26 Aug, 2009

Why all the fuss about corporate art exhibitions?

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Objections to companies curating their own art exhibitions ring false – we’ve long been happy for big business to buoy up the art world

The US’s high-brow newspapers do seem to live on a planet of their own. An article in the New York Times this week meditates on what it identifies as a new phenomenon: the rise of the corporate art exhibition. This spring, it reports, the cash-strapped Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey put on a show of the Wyeth family of painters. So far, so standard. Except that the show was curated by the Bank of America and featured the bank’s own art collection. Is this a dangerous new trend? Or is it a reasonable measure in hard times that have already led to job losses at the Montclair?

It’s a bit like watching a Roman patrician in 450AD wondering if the vandals ought to be allowed to live in the imperial capital when they have already overrun it. A million years seem to have passed since the conceptual artist Hans Haacke put on exhibitions that exposed the links between corporations and art galleries. Today such connections are no longer hidden. Galleries vaunt their sponsors in spectacular ways: no one bats an eyelid when the Royal Academy puts on an art event called GSK Contemporary, or when the British Museum gives space in its permanent collection to a work generated by the Wellcome Trust.

In Düsseldorf, the energy giant Eon practically owns the city’s main art museum: its headquarters are adjacent to the establishment, which the company supports to a spectacular degree. The exhibition of Matisse’s Dance, and other treasures from Russian museums, that came to London’s Royal Academy from Düsseldorf last year, was in fact originated by Eon; it was the company’s corporate connections with Russia that made it happen.

And are you shocked by these revelations? No, of course not. You’ve gotten used to it, just as I have. Someone has to “pony up the dough”, as the Simpson’s Mr Burns says when unveiling his portrait at the Springfield Art Museum. In that episode of the show, it turns out Marge has portrayed him naked, exposing his grotesque nature. In Springfield, art subverts its corporate sponsor – but that’s just a cartoon. In real life, the corporate patrons of art can expect nothing but gratitude for embracing us in their tentacles.

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