Tuesday, August 07, 2012
"The new job of art is to sit on the wall and get more expensive." – Robert HughesArt doesn't matter as much as it used to. Once, art was used as a way to record the every day of life and to share (and later, map) experiences. It became elemental to ritual, spiritual beliefs and sometimes superstition. It even offered the illusion of immortality.Nowadays, art is viewed mainly as a commodity. Big collectors sometimes buy for love but they always have one eye on its value as an investment. Art's value being determined by its ROI is an idea embraced by the art world's middlemen, for whom dealing in art is like punting on the stock market, with fewer restrictions and more opportunities for insider trading and price-rigging. For the public, art is just another form of easy-to-consume entertainment. Besides, by and large, public art has has been replaced by advertising. Our so-called visual culture is really about consumerism. It's littered with signs, billboards, television, infomercials, product placement, branded clothing, and celebrity snapshots. Art has been ghetto-ed inside galleries, instead of spaces that are a part of everyday life. And as gallerists delight in reminding artists, the primary purpose of a commercial gallery is to sell art, not display it. Funding for public or insitutional galleries is sparse. In Australia, many public galleries operate with a skeleton staff of professionals, aided by a few stalwart volunteers. In Italy, the director of the Contemporary Art Museum of Casoria, Antonio Manfredi, is currently burning the museum's collection piece by piece, in a bid to draw attention to a funding crisis. Without urgent intervention, the museum will close: "It’s simple,” Manfredi said, “If nobody cares about the art that’s inside the museum, then I’ll burn it."Recently, while organising a touring exhibition of my work through rural Australia, I offered to paint murals for free. So far, none have been approved. The idea is liked by galleries, but public space is controlled by local government and access to it stifled by tedious, disinterested bureaucratic processes. It's not surprising that anarchic street art has taken off.For art to matter again, it has to be seen everywhere, every day. And artists have to be prepared to do the hard work themselves to make that happen (ironically, street artists are probably the ones who best understand this). Yes, many are trying to make their work more accessible – more apparent – to those who care about it. But I think we also have to regain a public fascination for it, maybe even an awe of it, without it being mere 'entertainment' – or worse, entertainment polluted by branding – and associated with a shabby cult of celebrity. Maybe this idea doesn't jibe with the social, professional and financial aspirations of those to whom we have charged the care and maintenance of our visual culture: it's so much easier and more profitable for curators and administrators to deal with governments, corporations and the well-helled one percent. But artists need to begin to relish a fight which, when it comes down to it, might be a fight for our very existence.