Artwatch UK

Posts tagged “Titian Bacchus and Ariadne

IN THEIR OWN WORDS: No. 2 – The Curse of (revenue-generating, thought-precluding) Audio-guides

It’s official: museum audio guides stop people from looking at pictures. It is now clear that it would better to dump them – the audio guides, that is.

SYDNEY SCHAEFER, Staff Photographer. Clay Cofer, an Art Team member at the Barnes Foundation, does a pop-up gallery talk for visitors.

Nick Feldman photo. Courtesy Barnes Foundation. The Barnes Foundation Art Team members (from left) Tamara Mason, Ann Moss, Miriam Klingler, Clay Cofer, Amy Gillette, Florence Hsu, and Sara Land.

“…The Art Team is part of the Barnes’ [i. e. The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia] continuing effort to deepen its ties with its audience. Initiated by Shelley Bernstein, chief experience officer and deputy director of audience engagement, probably best known for her work with digital technology, the Art Team is notable for its relative lack of tech, at least for now.

“‘You begin with the most meaningful thing first,’ Bernstein said, alluding to engagement efforts. ‘So this is what we call the human-interaction layer. It’s not about technology. It’s not about providing people with a thing or device. It’s thinking about what human interaction should be in the galleries and what we want that to be and trying to get that right before layering in other things.’

“First came some testing. Perhaps surprisingly, Bernstein discovered that people spent a lot more time in the galleries without an audio tour guide (110 minutes) than with one (88 minutes).

“Why? Visitors always said they love and want the audio tour, she said. But they spend less time with the art when an audio tour is in play. People want to talk to one another. They even remove the audio tours.

“Bernstein checked with colleagues at other institutions, notably the Broad museum in Los Angeles, which has assigned a group to do everything from taking tickets to chatting about the collection with visitors.

“The Art Team is a result of these conversations and simultaneous visitor research. Audio tours were retired. Visitors were launched tech-naked.”

Brilliant. Never mind the art jargon, this account in The Inquirer (“Art Team is Barnes Foundation’s new twist on visitor ‘engagement’”) is a most heartening and culturally healthy development. Consider this passage:

“Orbe caught Cofer’s rap in a small gallery filled with a Goya, a Renoir, a Manet, a de Chirico, and several other paintings, and pieces of ironwork and furniture.

“‘Goya is a very important anchor from the past,’ Cofer said to the people crowding the room. He swiped through iPad images. Back and forth.

“Goya harks back to Frans Hals, he told them. Manet, across the room, relates to Hals, as well. Consider Goya’s brushstrokes, said Cofer. Consider the rosy complexion on his portrait here. Is it not like the rosy complexion of the Renoir portrait far down on the wall?

“Visitors watch Cofer’s almost magical manipulation of his iPad images. And then, five or so minutes are up and he’s gone.”

For one thing, that intervention sounds very much in the spirit of Barnes’ educational notions: let art speak through its own variously assembled images. More than that, it sounds positively subversive and revolutionary in terms of today’s museum practice. Here is a man (it could be a woman, of course) who talks about art as art and who is clearly alert to artists’ practices and to the distinctive, culturally-enriching uses to which past artists-of-talent, so to speak, have put them. In talking, he shows, he engages with images – he sees the eloquent testimony of brushstrokes (see picture below). How much more appropriate is that than the museum world’s now bog-standard aesthetically obtuse didactic and patronising “story-telling”? (Whenever people talk of “Art and its Stories”, we should all run a cultural mile: those who would convert art into class, sex or other politics are, by definition, technically philistine and therefore unfit for purpose.)

Is this historic photograph above – of a detail of Frans Hals brushwork – not worth a thousand of anybody’s words?

Once, when looking closely at Titian’s (now restoration-wrecked) Bacchus and Ariadne in a quiet lunch-time spell at the National Gallery, I half-registered a voice saying “I’m about to start talking about the painting” but, absorbed in thought, did not heed it. The phrase was politely repeated. When I turned I saw not only the NG badge-wearing speaker but an entire party of elderly grown-ups sitting on little fold-up stools like expectant primary school children. They were asked to identify the brightest colour in the picture. Hands shot up – “Blue!” they chorused. “That’s right”, the speaker said and she then asked: “and what is the pigment?” More raised hands and then a riff about lapis lazuli and its great expensiveness. Ariadne, the class learnt, was an abused and dumped woman whose depiction had been commissioned by a super-rich man for his private engendered-gaze…John Berger would have been so proud.

I wandered off and encountered another guide; another seated party (this time of teenagers sitting on the floor) in another gallery. The guide – a true “Dave Spart” – was explaining how Uccello’s Battle of San Romano was a “celebration” (Berger again) of capitalists’ hired mercenaries…and imperialist blood-letting.

On another occasion I went to re-examine the attributed Rubens Samson and Delilah without noticing a row of head-phoned tourists perched on a bench in the middle of the gallery. They soon began tutting. It seemed that by standing and looking at the painting I had breached cinema etiquette: the seated customers could no longer match the (paid-for) voice-in-their-heads to the image on the screen. They’ll have usherettes soon, selling ice cream.

The greatest benefit/privilege/luxury of museums – the opportunity for people to examine works of art at their own pace while thinking their own thoughts – is being systematically denied by museum staffs grinding their own (- but DCMS-demanded) axes and harvesting cash from contraptions. Such, no less than the cumulative debilitation of the artefacts in the name of the name their “conservation”, constitutes a crime against art and an injury to people.

Michael Daley, 6 March 2018

CODA – AN OPEN LETTER:

Dear all
The next issue of British art periodical The Jackdaw (May) will contain a statement against the current tendency in arts management to apply identity politics. The text is below. It does not contain any aesthetic, political or stylistic subtext. It simply asks for those in the art world to judge art works individually and on merit.

I and a number of artists, editors, writers and others will be signing the text. If you would like to add your name and how you would like it to be presented (i.e. “Dr Robert XX, art historian”, “Sarah XX, artist”) then please email David Lee, editor of The Jackdaw, at david.lee@thejackdaw.co.uk (T: +44 7773 673 722).

You are welcome to forward this email to anyone in the art world who may wish to add their name.
Thank you.
Regards
Alexander Adams

Against Identity Politics in Arts Programming

1) Art should be judged primarily on its intrinsic merit.
2) Artists should not be judged on their demographic characteristics but upon their merits as demonstrated through their production.
3) There should be no quotas (official or unspoken) along demographic lines regarding art programming, prizes, awards, bursaries, exhibitions and acquisitions, as well as the staffing of arts organisations.
4) Arts organisations should be staffed by individuals with sufficient competence, experience and personal attributes to make them suitable for their positions. In their official roles, they should be committed to serve art and their organisation not their private political convictions.
5) Consumers of art should not be patronised but treated as individuals of unique tastes and interests. If members of the public choose not to engage with art then that is not a failure; it is the choice of individuals. There should be no targets for audiences in terms of demographic characteristics.
6) It is healthy for opinions of various political outlooks to exist within the arts. It is important for reasoned dissent to be heard in order to combat the emergence of an unhealthy political monoculture.
We believe that if these principles are applied then the arts – and public life more widely – will benefit.
Yours, etc.


wibble!