WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE RESALE ROYALTY REVIEW?
Once again the issue of the problematic Resale Royalty has reared its ugly head, seeking revision three years since its implementation. With good intentions it was heralded as the balancing scale that was to bring economic ease to Indigenous artists and their families and added income to all practising artists. Despite some revisions to the scheme it has yet to find a structure that is beneficial to all involved. In June this year, through the Office for Best Practice Regulation, the Resale Royalty Act began the process of a post-implementation review that allowed all stakeholders the chance to comment on the scheme and suggest further ways of achieving its objectives. Many have had their say. Some offer comprehensive arguments and others brief dismissals. What remains consistent is the consensus that the system in operation is in dire need of change.
In late November 2008, finally delivering on an election promise, the then Federal Minister for the Arts Peter Garrett, announced the introduction of the Australian Resale Royalty Scheme to begin in July 2009. Its reception was mixed. Artists and Indigenous groups generally embraced it but galleries and auction houses were dubious. Sotheby’s predicted a less than beneficial impact fearing there would be difficulty in the administration and regulation of such a scheme and cautioned it would hinder both the primary and secondary markets. This view was shared by most of the commercially driven sectors of the art world. Although some were in favour of the scheme they feared that in its proposed state the potential benefits would be outweighed by the negative impact.
Gallantly the Resale Royalty Act marched hand in hand with the revisions to private superannuation funds, the GFC and the inflated dollar and like toddlers left to their own devices, managed to upset the buoyant art market leaving it sitting slumped and depressed in the corner. Driving all the confidence out of the market it would be hard to single out any one aspect that forced such a damaging impact but the poor timing could not have been beneficial.
The submissions to the review of the scheme have been telling of the aspects that have caused such distaste. Despite some requesting total abolition of the Resale Royalty Scheme, most have offered suggestions that would result in a more viable version of what already exists. The submissions evidence the great divide of the needs of the artists and the agents that are in place to support them. There also exists a major difference in the needs of Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists that does not appear to have been factored into the initial form of the scheme. Education is key in allowing the Government to assist the artists it was intended to benefit.
The main beneficiaries for the Resale Royalty to date have been the widows and estates of already successful artists. Some in the Indigenous community have seen small gains but these have been offset by a greater loss of income and loss of confidence that some would argue has come as a result of the legislation. In the first three years of its existence the scheme generated $1.5 million for 650 artists of whom 68% were Indigenous and who received 51% of the royalties paid. The reporting of such figures hides behind the true amounts received given as percentages not true dollar figures. It appears that many have profited however most have only received nominal sums, the larger royalties paid to a smaller percentage of already successful non-Indigenous artists. The problems extend to the administration of the scheme that initially was intended to be self-supporting but that has in the last three years cost the government $2.2million and will cost an additional $47,000 a year to just break even.
Amidst the negatives there have been advantages to the scheme. The process has made way for the creation of an extensive database that allows for provenance and authenticity. In turn this has forced a regulation of sorts within the visual art industry with more transparency of commercial practice.
The submissions bring to light the impact of the scheme on the different aspects of the art world. The artists are divided in its support dependent on its relevance to their own practice. Ben Quilty voiced his opposition to a scheme that only provided substantial benefits to the wealthiest of artists. Some are suspicious of the way the royalty is policed and monitored claiming to have knowledge of personal resales that have yet to return any benefits. While others are excited about the potential to earn money on their hard work down the track, seeing it as an insurance policy of sorts.
The government agencies such as Viscopy and Copyright Agency , the collecting agency for the Resale Royalty appear to take a positive slant to their submissions. The glass is definitely half full from their perspective as enforcers of the Act. They believe the scheme, while still in its infancy has provided artists with recognition of rights and additional income, achieving its main objectives. The suggestions for change become a little sinister when the need to have greater ‘power’ to gain information on commercial sales, upending all sorts of privacy laws is taken into consideration. The need for this is reconciled with the case for greater transparency in the art market. The other issue is the ‘opt out’ clause in which an artist is allowed to opt out of the collecting agency obtaining money on their behalf. They propose that artists only be allowed to forego the payment and not be allowed to collect the money themselves. This decision is based primarily on the fact that the agency relies on the commissions of these payments to continue to financially support and sustain itself.
The galleries, dealers and auction houses have specifically responded to the effect the Act has had on their business. The submissions from the commercial art industry are comprehensive in their criticisms. They also include suggestions to improve the operation of the Act, from those who support the principle but have seen the consequences of poor implementation. With the support and lobbying for the auction houses by Liberal powerbroker, Michael Kroger, the likelihood of the Act being repealed is increasingly likely. The royalty is viewed as cumbersome and time consuming for what most regard as small to medium sized businesses. There is issue with the $1000 threshold being too low to garner any substantial return worth administering suggesting it be lifted to $5000. Some see the Copyright Agency as a ‘distributing’ agency not one that collects, leaving the responsibility in the hands of the dealers who receive no financial benefit for the extensive administration involved, they believe that financial compensation is warranted if they are to be party to a deal. They also consider that the lack of clarity for who is responsible for paying the royalty has caused many a confusing situation. There are problems with issues of privacy and view that paying the royalty after GST as paying tax twice. All of these concerns seem to echo in most of the submissions from this sector.
The Indigenous art industry goes further to suggest that the lack of consultation with the private sector of the Indigenous fine arts industry has resulted in a lack of understanding and adaption of the scheme to the unique wholesale and dealer framework that exists. Some of the art centres have reported benefits for the artists they represent but feel that they have been uneven in their distribution. A major issue for the Indigenous artists has been the methods of payment. In the Nicolas Rothwell article in The Australian, Royalties Scheme Shines Stark Light on a Divided Landscape he highlights the bins in Todd Mall, Alice Spring as the main benefactors of the Resale Royalty cheques, miniscule amounts discarded mistaken for fines or penalty notices or merely not worth cashing in. Many artists unable to cash cheques at their local community store often lose them or throw them away. Some cheques attached to the bottom of letters go unrecognised and are discarded. Suggestions have been made to provide annual statements for the benefit of taxation or other financial management purposes. Other solutions offered are the linking of the payments to bank accounts as is done with social security payments, eliminating any confusion and the need to travel to access the money. Better education is necessary on behalf of both the government in understanding the dynamic of the Indigenous art industry and the art centres in educating their artists about the payments. Central to this however the Indigenous community believes in and strongly supports the underlying notion that all artists should benefit from the resale of their artworks.
The Resale Royalty Act was conceived as being of maximum benefit to the artist. Yet much of the changes offered in the submissions are reflective of the separate areas of the arts sector and ways of protecting their own interests. Auction houses are worried about privacy laws, the collecting agency worried about the ‘opt out’ clause and the dealers concerned over who should pay the 5% royalty claiming no monetary benefit is afforded them should they be party to a deal. It is apparent the scheme has been bulky in administration and vague in the clarity of who pays however the central focus, the artist seems lost in the final result.
In a strange twist of events, the review of the scheme and legislation coincides with a change of Government. When quizzed about Arts Policy in the lead up to the recent election, the Liberal Party had no comment. It is no surprise therefore that in one of the early attempts to have a Resale Royalty Act passed back in May 2006 under a Coalition government it was decided that a royalty scheme for artists would not provide a meaningful source of income for most Australian artists and voted against it.
So it raises the question where to from here? How will the submissions and change of government impact on the iteration of the Resale Royalty Act to come or is it a possibility that it may cease to exist? Will the shortsighted version of the past be intuitive enough to understand the nature of art production in the digital age and take into true consideration the nature of the Indigenous fine arts industry? The thing that appears to be the most problematic is the large divide between the hardworking practicing artists, be they Indigenous or non-Indigenous and the government bodies that represent them. Until now much has been lost in translation in a bid to appear to be extending a hand to the Arts. The toddlers need to be tamed, the Resale Royalty disciplined and a version implemented that is kinder to the depressed Art Market, or it may just be banished to the naughty corner forever!
To critique Sydney Moderns is for some akin to hitting a kitten in the head with a crowbar. So as I am an animal lover, I will instead say that the recent exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales was brilliant and only a fool would not be swayed by its charms and give it a cuddle. Okay, now that the rest of the readership has safely gone back to sleep I will continue. The reason for my charade is that for some in the arts community, focus on the minutiae comes at the expense of a much broader view. To critique even tangentially is falsely seen as universal condemnation. This is the case with Sydney Moderns. There is a lot to be praised about this display, but it equally raises the issue of art in the era of the “Blockbuster” and its ability to expose art to new audiences. For those of you with your tridents in hand, I will turn my back now.
Sydney Moderns gives a renewed sense of vigor to an era lost on those of us growing up outside the arts cocoon in the 1980s. For me the school project books of my youth were filled with shearers, bush rangers and Indigenous bark paintings. This was an Australian art history homogenized into wood and leather. The Sydney modernists were anything but horse and cart merchants. Their emblem was the Sydney Harbour Bridge; it spoke of modernity, progress and hinted at TODAY. Despite this, names like Grace Cossington Smith and Roy de Maistre do not possess the same recognition value as Brett Whitely or Arthur Streeton. As I grew up with the video recorder, Sydney modernists were like the vase your grandma had, not new enough to be trendy but not old enough to carry any mystique. Whilst exhibiting retrospectives of Sydney modern alumni like Margaret Preston or Roy de Maistre are not rare, they certainly could be considered intermittent events for the general public. For a time the only way many of us could see the Sydney moderns as a cohesive unit was through a surreptitious copy of the Film Australia documentary “The Australian Modernists” circa 1984. It’s not exactly what you would consider mass marketing. But in 2012 Picasso hit Sydney, and reminded everyone about the power of art and more importantly the blockbuster exhibition.
For those of us who love not only art, but the way it is promoted, Picasso has a special place in our hearts. The 1960 Tate exhibition of Picasso defined the path for countless exhibitions to come. Prior to this exhibition the British public had been largely sceptical of “Modern” art; Picasso himself was regularly lampooned by the British media. However, the 1960 exhibition piqued public interest and word of mouth quickly saw queues forming around the Tate gallery. It is from these scenes that a British publication described the event as “an art blockbuster”. The immense nature of the crowds changed how art was marketed forever. It was reviewed by art critics and colour supplement writers alike. A Spanish buffet was held outside the museum. Even Vogue magazine joined in the excitement. By the end of the exhibition 300,000 post cards were sold as were 92,000 catalogues, bringing Picasso and Modernism into an unprecedented number of households. The event was used to highlight the benefit afforded to art appreciation via large scale exhibitions, demystifying art and making it accessible to wide audiences. British art historian Francis Haskell was later to point out that scholarly ambition in an art exhibition could easily camouflage more institutional notions of prestige, promotion or profit making.
In 2012 the Art Gallery of New South Wales’s Picasso exhibition achieved over 339,000 visitors beating the previous record of the gallery of 323,300 with five days to spare on its run. It is the cynic in me that suggests that a large scale Modernist exhibition to follow the immense impetus generated by Picasso would seem like a very good idea. This is once again “chicken and the egg” territory. It makes economic sense to run Sydney Moderns. It is guaranteed to attract a good segment of art lovers left over from Picasso and with most of the works coming largely from Australia and more specifically from the Art Gallery of New South Wales own vaults; it makes the accountant in me smile. Conversely, the less cynical art lover notes that this is a great opportunity to familiarise a public recently exposed to Picasso with some challenging works from our own past. This is why Sydney Moderns both enthrals and frustrates in equal measure. Degas is rumoured to have said that “art is not what you see, but what you make others see”, this adage can equally be applied to Sydney Moderns the exhibition. As a thesis, Sydney Moderns is a great idea. The choice of works is a terrific selection of both popular and rare pieces. My criticism rests on the scale of the exhibition. What is the methodology behind a “blockbuster” such as Sydney Moderns and will this art reach the wider public acknowledgement it deserves?
Sydney Moderns traces over ten rooms the development of the Sydney modernist movement in the 1920s and 1930s. In addition to a comprehensive range of perennial favourites such as Preston, de Maistre and Cossington Smith there is also a wealth of fresh works from artists unfamiliar to the casual visitor. In short it is a treasure trove for any art lover. I should have really loved it, but I didn’t. The problem with Sydney Moderns is that it is hard not to be overwhelmed by its sheer size, and in the process be caught up in the frenzy and excitement. Is it a coincidence that Michael Brand rebranded The Art Gallery of New South Wales’s future as being “Sydney Modern” in March this year? This concept has serious marketing cache. Attending Sydney Moderns a few days after it opened in July was to be a part of the rush of tours, school groups and trend setters. But the almost “side show alley” ambience that accompanies a presentation of this nature is in stark contrast to the more measured display of these works upstairs in the 20th Century galleries. These recently renovated galleries have somehow got the balance right between guiding visitors around the works in a broad sweep whilst providing opportunistic spaces like the Smokers lounge for personal reflection. Visitors to Sydney Moderns will notice an attention in curatorial detail with a focus on the relationship between groups of art works. Whilst this is an essential part of the experience, the large size of the exhibition ensures a case of visual fatigue for the casual viewer. Works compete for attention, jostling each other like chalkies at a 1920’s stock exchange. The sheer size of the exhibition is a clear indication of the curators desire to give this era the respect it deserves. It seems as though the curators are secretly aware of something the visitor doesn’t know. The works seem to reflect a feeling of a “last hurrah”, as if we may not see their like again. I am left wondering that if not presented in a super-sized format, whether or not the Art Gallery of New South Wales would consider these works viable for smaller, more manageable exhibitions.
It is hard to argue against a blockbuster. In the 1980s the Victoria and Albert museum announced that it would cease producing “big exhibitions” in order to focus on promoting and caring for its core collections. The result was that visitation plummeted, the decision was reversed and in 2013 the institution held its largest blockbuster to date based around the archives of David Bowie. The moral of the story seems to be that art galleries give up on blockbusters at their own peril. A well-managed blockbuster can bring in the crowds, balance budgets and promote a gallery unlike any other marketing tool. Galleries face harsh economic truths in order to broaden the public’s appreciation of art, and blockbuster exhibitions provide a role in delivering that service. But this can come at an experiential cost to the viewer. Francis Haskell observed that during a major art event in Spain, hundreds of visitors were forced to wait for hours to see Velasquez works, many of which could be seen previously in the less crowded ambience of a local gallery. Homer in the Simpsons movie observed that anyone who pays for something that they usually get for free is a “sucker”. Reading the wall text and finding more than just the occasional Sydney Moderns attraction owned by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, some visitors may relate to both Haskell and Homer. But isn’t the Art Gallery of New South Wales simply following contemporary precedent? In 2010 the Metropolitan or “Met” gallery in America held a self-sourced Picasso display in order to combat the effects of the GFC, it attracted over 700,000 visitors. The issue of largely self-sourced, ticketed exhibitions by the Art Gallery of New South Wales in the future raises questions of whether only “blockbuster” art will be displayed, promoted or preserved. Why should the public support institutions who only promote art that is cross promotable? Whilst curator Deborah Edwards is quoted in saying that Sydney modernism is defined by its mix of art works, it is equally arguable that it is this very mix that provides a unique selling point. But if art is being forced into providing selling points, will its appreciation suffer?
The paradox of the blockbuster is that the surging crowds associated with a successful event arguably diminish the ability of the same said audience to enjoy what they have crowded for. In 2011, the National Gallery in London caught media attention when it reduced the number of visitors per hour for its Leonardo da Vinci exhibition. This was not due to health and safety restrictions, but rather to avoid “art rage” a phenomenon witnessed during the Tate’s Gauguin exhibition earlier in the year. Whilst the Tate had achieved an extraordinary response in ticket sales, this was matched by an equally impressive visitor disappointment with the exhibition. Long queues and large crowds around works created conditions through which one observer noted that patrons couldn’t like art that they couldn’t see. My second visit to Sydney Moderns was a “two for one” offer in September as part of the Goya exhibition upstairs. I wondered if the same kind of marketing indignity ever happened to Picasso? The lower crowd numbers provided an excellent opportunity to review Sydney Moderns in a new light. What I meant by that last sentence was that a pensioner, mother with two children and myself had free reign over the exhibition. Blockbusters work best when, like the Queen Mary they are filled to capacity. Without the pulse of the crowd to drive momentum, I found the exhibition gained even more intensity. Without a doubt this may suit some audiences, but not for a man who enjoys being a self paced tourist. Once again this takes nothing away from the concept of Sydney Moderns or the works themselves. I just didn’t want to be connecting with all the art, all the time.
In 1960 a Picasso exhibition helped reinvent the way Londoners saw art. Whilst Sydney Moderns makes a valiant attempt at embracing a wide audience, it succeeds in preaching to the converted. It suffers not through lack of vision or expertise, but rather because its subject matter is more exciting and vibrant than what can be constrained within its walls. Sydney Moderns reminds us that we need fresh approaches in broadening public awareness of these fine works. Australia through the ages produces art and artists as enigmatic, contrary and beautiful as anywhere else in the world. Just make it part of my life, not once in my lifetime. Isn’t that the big picture?
Contemporary art has shifted; its roots elevated to global revolution. Art fairs have taken over; in vogue and flourishing like a Damien Hirst butterfly spreading its wings.
The Art Fair scene sees contemporary art taking centre stage in some of the world’s biggest cities. Considered a major channel for expanding gallery contacts and clientele base, the art fair calendar facilitates a major cog in the art business world: exposure. Now, the art world lives out of a suitcase and packs a paintbrush. Next stop, Sydney.
In any city, opening doors for the global art community conjures grand ideas of renewed interest, global connectedness and opportunities for growth. The explosion in quantity of International Art Fairs is truly remarkable. The numbers paint the picture. In 1970 there were three main events; Cologne, Basel and the Brussels-based Art Actuel. As the interest in contemporary art swelled, this number has ballooned, from 68 in 2005 to over 189 in 2011.
Interest in art, but not necessarily sales, is at an unprecedented level from both buyers and the public at large, with Sydney now grabbing on to the global art world’s coat-tails and vying for its attention. However, in a country as large as Australia, one has to wonder about the motivations behind a second International Art Fair, alongside the popular and established Melbourne Art Fair. Will quantity affect quality?
The dialogue of the art world’s integration with the ‘age of technology’ is somewhat over stated. Frequently, we hear people no longer have time to explore galleries on a Saturday afternoon, preferring to flick through websites, pictures on an i-pad, at any hour, of any day. My argument has always been, ‘Don’t you need to see the work? Really see the work before buying?’ The word from many galleries is, ‘no’. So how then, do we explain the global explosion of International Art Fairs, a trend increasing congruently with retail’s oppositional, explosive sales online?
One could argue the increase in fair popularity is due to the experiential and social nature of the events, acting as a high profile marketing tool for artists and galleries. With Sydney’s desire for these interactive experiences only gaining strength, and local interest in contemporary art growing exponentially, perhaps Sydney Contemporary was simply the next logical step.
The last few years have seen Sydney’s enthusiasm for seasonal festivals and events, all supported by the City of Sydney. In a bid to secure Sydney as a world class tourist destination, the council has pledged to host more festivals and special events. Even more encouraging, is the increased engagement with new contemporary art experiences. The Art Gallery of New South Wales’ contemporary galleries have doubled in size in the last three years, as too have the Museum of Contemporary Art’s visitation numbers since its 2012 $53m renovation. John Kaldor’s Performance Art project 13 Rooms, attracted an impressive 30, 000 visitors, while the 18th Biennale of Sydney of 2012 saw a record 665,488 visits across all venues. This is an almost 30% increase from the 2010 Biennale.
Sydney Contemporary, unlike its Melbourne neighbor, will not receive public funding. Instead, it is a project by Art Fairs Australia founder, Tim Etchells. Sydney Contemporary’s conception brought over 70 galleries, almost a third from overseas, and establishes itself in the Eveleigh events hub Carriageworks.
For many cities, art fairs provide an artistic project that is equally economically viable as exciting. Sydney Contemporary welcomes a traveling circus of world-aspiring Koons, Weiweis, and Fishers but also buyers, collectors, and a public proud to be part of it all. Yet it would be good to see Sydney Contemporary become more than another fair, simply riding the art world’s latest wave. Sydney Contemporary is a long awaited opportunity for innovation within Sydney’s creative community promised to assume a position of status, to establish a vibrant artistic culture, recognizable on a global scale. The prospect of showing off our cultural diversity to the world through our own artistic oeuvre is an event to excite even the most unlikely art goer. If International Art Fairs are the new norm, Sydney is embracing the opportunity with open arms and an open mind in the hope that it will live up to its promise.
Globalization has stimulated the contemporary art market, paving the way for International Art Fairs to be used as a successful model for art business globally. Mark Spiegler and Annette Schonholzer, co-directors of the acclaimed Fair Art Basel highlight how private collections are becoming increasingly international. With a small art world, growing smaller due to globalization, varying art markets are more accessible. Collections made up of local and even national art, are no longer enough.
Art Fairs and collectors are not alone in this trend, with the number of galleries within global reach steadily increasing. The Louvre at Abu Dhabi will come in 2014, whilst the investment company Art Equity offers art commercial solutions in Australia, London and Singapore. Larry Gagosian leads the world with galleries that exude an almost luxury-brand-like feel, spanning three continents with 12 galleries worldwide.
Sydney Contemporary is not targeting galleries such as Gagosian or White Cube, but is instead adopting an attitude towards cross cultural interaction and introductions, particularly for emerging artists and galleries. Some of Australia’s most established galleries were represented at the fair, including Melbourne’s Sophie Gannon Gallery, Brisbane’s Jan Murphy Gallery and Sydney’s Sullivan + Strumpf. However in an Australian Fair first, a move firmly pushed by Sydney Contemporary Director Keldoulis, emerging galleries and artists were shown simultaneously with their more experienced counterparts. This inclusion presented an inspiring diversity of work, from Australia’s most high profile and collectable artists to the emerging ‘ones to watch’.
The International Art Fair trend is contemporary art’s latest boom. For years, demand grew through the traditional avenues of museums and auction houses. Now, through fairs, contemporary art has kick-started a new life of travel, where its prominence is elevated and its trade free flowing. In hosting its first International Art Fair, Sydney has made an admirable attempt to make inroads on the worldwide arts community. The nature of how we view, sell and interact with art may have changed but the clamor surrounding its status remains.
The hierarchy within the art world, particularly art in the secondary market of auction houses, is well established. New York, London and in particular Hong Kong, where this year Sotheby’s is celebrating 40 years in the Asian market, lead the way with increased auction sales, status, and prestige. Here dealers provide a specific environment for success of their share in the business. Similarly, art fairs are establishing themselves as the integral tool in the global, primary, contemporary market.
Art Fairs’ exploratory, roaming revolution reaches all corners of the globe and continues to grow. Proof lies in the success of Art Basel, considered to be the world premier contemporary art fair. Now in its 44th year, and grown to include Hong Kong and Miami Beach as host cities, it is a fair which has usurped the world as a platform for international exposure. Art Basel is not the only success story. The prominence of art fairs within host cities has enabled the synergy of brands across continents. Frieze Art Fair, originally London based, is now biennially hosted by New York, each holds its own identity. The Frieze brand has expanded to Frieze Masters, a contemporary look at master’s paintings currently in galleries worldwide. Additionally, English and German version of Frieze magazine, cementing Frieze as a formative voice on all things contemporary. Behind the likes of Art Basel, London, New York and Hong Kong face competition, particularly from rapidly expanding markets in Asia and the Middle East. Shanghai Contemporary, The Indian Art Fair, Abu Dhabi Art Fair and Art Dubai have caused considerable impact on the art fair calendar.
Whilst the excitement and interest surrounding art fairs can be compared to the fashion world and respective international fashion weeks, the art world is not limited by seasons and specific trends. It displays an arguably broader array of creativity. Art fairs collate a multitude of creatives under one roof rewarding the fair goer to a global tasting plate of art and simultaneously the dialogue created by the close proximity of the global works.
Despite the growth, there seems to be room at the table for one more International Art Fair. The ability of large scale events to use experiential tools, coupled with the ongoing supply of contemporary art will attract crowds. Somewhere in the world there is a new artist or a new work being unearthed. Now, it’s Sydney’s turn to discover it all first-hand.
THE CONTEMPORARY ART MUSEUM – WOULD YOU LIKE FUN WITH THAT?
It was described by the public as being “meaningless”, “pretentious” and “universally awful”. The critics weren’t much friendlier. Yet it still managed to attract a record breaking crowd of over 463,000 visitors. What other than Tate Modern’s 2012 Damien Hirst retrospective could elicit such a response? Personal opinions of the man (and his art) aside, it cannot be denied that Hirst is widely regarded as an important artist of his generation. Does that justify the gallery “wasting taxpayers’ funds”, as one visitor claimed? The Hirst retrospective isn’t the first major exhibition in a large institution to be criticised by visitors. It does however provide a recent high profile example of a priority issue in art museums today; that of “audience engagement” and visitor experience.
This strategic engagement is significant for contemporary art museums arguably more than any other. A recent observational survey conducted by the UK’s Daily Mail found that visitors spent little more than a few seconds in front of a Hirst spot painting or an Emin self-portrait at Tate Britain compared to spending an average of four minutes with more traditional artworks. Much contemporary art is, by its very nature, controversial, and many viewers struggle to interpret or find meaning in the work. It has become the role of the museum to implement strategies that assist in creating connections between art and audience, drawn from and relevant to the visitors’ everyday lives.
According to Alan Brown there are several levels of participation in the arts based on the amount of creative control held by the individual. At the birth of the modern museum audiences were expected to behave within the ‘observational’ level. Come, look, contemplate. Visitors were motivated by the expectation of value in the experience. Recently however, museums have been encouraging viewers to participate on ‘curatorial’, ‘interpretive’ and ‘inventive’ levels too, contributing to the production of exhibitions and accompanying material, bringing their own ideas to the meanings of artworks and even creating or becoming a part of the artwork itself.
The Australia Council for the Arts outlines several indications of a viewer’s deeper connection with artworks. Intellectual stimulation, where the viewer is mentally engaged and encouraged to think deeply about the work and its messages, aesthetic growth, where the work exposes the audience to a new style or type of artwork, broadening the viewers’ ideas of what art can be and perhaps most importantly for this discussion; emotional resonance, when the viewer can draw parallels between the artwork and their own lives. It is a combination of these responses that is considered to produce a meaningful exchange within the museum environment.
In order to achieve these connections, it is imperative that museums know their audience; not just the broad demographic but their motivations, their desires. Museums need to be willing to listen, to observe, to share. There needs to be a conversation. And they need to be willing to change, perhaps compromise, in order to create these experiences and an environment to which visitors will wish to return. In the words of Glenn D. Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) New York, museums need to “shed the idea of being a repository and become social spaces”.
The Queensland Gallery of Modern Art’s (GOMA) 2010 exhibition of contemporary art 21st Century: Art in the First Decade exemplifies this social experience within the museum space while encouraging interaction between audiences’ and artwork. The exhibition featured Martin Creed’s Work No. 965: Half the air in a given space (purple) 2008. This work saw the gallery space filled with purple balloons. It can only be really seen by experiencing it, by participating in it. Carsten Höller’s Left/Right Slide was commissioned for placement in the foyer during the exhibition. Described by the artist as a ‘happiness producing machine’, it consisted of two spiral slides spanning 3 levels of the building on which visitors were free to ride. The work was only considered ‘complete’ through the audiences’ enjoyment of it. The exhibition attracted an unprecedented number of visitors and given rave reviews from the public, but was criticised by more conservative writers for turning contemporary art into ‘mass entertainment’ and the gallery into an ‘amusement park’. Director at the time Tony Ellwood commented.
These contemporary works challenge traditional definitions of audience and artist. Interaction and exchange actually becomes the work. Take, for example, Marina Abramovic’s The Artist Is Present at New York’s MOMA in 2010 , a participatory performance work that had queues of people waiting for hours to sit silently opposite the artist staring into her eyes. Ambramovic’s piece still requires the quiet contemplation that is expected in the museum space to form the intense relationship between artist and visitor. The true spectacle, however, becomes the endurance of the artist. The audience becomes creator in Jon Rubin’s 2012 work at the MCA Denver, Thinking About Flying . Visitors took home a carrier pigeon and then released it to make its way back to the museum, contributing to the making of art from outside of the gallery space itself.
Director of the MCA Denver, Adam Lerner’s philosophy encourages a reconsideration of the notion of a divide between artist and audience, or museum and visitor. He believes that in order to become truly inclusive, museums need to realise the importance of breaking down these barriers. It can be argued that artists, art organisations and audience members all originate from a similar demographic: people who have a love of, or are interested in art. As soon as institutions describe themselves as being separate from, or better than, their visitors they are decreasing the ability to form genuine relationships on this humanistic level. This ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality prevents the museum from truly understanding what their audience wants and limits the ability to create meaningful opportunities for engagement.
At the same time, Lerner recognises that as a public museum there are certain expectations and preconceived ideas about what they do. While remaining committed to a formal and serious contemporary art program, he strives to take a step away from the ‘pretentiousness of the museum’, using humour to increase accessibility, both to the works that they show and the space in general. The Art Fitness Training program, for example, invited visitors to “tune up” their “contemporary art muscles” to feel more confident in art museums. In redefining the language used in arts programing and communication, Lerner believes that the museum is more readily able to communicate their own passion for art, and thereby attract others who are interested too. The notion of coming together in this shared interest is what the ‘social space’ of the museum should truly be about.
But what of those loyal visitors who desire a more customary experience? The traditional museum space of quiet contemplation although seen by many now as the ‘ideal’, is very rarely able to prove its worth in terms of visitor expectation or financial viability. The introduction of new engagement strategies requires a shift in the attitudes of these visitors, who are rapidly becoming a minority. Judith Dobrzynski, writing for the New York Times , denounces the quest for experience and participatory activities as something that is encroaching on all aspects of our lives. She argues that in implementing these new initiatives many institutions are risking a key part of their identity; the very characteristics that made them unique from experiences of everyday life. She blames a clash in values that is pulling museums away from their past as social yet passive spaces that people visited to “see beauty, find inspiration, experience uplift”.
It is not necessarily true that one method of engagement is better than another. Both the traditional object and participatory experience can co-exist, and one does not devalue the other. Some visitors enjoy both participatory experiences and quiet contemplation; others prefer one over the other. Many believe that both experiences have their place in the contemporary art museum and are equally as important.
But, in this day and age in a world that is largely technologically obsessed, fascinated with spectacle and experience oriented, this is where many museums and artists are focussed. Contemporary art is arguably most successful when it explores our current time and culture and allows for audiences to draw parallels with the everyday experience. People want to be entertained, shocked, intrigued, challenged, inspired, surprised. What they don’t want to feel is out of their depth.
It is important for museums to educate visitors in the language of art. Instead of explaining a work in a didactic way, leaving little room for personal opinion, audiences should be encouraged to think and feel their way through. Being given the proper tools to refine perception has a huge impact on the ability to appreciate, judge and respond emotionally. Contemporary art aims to provoke reactions, both intellectual and emotional. There should be no right or wrong answer, only each person’s individual response. Engagement strategies should not be considered at the expense of artistic integrity or quality, but instead work to enhance exchange, dialogue and diversity to form a new experience of art. This is the environment that museums should strive to create; not one of elitism and exclusivity, reserved only for those with knowledge of art theory. Yes, the type of person visiting the galleries will change, as will their reasons for going there. This has been proven by growing numbers and more diverse visitor demographics over recent years. But can expanding this audience, if it means an increasing interest in art, and more funding for institutions, really be so harmful?
However you look at it, the museum exists now for the visitor as much as the art, whether we like it or not. It is no longer enough to declare something a great work of art and expect visitors to “ooh” and “ahh”, standing 3 steps back stroking their chin in deep thought. Now is the time to involve them; draw them in, give them the right tools and allow them to form their own opinion, create their own experience. One that is meaningful, inclusive and ‘universally enjoyable’.
THE INTERN(AL) DILEMMA
For most arts students, working for free is a necessary road toward employment, let alone a dream career in the creative industries. An internship has the potential to provide great reward through a symbiotic relationship between the intern and the host organisation. The intern reaps the benefits of a practical education, networking and invaluable industry experience. The company gains the opportunity to engage the enthusiasm and motivation of a student or graduate passionate to enter the industry. Later on, there may be potential for employment.
Halfway through a postgraduate Art Administration Masters, interning is a constant topic of discussion. While most of my fellow students have completed or are currently undertaking internships or work experience, much of the conversation focuses on the difficulty of securing a quality and worthwhile internship, and the need to take time off regular paid work to work for free.
A report commissioned by the Australian Fair Work Ombudsman found that the incidence of unpaid work in Australia is on the rise. This includes the replacement of entry-level jobs and paid positions advertised under the title of ‘internship’; a rationalisation for unpaid labour. The culture of interning in the arts has become more or less accepted and even expected of graduates. This has created a very fertile environment for exploitation. Maybe it is time to clearly define what is and what is not a legitimate and valuable internship, raise the expectations on companies and organisations to fulfil their responsibility and their legal obligation, and bring the discussion of interning to the foreground of the arts community.
It’s not what you know, but who you know. Networking is a vital part of working in the arts, and interning provides avenues for creating industry contacts. Valuable connections in competitive industries gives students a point of difference to hundreds of other graduates. Training, practical experience and the opportunity to utilise skills gained through formal education are also vital aspects of working towards a job in the arts. That you are willing to work for demonstrates initiative and commitment to the industry. The arts are broad, and niche areas can only be experienced by doing.
Interning has become, for the arts student, a ‘rite of passage’. It is this institutionalisation which is bringing the arts community so many valuable internships, as well as a troubling growth in exploitation. This growing culture of the acceptance of unpaid labour has blurred the lines between what is and what is not an internship. Roles such as volunteering or the replacement of paid positions for free labour must not be confused as one.
That the unappreciated and battling intern is an undying character in popular culture speaks of the institutionalisation of exploitation. The pilot episode of HBO’s comedy Girls embodies the ‘struggling intern’ through Lena Dunham’s character; unemployed writer Hannah Horvath. Financially ostracised by her parents, she is dismissed from a prolonged internship after she raises the possibility of pay. As Dunham is also the creator and writer of the series, the portrayal is perhaps too close to home. Painfully funny. Uncomfortably real.
A very fertile ground for exploitation has been cultivated. On one hand, a good internship is indispensable, providing industry experience, contacts, networking and relevant, practical skills. On the other hand, we have an abundance of companies taking advantage of eager interns and often qualified graduates for free labour. Interns will regularly put up with menial tasks and poor treatment for a good reference, or the hope of a paid position in the future.
Last week, a reply to my application for a ‘new internship program for promising arts administrators’ told me that the cost of participation was $1410. Unpaid internships for undergraduate engineering or science students are more or less unheard of, and I realise the comparison to the profit-making sector is unrealistic. But so is being expected to pay to intern. This type of exploitation only fuels the false argument that the arts are exclusive and elitist.
There has been a growth of unpaid labour roles disguised as internships at the expense of paid positions. This is at financial gain to the company or organisation, but at great cost to those trying to break into the arts workforce, or to those who might otherwise be employed in a paid position. The 2012 report researched by the University of Adelaide Law School and commissioned by the Fair Work Ombudsman Nicholas Wilson explored the growth of unpaid work in Australia. In the previous year, the Fair Work Commission had recognised this growing trend as an emerging issue that needed to be addressed. In particular, the report looked at the trend of ‘disguised employment’ – a substitute to hiring paid staff and found this most common in competitive industries inundated with qualified graduates.
The postgraduate internship course at the University of New South Wales’ College of Fine Arts (COFA) gives students the opportunity to work in an arts institution and take responsibility for all or part of a arts project. It requires the student to utilise the skills and knowledge they have gained from their universities studies in art administration. Hosts have included the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the National Gallery of Australia, and internationally, The Guggenheim and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Placements cover areas such as gallery management, curatorial practice, public programs, art writing and other work areas related to the course. It runs over a set number of hours and is monitored through host and student reports. The internship acts as a meaningful extension to their formal education.
Coordinator of the COFA Internship program, Dr Arianne Rourke says that an internship allows a student to gain practical experience that will assist them towards realising their future career ambitions. In the field of art administration, she says that a successful placement occurs when the student has not only learnt new knowledge and skills, but where they have been given the opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills they have gained from their studies into practice. This gives their studies ‘real world’ relevance. Rourke asserts that the height of success of an internship placement is where a student is later offered paid employment which demonstrates that they are now ready to make a worthwhile contribution to their chosen arts profession.
According to the Fair Work Act, an internship should be educational. The company running the internship should not reap any immediate gains by taking on an intern, but instead has a responsibility to train and give guidance. This may be at cost to the host, yet in turn, they benefit from a motivated intern with a fresh perspective and a pool of potential employees. The intern’s relationship with the company should differ to that of an employee. There should be no expectations or requirements of productivity; the majority of the intern’s tasks cannot assist with business outputs and productivity. The work done by the intern must not replace that of another paid employee. A longer placement usually suggests that an intern is replacing an employee. In short, once the work you are doing as an intern replaces what could be a paid employee, you are being exploited.
A paid internship is a rarity in the arts. The Fair Work Act states that internships do not require payment, but employment does. We must remember that no one embarks on a career in the arts to get rich, but this is not a justification for exploitation. Although payment would be on par with many other graduate internships across different sectors, whether or not one should be paid should be judged on a case-by-case basis. Understandably, for many community or Not For Profit arts organisations, paying an intern is simply not viable. Rourke says that most arts organisations are very grateful to have a student intern that can assist them towards realising projects which often have little funding to offer paid employment for experienced professionals. The majority of students are grateful to be given the opportunity to gain some experience in an arts industry, so the result is a two-way mutual relationship where both parties have a lot to gain from the internship experience. As such there have been very few students [at COFA] who have felt that they have been in any way exploited by companies they have worked for during their internship.
Of course, a successful internship is highly valuable, but not necessarily essential for landing a successful career. Alternative avenues including paid or volunteer work may also offer networking and experience on par with a formal internship. Many arts organisations rely on a strong volunteer base and passionate people giving up their free time. I became aware of this after a year of volunteering at a community radio station that had ten paid employees to over 200 volunteers. For me, this relationship was symbiotic; I produced radio pieces on topics of my interest, and they were given content to fill their daily current affairs arts show. I enjoyed the environment, learn invaluable industry skills, and in return, they appreciated the work I was doing which included the menial tasks of filing CDs and data entry. Although I was learning in the process, I was also contributing to their productivity and much of what I learnt was un-guided. This was never marketed as an internship, and that is important. Volunteering is valuable and worthwhile in its own right, but it is not an internship and should never be marketed as one.
So whose responsibility is it to guard against roles misrepresented as internships? Does it lie with the intern, the student representative body, companies and organisations hosting the intern, educational institutions or the government?
One place which has seen a movement against exploitation in the arts community is the ‘House of Pop Culture’, website Pedestrian TV. Since the release of the Fair Work Report and a rising movement against unpaid work, the site has increased their attention toward culture of interning. As a large advertiser of Australian arts paid positions, internships, work experience and volunteering, they have called upon the ‘Pedestrian community’ to express concern over incorrectly advertised internship roles and recognise when companies and organisations are abusing their position.
Although the law aims to protect those undertaking work experience, exposing exploitation is a tricky business. A complaint to the Competition and Consumer Commission is a formal avenue to express unfair or illegal working conditions, but the tight-knit nature of the arts can make speaking out difficult. Consulting the Fair Work Act and knowing your rights is essential. Matching expectations particularly around your placement role and length will prevent miscommunications and potential disappointment. In increasing expectations of internships, the arts community can change the institutionalisation of exploitation and make sure the internship continues to be valuable.
In terms of making an internship meaningful, Rourke suggests students should not be looking for an internship until towards the end of their degree as it is vital that they have already acquired the necessary knowledge and skills needed in order to make a worthwhile contribution to their chosen art industry field. She also encourages students to think forward to what career path they wish to pursue, and recognising where they want to be in the future. Thinking about what knowledge and skills they want to employ, and what knowledge and skills they wish to gain in order to fulfil this goal will assist towards a successful internship.
Where is contemporary art headed? Is the globalised world restricted by money-making schemes and the commodification of all goods, or is there something brewing? An undercurrent percolating just below the Earth’s surface, which is directing artistic practice and the focus of contemporary art events into new and exciting territory? While Biennales have existed for many years now originating in Venice in 1895, the direction of art being shown at these international events is taking on a new form. We stand on the brink of art being reduced to numbers or celebrated in light of conceptual value, spectacle and experience. Contemporary art is defined partially by consumer driven worth, found within our auction houses and art fairs and the experiential price tag that hangs on the Biennale experience.
On the 15th of May 2013 Christie’s held an auction of contemporary art. Sales reached $495 million, the highest in auction history. The estimated value of the works on offer was $300 million, undoubtedly a large figure but rather shy from the $495 in the bank. Outside the Rockefeller centre only minutes after the closing bid, the mood was electric amongst the New-York based dealers. Philippe Segalot proclaimed, “That was real fireworks!” He told Art in America journalist Brian Boucher that the figures were “Crazy! I’m still digesting it” . New York dealer Daniella Luxembourg stated, “”This is a huge night. A Basquiat sold for more than the Barnett Newman painting last night, which is a rarer painting. It shows that what people want is recognizable assets. This comes along with globalization. Whether you live in Hong Kong or Azerbaijan, certain people will recognize these things” . Contemporary art has over the years come to define wealth, status and social prestige and this is what is seemingly being sold to buyers entering the doors of the Art Fairs globally. Art Basel Switzerland followed the record numbers of the Christie’s auction held from the 13th-16th of June 2013, with 2 billion dollars worth of art held under one roof.
Contemporary art critic Thierry du Duve wrote that the current reception of Biennales fluctuates between “the optimistic embracing a democratic redistribution of cultural power among established and ‘emergent’ regions of the world,” and “the pessimistic recognition of a new form of cultural hegemony and re-colonisation on the part of the West…demonised for generating a new kind of nomadic art tribe that still imposes its hierarchies the world over because it masters the art of networking and can afford to jet around the globe” . Du Duve’s bi-lateral positions can be viewed within the context of Art Fairs also.
The India Art Fair is now going into its 6th year. 2013 marked a milestone in its widespread success, as a partnership with Christies was secured. Neha Kirpal founding director of the India Art Fair states that the focus of this edition of the fair “is on developing new audiences and giving a boost of energy to the Indian market. The idea is to attract both new buyers, who seek to broaden their understanding, and established ones who are on the lookout for new talent” . There is no hiding the focus and scope of money and buying power within the context of the Art Fair and perhaps there is no room to, as it is quite evidently the overarching objective. However the impact of ‘outsiders’ considered to be the West in this case, appears quite problematic.
In its previous four editions, the fair has exhibited works by artists including Picasso, Dali, Auguste Rodin, Miró, Marc Chagall, Marina Abramovic, M.F. Husain, S H Raza, F.N. Souza and Anish Kapoor among many other prolific Western artists. What is this really doing for the Indian market when the largest profits are being sent offshore? The fair’s director Neha Kirpal lays “conviction that ‘international participation’ is the key to the fair’s success” . Yet are we really only bearing witness to du Duve’s theory of cultural hegemony and re-colonisation through economic means?
Girish Shahane is an Indian born, Oxford University graduate and Rhodes scholar, with an extensive background in Indian art history. Upon returning from the India Art Fair he posted on his blog “the purpose is simple: to sell art, and build new contacts that will generate sales in the future” . He continued to comment that galleries appeared to have shied away from this in the past and were rather experimental in what they chose to show. Strict Indian regulations saw the likes of Hauser & Wirth, White Cube and Lisson disappearing off the map and Daniel Besseiche being instated for what Shahane donned “the kind of art lay Indian viewers love”. When Girish Shahane was asked to elaborate on such statements he claimed the work shown at the 2013 India Art Fair was more ‘accessible,’ he defined accessible art as that which was popular amongst the masses, “identifiable subject, bright colours, and visible skill” , thus saleable due to universal appeal and transparent intentions. Conceptual art requires an understanding of art history and this, claims Shahane is limiting the representation at the fair, because it evidently reduces the chance of profitable margins.
At the same time the 5th India Art Fair was being held in the thriving metropolis Delhi, Kochi was inaugurating the first ever Indian Biennale. The Biennale was held in a southern coastal town in the state of Kerala. Cristine Wang wrote in The Gathering of Tribes “The success of a Biennial also has to do with the changing of the balance of power in the international art world by focusing critical attention away from the dominant cultural centers and towards the periphery. It is at the Biennials where art free from hegemonic centers may be found . The first Indian Biennale certainly achieved just this. It moved away from the large cultural epicenters such as Mumbai and Delhi, to a town in the south where a large number of India’s most prominent artists have originated.
Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu were the brains behind the initiation of the Kochi Muziris Biennale and also curated the event. In an interview with culture360, Krishnamachari and Komu stated one of the greatest motivators behind the creation of the Muziris Biennale was because they “believed, and still do, in encouraging Indian artists to think out-of-the-gallery and beyond its confinements”. The duo hoped to create a platform for contemporary art to be exhibited in alternative spaces showcasing experimental methodologies.
The media described seeing a series of obstacles, hurdles, controversies, and incomplete artworks at the time of the opening; due to power failures, technical issues, funding and customs issues. Put simple, ultimate chaos. However the overarching consensus was that the “Biennial worked its charm on all of us,” Why? Because “For all its problems, this Biennale is a refreshing antidote to an art world often contaminated by too much money and not enough taste. And that may be a lesson for our times”. Hope, drive and the aspiration to ‘think big’ drove these artists, curators and directors to create something necessary to the growth, respect and acceptance of contemporary art in India. Although ready-made infrastructure to hold an event of such large scale was non-existent, these determined individuals made it work.
The Kochi-Muziris Biennale offered a counter balance to the monetary fuelled Art Fair happening in Delhi at the very same time. It demonstrated to the local people and India as a whole that art really is for everyone. From a range of free exhibits to a 60-rupee fee for selected shows, the comparison to the India Art Fairs fee of 300-rupee speaks for itself. The Kochi Biennale enables millionaires and rickshaw drivers alike to be involved in and be a part of an exciting creative change for the town and the art world as a whole. As Australian artist Daniel Connell stated, “This Biennale is shaping up as one of the most democratic, inclusive, anarchic and ambitious biennales the world has seen, which I think will leave a legacy of deep and caring personal relationships with art”.
Angela Dimitrakaki, a Greek Born, Edinburgh based, contemporary art critic, believes a great change has taken shape in the contemporary art world. The emergence of two new art practices into the global arena encourages Dimitrakaki to categorise what she considers a ‘social turn’ in an artists approach to art. Dimitrakaki identifies these developments as participatory art, defined as “the rise of the functional artwork – more specifically, the socially functional artwork” and post-documentary practice, characterised by “art’s interest in providing a social document, exemplified by the video essay” .
How and why these forms are considered so radical resides in their ability to re-contextualise the scope and place of the exhibition form. Both forces rely on a production site to shape the creation and engagement with the work. Evidently participatory art and post-documentary practice claims globalisation, “as a series of interlocked socio-economic spaces” , which fosters endless scope for new engagements and new experiences.
A new economic subject cannot be considered at face value. De Duve states, “there is no question that the reasons for the proliferation of art Biennials are mainly if not exclusively economic” . Yet in light of Dimitrakaki’s ‘social turns’ and the face of the Kochi Muziris Biennale it appears this couldn’t be further from the truth. Now more then ever the audience willing identifies their changing place and the changing nature of art in the wider context. These artworks cannot be bought or sold they are durational, experiential and radical. They exist to exist. The Biennales of today show much more then simply just art; they speak of the human condition beyond the articulated form or image. They speak of a shared historical moment and a movement from the aesthetic form to shared experience and the value of documentation.
We stand on the brink of art being reduced to numbers or celebrated in light of conceptual value, spectacle and experience. Contemporary art is defined partially by consumer driven worth, found within our auction houses and art fairs and the experiential price tag that hangs on the Biennale experience.