The (Museum) Trickle Down Effect

museumAs monolithic as the institution of the art museum can seem, its role in society and culture can, at times, be particularly ambiguous.  Sharpening the focus, an art museum’s relationship with the surrounding art community is often no clearer.  An excited  buzz recently flowed through much of St. Petersburg upon word of a new museum, the Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, set to open there in 2016.  Local artists, gallerists, art bloggers (including myself) seemed especially pleased with the news.  I wondered, though, if this stemmed from anything other than the excitement that accompanies new exhibits in a new venue and a potential positive economic impact on the arts.  

Really, it brought a larger question to mind.  The local arts community and nearby art museums seem to share a special relationship.  That said, does one actually exist based on some sort of cultural interchange and should it?  Do better/more museums somehow make a better local art scene?

So it might now become clear that the “trickle” in this article’s title is not an economic one (and certainly not a biological one – nasty!)  Rather, it refers to a flow of cultural value from art museums to local art makers.  I’ve given this idea quite a bit of thought in preparation to host the next #TwitterCrit.  I’ve since realized I’m not one of those quick-tongued critics that can form an unassailable opinion in the flash of a moment.  Thinking about this ‘Museum trickle down effect’ has, in honesty, only left me with more questions.  Still, maybe these questions in themselves are noteworthy points.

Why Trickle Down?

I initially made the assumption that art museums should somehow influence and, to a point, shape the local art community.  Really, if a local art community informed a museum’s practice, I would likely call that “trickle up“.  But why up?

Museums are generally thought of as centers of influence.  Consider the generally accepted pinnacle of an artist’s career is the museum retrospective.  Think about the MoMA’s role in defining the idea of Modernism.  Note museum architecture old and new.  Scrutinize museums bolstering of “cultural capital.”  During the twentieth century art museums have inhabited a role somewhere in between “taste maker” and “history writer.”

Believe me: I don’t want to address why or how museums are vested with this power.  Rather, does this model of Museum-as-taste-maker-slash-history-writer still work for us in the twenty-first century?  I’m not sure, but I doubt it.

In a Wikipedia world, art museums do feel a bit like a stack of  leather-bound encyclopedias.  That isn’t to say the institutions should adopt the elsewhere ubiquitous practices of populism and crowdsourcing.  I can only imagine how terrible administration-by-‘like’-and-‘retweet’ would be.  Still, there seems to be a certain sense of pluralism that is missing.  I’m not saying that everyone’s opinion should be included – we’d end up with a museum aesthetically similar to Pier 1.  What I am saying is there should be mechanism to undermine the institutions’ tendency toward a meta-narrative of art and its history.

I’m sorry: I’m not really offering any specific alternatives, and in the end this might be as much an issue to be taken up with institutional curation as the art museum itself.  To be fair, I did say that considering the issue “only left me with more questions.”  If you have any ideas, however, I’d love to see it as a comment below.

Should there be a Trickle?

Perhaps the most basic question on the topic is “Should there even be a trickle down effect?”  It may be that a creative interchange between local visual arts and art museums locally is not beneficial.  I doubt this also, but I feel like I should play devil’s advocate with myself.
There are well-known stories of the Abstraction Expressionists and their near-desperate endeavour to exhibit within the MoMA’s already hallowed halls.  No doubt, to this end ambition served as some sort of impetus for their art making  – personally, a relatively unsavory thought.  Of course, few local artists entertain hopes of exhibiting in the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg or Tampa Museum of Art.  Yet, I suppose, it would require little for aspirations of museum inclusion to overtake nobler goals.  That said, I’d like to clarify that this is a dumb reason to suppress a creative interchange between local artists and art museums – this sort of ambition seems to be an unshakable aspect of the art world regardless.
The second reason against a creative interchange that comes to mind is the possibility that both the local arts community and art museums operate better independently – a sort of separation of powers.  Obviously, this would retread what was spoken about under the previous subheading –  what really privileges one to exert an influence on the other?
An arts community is unhampered by the expectations of a board, donors, the public, and general bureaucracy.  A museum has wide-reaching resources and concerns that spread far beyond the local community.  It may be that mixing the two weakens some of each’s greatest strengths.

Is ‘Trickle’ the Wrong Word? (It’s definitely an Annoying One Now)

The word ‘trickle’ implies movement, and maybe that’s an imprecise way to illustrate the potential relationship between an art museum and surrounding art communities.
It has been wonderful watching the visual arts community in Tampa Bay grow.  Perhaps an inevitable effect of this growth is that the larger nebulous community divides and again coalesces into smaller groups.  St. Petersburg’s art community becomes the 600 Block, Warehouse Arts District, Gulfport, and so on.  Tampa’s art community becomes Seminole Heights, Ybor, USF.
Can museums act as centers that enjoin the manifold scenes into a singular and stronger community?  With some effort and cooperation, museums can be the fulcrum that allows composite art communities to achieve common goals and meet common needs.  Beyond the potential of being a resource for its venue space and organizational support, museums can act as a visible representation of the larger arts community.  This sort of arrangement would also be beneficial to the museums.
It is certainly in any museums interest to foster an environment of cultural literacy and art appreciation.  Advocating surrounding arts communities can concurrently work as a grass-roots effort to nurture and expand a community that produces future patrons.
* * *
So what should the relationship between museums and local art communities be like?  I’m still not sure.  But I am pretty sure, though, what it might involve: A spirit of cooperation with a focus on shared needs and goals, a manner of operating that reflects a modern sense of pluralism, and a partnership that benefits the larger community we share.
The (Museum) Trickle Down Effect

Art@Bay on Articulate – Pinellas Visual Arts Calendar 11/29 – 12/05

Preview photo of organs by artist Dave Walker, one of more than 35 artists featured Saturday during Abnormality at Station Number Three gallery. See the calendar for links and information.

Each year we mourn the death of millions of turkeys by trying to fill the void the bird left with excessive shopping on the aptly named “Black Friday” … or at least that’s how I understand it. I don’t know—I could be wrong. Regardless, we’re all back and ready to hit the galleries this weekend—some, inspired by their turkey mourning, may be more inclined to do some art collecting. Here is some of the best the area has to offer this week.

Check out the calendar here on Articulate

Continue reading “Art@Bay on Articulate – Pinellas Visual Arts Calendar 11/29 – 12/05”

Art@Bay on Articulate – Pinellas Visual Arts Calendar 11/29 – 12/05

Drama on the Block

The manifold levels of irony have certainly peaked at WTF levels: an artist compelled to cover over the image of Martin Luther King Jr. in a Klan costume with white paint in order to quell reports of complaints.  Likely you’ve heard of the rumpus and voiced your protest of “racist” or “censorship” as a Facebook/Twitter comment/tweet.  A shortened version of the events (in haiku form):

Allen’s mural of/Dr. King as a Klansman/caused a huge ruckus/with a store owner/and the landlord so he was/forced to cover it.  (In case you still need to be filled in, though, check out these articles at Art Taco and Creative Loafing).

Now let’s unpeel the ?! one layer at a time.

Curatorial Hijack

Creative Loafing reports that property manager Gary Burnside requested “the mural’s removal two days after the opening, telling Collective that the gallery’s lease would be in jeopardy if the image were not taken down immediately.”

Would Gary Burnside’s curatorial hijacking have been tolerated in any other major arts city?  Consider, what surely would have happened if this drama unfolded in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Wynwood, San Francisco, L.A.  The idea of a property manager imposing his views on art on his tenants would rightly be considered absurd.  Likely, a stronger gallery community would have largely denounced Gary Burnside and developer Tom Gaffney as well as dismissed the neighborhood as unfit for serious galleries.

In our mounting, but still fledgling art scene, however, galleries can be bullied without recourse.  The camaraderie of the St. Petersburg visual art community is impressive.  However, we don’t have the strong collector base that would give our galleries the financial leverage needed to defend themselves or move on.  Rather, in lieu of any real options, Collective Tattoo and Gallery is left to bow to the personal impositions of its landlord, and we’re left to wag our heads in disapproval.

Civil Discourse

As the above Creative Loafing excerpt mentions, the mural was only displayed for two days prior to being covered.  Because I haven’t spoken to all parties involved, I can’t say with total certainty that no alternatives were offered (e.g. a window covering) and no civil discourse was had.  Considering, Allen Hampton painted over his mural and Burnside resorted to an ultimatum, it seems unlikely that any rational conversation took place.

My gripe here, is not that Burnside (and perhaps Gaffney by association) were being mean – it’s unrealistic to expect otherwise in business.  This is my gripe: The apparent lack of any real discourse suggests that the property manager’s decision was an emotional one rather than a pragmatic one.

True concern for the property would logically lead to the utilization of realistic alternatives which would satisfy all parties.  Exacting an ultimatum in which the only realistic option is for the gallery and artist to destroy the mural seems to betray a leverage of authority in order to satiate a personal offense at a work of art.  That would be morally wrong.  Further, for a block that purports to be a creative neighborhood these types of managerial tactics are terribly disappointing.

Culturally Myopic

I’m not going to bother trying to explain how to critically deconstruct art (as opposed to blindly reacting to it) – if you’re reading an art blog, you probably already know how to do this.  However, I thought it would be prudent to at least address Burnside’s quotes in the above mentioned Creative Loafing article.

“This artist is nothing. For him to disparage Martin Luther King’s legacy — give me a break” – The legacy of Martin Luther King Jr isn’t so fragile as to be irreconcilably sullied by a mural in a tattoo parlor.  Further, the mural isn’t even ‘about’ Martin Luther King.  Instead the mural is concerned with his image in our visual lexicon and the power we invest in it.  This is obvious by the way Hampton juxtaposes the image of MLK with a similarly powerful (albeit hateful) image.  The same effect could have been achieved by contrasting any two loaded but diametrically opposed images.

“Some people don’t think. They just think they’re an artist and they can say and do anything they want to.” – Actually, artists can do almost anything they want – it’s the fundamental nature of art.  However, that doesn’t mean the result will be good and/or tasteful art.  There are lines to be drawn, though.  Two lines, that is – a personal line, and a collective line.  We must determine what we permit to be art personally and as a society.  Burnside can draw his personal line where ever he pleases.  However our collective line, our standard of what we as a community permit to be art, should be drawn but not here.  It should be drawn, not by an individual (and certainly not by a landlord), but by the creative community.

* * * * *

The 600 Block helped revitalize St. Petersburg as a whole and establish the city as an arts destination.  There are great artists and galleries that work and exhibit on the block.  The music venues are some of the best in the Bay area.

However, this kind of drama is unacceptable.  Gallerists should expect to not be micromanaged, bullied into ultimatums, forced to cede curatorial control, or be treated like children.

Indeed, this kind of administration could drag the 600 Block through a cultural regression and right back into artistic irrelevance.

Drama on the Block

Look! 2nd Saturday Art Walk – 5/12/12

We made seven stops on Saturday night’s art walk!  Here is a slide show of our travels.  Photos of the Warehouse Arts District are scant here because I’m saving them for an upcoming post.

Scroll to the bottom of the page for Art at Bay’s prestigious top three art walk works of art (aka my three favorite)!  What were yours?

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Billy Cole, Absence – at Blue Lucy’s Scratching the Surface


Kristen Bellomo, Wolves Don’t Hate, Black copper paint on cardboard (at C. Emerson Fine Arts)

…and #1

Lorrie Fredette, The Great Silence, Beeswax, tree resin, muslin, brass, steel and nylon line, 74 x 194 x 68 in. (from Wax: Medium Meets Message at the Morean Arts Center)

Note:  After Ramblin’ Rose I had to head home and entirely neglected to take photos of work from artist Zoe Sierra Hill.  Check out her work here.

Look! 2nd Saturday Art Walk – 5/12/12

Off the Wagon – Your Weekend Art Binge 5/04 – 5/06

May the 4th be with you!  Today is like Christmas for pun-loving Jedis.  If you find you aren’t wrapped up in Star Wars themed nerdery all weekend here is some art worth checking out.

Blue Lucy – Scratch the Surface     Sat 5/06  7pm-11pm

Blue Lucy opens a large group exhibition this Saturday.  Seriously, big.  The inevitability that you or a friend is involved is reason enough to stop by.

Blue Lucy distributed square wood panels to over 100 local artists on which to create new work.  Curatorial restrictions on medium often produce great results or bust, but rarely land in the middle.  If not critically acclaimed fine art, though, the show will definitely provide the best locally made hanging-art for the home at a price that shouldn’t be far out of reach.  I was definitely able to spy out quality abstract work that will appear in the exhibit from artist Daniel Williams.  Also, look out for some local favorites such as Frank Strunk III, Calan Ree, and Coralette Damme.

Tampa Museum of Art – Art on the House    Fri 5/04  4pm-8pm

I know, I know: I feature Art on the House often.  I swear I’m not on their payroll.  There are two specific exhibits worth a gander this weekend, though.

Romare Bearden is packing up and leaving town this Sunday.  If you haven’t had a chance to visit the exhibit yet, do it.  Now.  The Romare Bearden exhibit is the most impressive one in the museum right now (and the museum is filled with nothing but impressive exhibits at the moment).  Bearden’s work capture’s a timelessness in a way only great work can.  It’s nearly impossible to pin his work to any particular decade though it spans several.  His use of collage seems to depict everyday life with a familiarity usually reserved for photography or film while also commenting on how it’s depicted.

With the surging buzz of activity lately I’ve neglected to mention the loan of sculptures from the amazing Margulies collection.  Miami’s Margulies collection is a museum’s worth and worthy collection of modern and contemporary art.  The TMoA selected to exhibit sculptural works from the latter half of the 20th century with an emphasis on the natural form.  The exhibit includes some serious art icons but I particularly enjoyed seeing George Segal’s Three People on Four Benches and Isamu Noguchi’s Judith.

Off the Wagon – Your Weekend Art Binge 5/04 – 5/06

Art@Bay at Sarasota Visual Art – Art Getting to Work

Duncan McClellan Glass

If art neighborhoods were personified perhaps St. Petersburg’s 600 Block would be a skinny-jeans-and-Chucks hipster.  Tampa’s Seminole Heights might be tweed jacketed; scruffy but mature.  However, there is a new neighborhood you’d probably find in blue jeans and blue-collar: the Warehouse Arts District.

Read the rest of the article here

Art@Bay at Sarasota Visual Art – Art Getting to Work

Art@Bay at Sarasota Visual Art – I Like My Art Like My Veggies…

I like my art like my veggies...

Even being situated in the middle of the art world, its difficult not to think in terms of art archetypes like the starving artist, the rich collector, the spectacled blogger (that last one I made up).  More than archetypes, these are bit parts in perhaps the twentieth century’s most persistent art trend: the gallery system, the way art is bought and sold.  Art hasn’t always been (and presumably won’t always be) bought and sold the way it is today.  St. Petersburg’s Morean Arts Center is putting another option on the table.

To read the full article click here.

Art@Bay at Sarasota Visual Art – I Like My Art Like My Veggies…

Warm Up the Skinny Jeans, Kids – Art to Check Out This Weekend! 2/04

Hitch up your smarty pants or pull up your party pants this Saturday (not that either is really mutually exclusive): our two offerings this Saturday will probably appeal more to your Apollonian or bacchanalian sides.  However,  hitting both shows in the same night may appeal to your more rad side.

Blue Lucy – Far Out: A Black Light Art Exhibit     2/04/12  7pm-11pm

Blue Lucy‘s much loved Black Light Art Exhibit returns this Saturday at 7pm.  Though perhaps not as heady as most of the exhibits I usually recommend, I promise: you will have fun.  Far Out will be featuring work from several artists including local star Frank Strunk III and 600 Block neighbors, Pale Horse Design.  Not only will the black light blow your mind (and reveal nasty stains),  you’ll get a chance to meet some great local artists.  Check out Taco Bus before hand (you’ll find me there) and Sake Bomb after – you’ve got yourself a grade A downtown St. Pete night.  We’ve been in Tampa a lot lately, so it’ll be nice to pay a visit to  Blue Lucy and the rest of the 600 Block.

Tempus Projects – Wall Music and Things Not Seen Before Closing Reception     2/04/12  7pm

I know lately I’ve given the lion’s share of my attention to Tempus Projects’ John Cage tribute exhibit.  So this is the last time I’ll mention Things Not Seen Before.  It’s just that  I’ve been a fan of the composer/artist since I was a wee high school art nerd.

The USF School of Music will be interpreting and performing music based on the sights and sounds of the Things Not Seen Before exhibit.  The small space is sure to work well for this performance also.  It’s been encouraging to see so much collaboration involved in this ongoing exhibit, so it’s appropriate USF gets in on the act before John Cage leaves town.  This Saturday is also your last chance to get in on the act so if you’re not heading to the 600 Block hope you can make it to Seminole Heights.

Warm Up the Skinny Jeans, Kids – Art to Check Out This Weekend! 2/04