Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Student Art Protest Project at the Rose Art Museum
I continue to be impressed by the creative work of the Cultural Production graduate students around the continuing Rose Art Museum crisis. Over the past week, they've partnered with undergraduates and the New York-based artist Steve Miller (who had a solo show at the Rose in Fall 2007) to develop an imaginative "art action" protesting the plan to sell off works in the Rose collection. They playfully incorporated the idea of an ATM, parodying the tendency of administrators to view the museum as a giant cash machine. Guided by Steve at long distance, the students worked to develop a banner reading "ATM", which was hung across the museum's entrance, and created small signs, reading "ATM inside," scattered across the campus. Steve donated the banner to the Museum, which prepared a lovely little official label for the work, entitled "ATM: Art Trumps Money," crediting all the students who worked on the project. It has been remarkable watching this group engaging in respectful consensus decision making while all the while thinking carefully about the university's long term financial challenges.
The students have documented their creative process at:
The work was unveiled just before last night's town meeting at the Rose, attended by about 300 people (and viewed though internet streaming by about 250 more). The CP students also recorded the proceedings and uploaded them to YouTube. See:
I've been pondering some of the enigmatic, paradoxical entailments of art and money foregrounded by the ATM project. "Art" as we know in the modern world is largely constituted through the logic of capitalist exchange and capitalist markets; the very concept of "art for art's sake" depends on the bourgeois liberation of aesthetic production from the strictures of aristocratic patronage. Yet great art, which is so highly evaluated in monetary terms in the art market, makes claims to transcending the pricing system in which it is embedded: it is "invaluable, "priceless," "beyond measure." To treat art merely in reductionist terms as a commodity is widely understood as unspeakably vulgar. Hence, the satirical bite in the artistic intervention, rendering the entire museum as a giant ATM. This vignette seems ludicrous to so many, since art is so often elevated above mere filthy lucre. Yet at the same time, we are partially aware that the sacredness with with great art is embued is inextricably bound up with the sacrality of capital itself (which is always hedged about with the mystery of just where value under capitalism comes from.)
One wonders if the ATM banner could, under certain circumstances, itself be transmuted into a valuable work of art. Let us suppose that the students succeed in rescuing the Rose as a public art collection and the banner becomes recognized as having played a critical role in this redemption. Might the banner circulate through major contemporary art museums on a triumphant royal progress, and in this way acrue value over time. If this happened, would the work in fact illustrate the principle that 'art trumps money,' or would it demonstrate that, at the end of the day, money still conditions our experience and knowledge of art?