Last night, my middle son, who is a senior in high school, had to write an essay on a "controversial art installation" . His teacher gave him the Viet Nam War Memorial as a starting point. He could then decide what to write about. So he began to look on the web for another conflict to interest him.
"I can help!" I told him.
Boy, could I. In the more than 37 years since I first set off to college to be an art major (and even before that), there have been countless controversies in the world of art. My mind started recalling several of note, including some I had serious problems with myself.
But I didn't need to go back in time. There is a far more current brouhaha unfolding day by day right near here in North Adams, Massachusetts. In fact, I had just read the latest the development in this NYTimes article: Is It Art Yet? And Who Decides?"
Maybe it is because I have spent the last 35 years working WITHIN BUDGETS and, even tougher, WTIHIN DEADLINES, but this whole turn of events has left me shaking my head. And my head shaking has NO pity for the artist.
When the Times article started off:
"WHEN a museum behaves badly, it’s never pretty. But few examples top the depressing spectacle at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art...."
I knew where this piece was going. And, honestly, I didn't like it.
I don't like it when artists lose their grounding on earth and start to orbit the planet, seemingly oblivious to the rules of common sense that most of us work by. I don't like it when artists become prima-donnas and give bad names to the rest of us who seriously work at what we do and who behave professionally.
As an illustrator ( and this also applied to when I was a fiber artist) I know the money I am given is more or less set, and that I need to get my artwork to press by a certain date. The publisher needs that predictability and profit margins can depend on it, not to mention public expectations. Why should a museum not have similar expectations? In a day when funding can be limited and needing to be open and having paying customers attend is key, what else could they do? Go under financially? For what? In the name of so-called art? I don't think so. Triple their alloted budget? Then what is left for other artworks?
Even though the audience may be different in this case, and we are not talking about periodicals or books, I do not understand why any artist would feel it appropriate to stray as far from those confines as Mr. Büchel seems to have.
Apparently he sent a list of things for the museum to procure for him. This list included:
a two-story Cape Cod cottage
A leaflet-bomb carousel
and old bar from a tavern
a vintage movie theater
and banged up trailer, mobile home, bus and truck
And this was to be within the agreed budget of $160,000.00 And they added more and more again.
Now let's start off with this: if these items are to be important components of what makes this installation "ART", wouldn't it be incumbent upon the artist to get them himself? I mean--really. Surely, just ANY Cape Cod would not do. And were I looking for a vintage theater, I would be pretty damn picky as to which vintage theater I was gonna use. Who wouldn't be?
Mr. Büchel and the Museum will face off in Federal Court tomorrow when each will argue that the other has broken faith. Frankly, I hope there is a serious wrist slapping of Mr. Büchel. Get, real, buddy, and come down off the pedestal.
I know what you are thinking: suppose your work were displayed before it is finished?
Answer: it has been. Every time an "uncorrected proof" goes out to book reviewers, they see it precisely that way--unfinished! Not really top notch yet. So there. Ya don't see me having any hissy fit about it.
And that is precisely what it sounds like here--a hissy fit. Mr. Büchel simply walked off the set.
BTW, my son sides with the artist.