Because the Caucus for Marxism and Art had been granted a very brief time slot, only three artists were scheduled to speak, each to discuss her/his work in the context of social change. Martha Rosler noted in her introduction that each of them dealt with violence—physical or social. Later she addressed the need of political artists to gain control of language, to move away from the media definition of “violence.”
Since the original title of this panel was “Museums and the Reality Principle,” the artist-listener might have expected an adrenal in-rousing discourse on exhibition politics, how artists are chosen or ignored, the manipulations of trustees, the perfidy of curators and their lovers, etc. Instead, the Reality Principle at issue quite reasonably concerned the costs of running a museum, the problems of attracting a broad public, and how, having done so, not to go broke being popular. Hilton Kramer described the task of a museum over the past thirty years as changed, from an agency showing classics of modern art to an institution whose function is also to introduce new and emerging artists and movements.
The Serbian sculptor Marko Marković has expressed an interest in museum conservation departments and in the process of finding, restoring, and preparing objects for exhibition. For him, the final display is as much the work of archeologists and conservators as it is the labor of artists, artisans, and curators. In addition, Marković is not a fan of the normal exhibition catalogue for an artist, with an art historian or curator explaining the art. He would rather provide a fictional document for audiences to follow, to create something believable beyond the contemporary artist’s professional requirements to present work in galleries, have a portfolio website, and give talks.
It was Willem de Kooning who once remarked, “Flesh is the reason oil paint was invented.” For artists from Peter Paul Rubens to Jenny Saville, this assertion is incontestable—there is no better way to portray human skin in the medium. De Kooning also said that “beauty becomes petulant to me. I like the grotesque. It’s more joyous.” The visual thrashing ones sees in the Abstract Expressionist’s midcentury paintings of women is not what the New York–based artist Clarity Haynes has in mind for her Breast Portrait Project, an ongoing series of paintings of women’s torsos that take the genres of both portraiture and the female nude in new and unexpected directions. Her view is more sympathetic to the women she paints, though the works still make some viewers uncomfortable, including me.
In April 1968, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York brought together museum professionals, academics, and computer technologists from IBM for a “Conference on Computers and Their Potential Applications in Museums.” A postconference report,” said Ross Parry, senior lecturer and college academic director in the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester, indicated that participants and attendees imagined their technological future in the year 1980. They envisioned a computerized image-search database that would allow a person to pull up any artwork that depicted, for example, “sailing vessels,” or to get information on objects in storage or from other museums. “This was reverie,” said Parry, of these predictions for a digital institution.
The legendary artist Robert Morris doesn’t often participate in live interviews, whether in public, in person, or on the phone, so a recent appearance by him at the New York Public Library was a rare treat. Indeed, as the scholar and curator Jeffrey Weiss noted at the outset, “Agreeing to speak is not something he does too freely.” But when Morris, Weiss, and the art historian Julia Robinson gathered in celebration of Weiss’s new book, Robert Morris: Object Sculpture, 1960–1965, the ensuing conversation was a frustrating affair.
The keynote address, delivered by Thomas Hoving, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, bounded quickly across the history of museum art buying in the United States and settled on the future role of the art museum. According to Hoving, whose own museum has escaped the financial crunch plaguing art institutions in the 1970s, all is changing for the better. He foresees an emerging “technotronic era” which will not, as Orwell warned, snuff out creativity, but enhance it. “Our Western artistic manifestations will tend to diminish in importance, and we will begin to recognize a multiplicity of centers and styles,” he said, adding that the tastes of a few critics and a small group of curators won’t wield the power they do today.
Not only is art alive, it is thriving, was the assessment given by some of the nation’s foremost museum officials, art dealers, and artists to some four hundred persons at the first World Art Market Conference over the weekend. “Far from being less pertinent, the fine arts and the art museum will become more important,” declared Thomas P. F. Hoving, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Billed as “The First World Art Market Conference,” the show was, as John Everett, president of the New School, said in his opening remarks, about the “business of art.” It appeared to be mostly a media event. The press was given the three front rows, fussed over with TLC. Some four hundred others, dealers, and collectors from around the country, and a few artists hoping to learn about “business,” paid $200 each to see and hear the superstars of the art market. Those expecting a clear view of the crystal ball—specific investment advice—were disappointed. But they got lots of encouragement and word that the art market is very good these days.
For the final panel of the Museum as Hub Conference, called “Institutions after Art,” the moderator, Taraneh Fazeli, education associate at the New Museum, wanted to explore institutional programming, alliances, content, context, and power dynamics, not just the status of structures that support artists. The Museum as Hub has supported exhibitions as a coproducer. What else can noncuratorial departments, independent groups, and nonprofit organizations do?