Soviet Union, the Chinese under Mao — were not able to bring forth any significant cultural artifacts? Yet an abundance of work created in resistance to such ideologies can still dominate our cultural discourse.
Lately, a discussion has raged about how art and culture stack up against the hard sciences. More ominously, the question is weighing on the colleges and universities of the United States, where the humanities are playing an ever smaller role. That’s a dangerous proposition. While the sciences have brought into this world so many wonderful things, they are also implicated when it comes to our most sinister achievements — nuclear warfare, genetic manipulation and the degradation of nature.
While art can reach into the darkest places of the human psyche, it does so to help us understand and hopefully transcend. Art lifts us up. In the end, I think its mission is simply to make us better people.
The machines have proven to be absolutely amazing during a pandemic, connecting us, informing us and entertaining us, but in the end they are limited. They’re born of science and they have no imaginations. We have to imagine for them.
Who knows what the future will bring? If we Homo sapiens are challenged again, it will not be by the Neanderthal — nor by any other species — but by the machines we invented ourselves. Winning that battle can’t be done without firing up the most important engines we possess — culture and creativity — because reason is born out of our cultural experiences. Works of art carry with them the wisdom of the world.
This difficult period we have been in recently will pass, and the exchanges I’ve had with visual artists have given me some of my most hopeful moments. I’ve reached many in their studios, while they were working. They certainly seemed happy to hear from me, and our conversations have been perfectly polite; still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was interrupting them. They had more important things to do than talk to me. They were making art.
I can’t wait to see what they’ve been working on. I promise I will show it to you as soon as I can.
David Zwirner is an art dealer with galleries in New York, London, Paris and Hong Kong.
Now in print: “Modern Ethics in 77 Arguments,” and “The Stone Reader: Modern Philosophy in 133 Arguments,” with essays from the series, edited by Peter Catapano and Simon Critchley, published by Liveright Books.
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Art will suffer if online displays are the norm – Asia Times
Almost 15 years ago, a group of artists, filmmakers, curators and critics came together at the Oberhausen Film Festival in western Germany to discuss the introduction of a new technological medium: YouTube.
How would watching film and video online differ from regular venues such as cinemas or the Oberhausen festival itself, which played an important role in European art-house cinema?
Would films be meaningful in the same way – watched alone, in poor resolution, on a computer – rather than on the big screen by a community that had come together to see them?
“They’re like photocopies,” said the curator, Stuart Comer. Comer, now chief curator for media and performance at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, argued that while watching videos on YouTube was not the same as watching 35mm film on the big screen, home viewing served a different function, and there was room for both.
It’s interesting to think back to that debate now. Many of the early qualms around online viewership have since been ironed out. The quality of streaming has gotten better. Museums and artists run dedicated channels, instead of the free-for-all of early YouTube days when historical films were often altered – edited, overlaid, given new soundtracks – and passed off as original.
We now know that audiences will watch a film from start to finish. This had been another fear, that without the social contract of buying a ticket and sitting in a cinema space, spectators would dip in and out, catching glimpses rather than following a story.
In 2020, with the Covid-19 lockdown, we are lucky to have YouTube, Netflix, Vimeo and other streaming and sharing platforms, but we should also be grateful that the platforms have been around long enough to generate material made for online consumption.
In most cases, we are now not watching “photocopies” of films transferred to the small screen, but works made for the small screen in the first instance.
It is unclear whether the traditional art world – the one of paintings, installations and sculpture – is now in a transition similar to that of the film industry a decade ago.
Museums are digitizing whole rooms of paintings; commercial galleries and art fairs are hastily constructing online selling platforms; and Google Arts & Culture, a digitization project reaching back to 2011, is being recommended by schools as a lockdown activity.
Will these be seen as photocopies, a temporary fix until the era of social distancing subsides? Or will art organizations, some of which have been buoyed by a stratospheric rise in online audience figures, continue these platforms once lockdowns end?
The answer won’t be driven by fidelity to the experience of seeing work “in the flesh,” but by economics. Museums and galleries will face significant budget shortfalls when they begin to open up, whether because of a curtailment in public funding, reductions in private donations or months of loss of revenue.
Exhibition commitments will come stacked upon one another as postponed shows are folded in among future programing, while works meant to be lent out to one place might be needed elsewhere or back home (or might just be too expensive to ship).
Online exhibitions will most likely persist for some time to fulfill these logistical needs – and they might well continue afterwards as an inexpensive strand of quantifiable audience engagement.
But we shouldn’t be lured into thinking that online engagement is a consequence-free decision. Like most instances of outsourcing to technology, online exhibitions mean job losses: the technicians, the restorers, the authenticators, the shippers, the insurers, the guides and the guards who enable the public showing of precious objects.
These roles support others: the technician might be an emerging artist, the guide a student, while conservators and guards might support families at home. Artworks might be digitizable for those who simply want at look at them, but not for the people who make their living in the trade. The art world hinges on the buying, selling, preserving and showing of material goods.
The economic impact goes beyond the art world. For years the trump card of the arts, when it was making its case for public support, has been its economic multiplier effect. For every £1 spent on the arts by Arts Council England, the government recoups £5 in taxes, the Arts Council found in 2015.
The “Bilbao effect,” pertaining to the economic transformation wrought on the northern Spanish city of Bilbao after Guggenheim Bilbao was established there, has dominated numerous city development strategies in the decades since – including, arguably, that of Abu Dhabi. And the argument continues to be made by international consultants, who show how visitors head to F&B outlets, gift shops and hotels after viewing museum exhibitions –benefits likewise not likely to be recouped digitally.
What the crowd in Oberhausen was concerned about all those years ago was YouTube’s effect on its community of filmmakers, curators and critics. As museums and galleries move to online exhibitions, they need to understand that they are risking much more than the loss of authenticity of experience.
This article was provided by Syndication Bureau, which holds copyright.
Art school in Penticton forced to vacate historic home during pandemic – CBC.ca
A 60-year-old arts school in B.C.’s Okanagan is scrambling to find a new home after the Penticton school district opted not to renew the lease.
The Okanagan School of the Arts says it’s being booted from the historic Shatford Centre in Penticton, B.C., where it’s rented space for community groups and hosted art, music and theatre classes for the past 10 years.
The school has leased the building from Okanagan Skaha School District 67 for the past decade.
The district has asked the school to clear out by June 30 when the lease ends. Kim Palmer, the school’s executive director, says it faces the “enormous task” of emptying the building within weeks.
The school, she said, is filled with valuable and specialized equipment, including pianos, commercial kitchen appliances and art supplies.
“At the moment, we don’t know where it will go,” she said.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of the school in March, eliminating its rental and programming revenue.
The school leased the century-old building for a dollar a year but was responsible for maintenance, utilities and insurance. When discussing the June lease renewal, the arts school asked the district to cover $80,000 in operating costs and keep the site running for the community.
Palmer said, in response, the district told her the lease would not be renewed and to vacate the building by the end of the month.
She said the province’s emergency order protecting small-business tenants from eviction during the pandemic does not apply to the school, given its yearly $1 lease.
Priority is spending on students, district says
School District 67 chair James Palanio said the district can’t afford to keep the school afloat.
The arts school has spent about $2 million on maintenance over the past 10 years but more is needed and the district can’t afford it, he said.
“We just can’t spend anywhere other than on the kids,” Palanio said on CBC’s Daybreak South.
Palanio said the district is not evicting the arts school. He said it failed to provide insurance information in January when the lease renewal came up. The school only submitted its proposal in late May, he said.
“We have our own deadlines to meet as well,” he said.
The district has no plans to sell the building, Palanio said, and will be eyeing future plans for the site in late fall.
Palmer said the arts school is also looking at other locations.
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