Thursday, December 29, 2011

Corporate Sponsorship of the Arts

Museums and fine arts institutions are pressured to conform to the ideologies of their financial supporters, and the more people art museums answer to, the more freedom they lose in the type of art they exhibit. The United States has increasingly privatized financial support for nonprofits, and corporations have rapidly caught on to the propagandist benefits of supporting prominent cultural institutions.  Corporate investment in arts in particular originated after the Great Depression, when the United States Government offered tax exemptions for donations to nonprofit institutions.  Private corporate funding for the arts increased dramatically towards the end of the 1960s and the recession of the 1970s and 1980s, when the government withdrew financial support. 

Corporations quickly recognized the social implications of having their company’s name associated with an art institution.  Mobil Gas referred to their contributions as a “good will umbrella,” and Exxon as a “social lubricant.” Especially for corporations involved in scandal, executives found opportunity in the prestige of art to lobby their interest in congress, which would serve as a shield against corporate misconduct. As one prominent artist, Hans Haacke explains in his essay Museums, Managers of Consciousness, “They recognized that a company’s association with art could yield benefits far out of proportion to a specific financial investment. Not only could such a policy attract sophisticated personnel, but it also projected an image of the company as a good corporate citizen and advertised its products—all things which impress investors.”

Museums in turn were eager to involve corporations. For example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art distributed pamphlets entitled The Business Behind Art Knows the Art of Good Business, to present to businesses interested in funding the Museum. Haacke offers another poignant explanation, “What the emergence of arts administration departments in business school demonstrates… is the fact that in spite of the mystique surrounding the production and distribution of art, we are now—and indeed have been all along—dealing with social organizations that follow industrial modes of operation”. As museums become more business-oriented and focused on safe bets and money-making exhibitions, exhibiting politically subversive works of art under the name of a corporate sponsor becomes almost impossible.

The tobacco giant Philip Morris has been one of the greatest sponsors in the last few decades of arts-related programming. You can read about exhibitions Philip Morris sponsored in a book called Art In Business that was donated to universities around the country by… Philip Morris. In one major study on corporate sponsorship as a tobacco marketing tool, researchers explained that corporate funding is used to associate a business with specific causes important to a target group, usually deemed difficult to reach through more traditional forms of advertising.  According to the study, tobacco companies sponsored sports, events, and cultural activities targeted at the African American community, at the Hispanic community, and at women. Philip Morris highlights in Art In Business: Two Hundred Years of North American Indian Art, Masterworks from the Museum of the American Indian, Remember the Ladies… Women in America, 1750-1815, and Two Centuries of Black American Art. The elephant in the room is, would these exhibitions have existed had Philip Morris not agreed to sponsor them? 

Helmsboro Country Unfolded, 1990, Hans Haacke

One danger of accepting tobacco money is allowing corporations like Philip Morris to associate their company name with positive social causes.  In some instances, corporations spent more money on marketing campaigns for charities than they donated to the charities themselves.  According to one survey on tobacco sponsorship, Philip Morris threatened to relocate its corporate headquarters and tried to get art institutions to lobby city council when New York City threatened to ban smoking in restaurants and public places.  Philip Morris informed the New York City mayor’s office that if the company withdrew support, it would be a “dark day for the arts.”  When a New York Times columnist tried to interview “any official or board member of any cultural organization supported by the tobacco giant” to talk about their lobbying efforts, none would comply.

In an essay entitled, Government Support for Unconventional Works of Art, artist Adrian Piper argues that the responsibility of funding art, especially politically subversive art, lies in the hands of a truly democratic government.  Promoting provocative work is the key to “assault oppressive conventional attitudes that empower institutions at the expense of individuals,” according to Piper.  She promotes the neutrality and informed opinion of a government appointed group of art world professionals who would award funding and combat “passive censorship” by withholding support from artists whose viewers “compete with or criticize the status quo.”

In an article entitled, Philip Morris’s Artworld Fix, Piper destroys the image of Philip Morris as a benevolent supporter of the arts.  “Q: Why would Philip Morris support BOTH avant garde art AND ALSO Jesse Helms, who wants to kill public funding for it? A: Philip Morris and Jesse Helms are engaged in a joint partnership that will make the world safe for selling cigarettes.”  Piper was outraged by the actions of Jesse Helms, a five-term senator from North Carolina fighting hard to get rid of government funding for the arts.  If Helms succeeds in destroying public funding for the arts, Piper argues, then art institutes will have to rely on private funding, namely the money of Philip Morris, who in turn will have the power to dictate all artistic output.  “And Philip Morris will be able to buy the silence of artists who want the opportunities afforded by their funding.”

The name of Philip Morris has slowly slipped away as tobacco becomes more and more taboo in the United States.  If Philip Morris is no longer funding the arts, and if government is increasingly dropping support for artistic production, who IS sponsoring the fine arts nowadays, and why?  Look at the corporate names plastered on the sides of museums, on the wall labels of exhibitions and on billboards and banners which litter the city for clues.

If you would like more information on this topic or any source information, please feel free to contact me.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

[A] Statement of Purpose

My first exposure to the art world came at the age of 15, when I studied abroad for a year in Lille, France as a Rotary International Youth Exchange student. Coming from a rural town in Idaho, my experience abroad completely subverted the way I perceived the world, my home country, and my identity. From this eye-opening experience, I resolved that in college I would further examine the history and theories of politics, cross-cultural identity, and diplomacy. Though I initially planned to study political science, when I took my first modern art history class I discovered the subversive nature of Impressionism. This piqued my interest in artists who were socially engaged and who protested the status quo.  I then took a seminar on art in the 1960s and discovered the early work of Yoko Ono.  As I explored Ono’s work in the context of the circles of John Cage and George Maciunas, I realized that often the greatest cultural and political ambassadors have been artists, who shaped the identities of their communities.

While writing a research paper on Ono’s involvement with the Fluxus movement, I formally declared my major to be Art History, and it was her work that profoundly influenced my decision to pursue a career in the arts. After watching Yoko Ono’s “Cut Piece” (1964) and reading Grapefruit, Ono’s anthology of instruction works, I recognized the power of conceptual art as a medium for challenging personal perceptions and catalyzing social and political change. I admired Ono’s activism as an Asian, female artist fighting for her right to work within an oppressive, male-dominated world of art. Although her art felt warm and accessible, it was still politically charged.

Simultaneously with this course on art in the 1960s, I became involved in a small resurgence of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at Brown University.  Through many New England SDS conferences, I participated in discussions on race, class, and economic privileges.  SDS was my first exposure to grassroots mobilization and revolutionary discourse, which transferred to my studies in art history from Edouard Manet protesting the elitism of the Paris Salon, to contemporary activist artists.

As my interest in the political capacity of art deepened, during my senior year of college I completed an independent study on Adrian Piper’s conceptual art.  I focused on Piper’s feelings on artistic integrity, her distaste of corporate sponsorship in the art world, and how decontextualized, postmodernist art is oppressive to minority artists. My paper on Piper greatly influences my decision to focus on the way in which art has been commodified in the 20th- and 21st-centuries. I also want to study how capitalism affects the freedom and neutrality of art production and the necessity of promoting art production which protests the status quo.

Recently, I have been extremely involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, examining the negative impact globalization and capitalism have on the world. I participate daily in the life of the Occupy Boston by vocalizing my opinions and voting in the consensus process of the General Assemblies. I am also extremely active in the Occupy Boston Women’s Caucus, an all-woman, feminist Working Group.  This experience reinforces my interest in economic disparity and issues of oppression, and this has carried over into my activities in the art world. Working with a few Occupy Boston artists, in the spring I will be curating a contemporary art show called “connecting…”, which focuses on the construction and deconstruction of identity in mass media.

I plan to research modern and contemporary activist artists in the context of economics, politics, and globalization, investigating how artists transform the political into the aesthetic. My studies will build upon my professional experiences, which include curatorial internships in the Education Department at the Davis Museum and Cultural Center at Wellesley College, in the Création Contemporaine et Prospectif Department at the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris, France, and in the Contemporary Art Department at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Wish Tree, Yoko Ono, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Letter to a Young Artist: Adrian Piper

Dear Young Artist,
Thanks for your letter. Yes, it definitely is possible to maintain your integrity and freedom of thought and still participate in the art world. The way to do that is always to choose maintaining your integrity and freedom of thought over the art world whenever the two conflict. They don’t always conflict, so you can have both to some extent. But you won’t be able to participate in the art world as fully as possible, unless you’re willing to sacrifice your integrity and freedom of thought in order to do so. And you won’t be able to maintain your integrity and freedom of thought unless you’re willing to sacrifice whatever degree of art world success is necessary in order to do that.
Each time you choose art-world participation over personal integrity when the two conflict, you break more and more of your own spirit — that part of yourself that justifies hope, faith, and trust in others by demonstrating that you are worthy of them yourself. Kill that, and you kill your own self-esteem — that innocent belief in your own goodness that breeds the belief that you deserve the rewards you strive to obtain. Kill that, and you kill everything that gives value and meaning to art world participation, and to the enormous successes and satisfactions it promises. You create for yourself a personal hell of cynicism, suspicion, dishonesty, and self-dislike in all of your relationships that no amount of money, power, or recognition can eradicate (quite the opposite), as well as the noxious, partly buried awareness that you yourself are no better than those you condemn.
On the other hand, choose personal integrity and freedom of thought instead, and you ensure your personal equanimity and contentment no matter how much art world recognition, success, money, or power you must relinquish in order to protect them. Here’s why:
Integrity means that you are not tempted to lie to yourself about what you’re doing, or why. Your deeply held convictions inform your principles, your principles motivate and guide your actions, and your actions express your convictions. There is an internal coherence — in the best case, harmony — among your beliefs, your emotions, and your actions. This doesn’t mean you never experience internal conflict, for example, between the beliefs and the impulse to self-aggrandizement. It means that when you’re internally conflicted, you know you are, and know what the issues are, and see the trade-offs clearly. Your self-respect does not depend on rationalizing or making excuses for actions you recognize to be inexcusable; so you’re not tempted to debase or misrepresent your core convictions to yourself in the service of getting ahead, and thereby distort your perception of yourself, your options, or their consequences. In order to see clearly when you’re tempted to violate your principles, you need a strong sense of self-respect, and — simultaneously — a strong sense of humility. Self-respect means you can acknowledge mistakes or flaws without plunging into self-hatred or depression; you can maintain your dignity without deluding yourself that you’re perfect. Humility means that you can make amends for those mistakes without feeling ashamed; that you can learn from them without losing value in your own eyes. Integrity, inner clarity, self-respect, and humility mutually reinforce one another through the sheer pleasure of heightened self-knowledge, and strengthen the self to withstand threats to its internal unity.
Freedom of thought means that the principles and convictions I’ve just been talking about spring into your awareness, from a part of yourself that lies beyond the limitations of the individual ego, and that is uncensored by that part of your mind that packages your subjective self-expression for public consumption. It means that your curiosity to know and understand — yourself, your environment, your relationships — is not stifled or constricted by guilt, shame, or fear. Freedom of thought doesn’t have much to do with self-assertion, and, even less to do with personal identity or self-indulgence. On the contrary: It is the ability to rise above the narrow constraints of the subjective self, to see and investigate and understand it from a reflective distance, and to be able to use your own personal pet human (i.e., your body) as an instrument for being or doing whatever your principles and convictions tell you is then required — by the circumstances, by your own imperatives, or by intuition. Freedom of thought is inherently connected to the pleasure of self-transcendence, and so to the pleasure of freely acknowledging your own imperfections — with humor, compassion, severity, and accountability.
So integrity plus freedom of thought is a powerful and heady combination: It means acting in unity and inner transparency from drives and motives that lie above and beyond the blinkered perspective of the ego, according to uncorrupted principles that you deeply believe in and that inspire your action and clarify your perception, and that are unsullied by fear of public disapproval or ridicule or punishment or retaliation or failure. Integrity plus freedom of thought protects you from this kind of fear because whenever it threatens, you see the trade-off clearly: capitulate and you damage (and eventually lose) the only thing worth aspiring to, the only thing worth having, and the only thing worth experiencing on a moment-to-moment basis as you navigate through your life.
Now about maintaining your integrity and freedom of thought. Most of the myriad available spiritual, religious, or psychological disciplines, practiced daily, patiently, stubbornly, over an extended period of time, that put a premium on self-knowledge, self-control, self-discovery, and self-expression as a package can help a lot (if you think I’m talking about navel-gazing, go back and reread the preceding paragraphs). Whatever your discipline is, it has to be a fixed and permanent commitment, a cornerstone of your life that you seek opportunities to practice, without which your day is not complete. Of course this doesn’t mean that you practice every day mechanically; exactly the opposite. It means that if you don’t practice, you viscerally feel the gradual process of shutting down, becoming numb, mechanical, unreflective, insensitive, sad; of atrophying that part of yourself that gives you reason to live. Once you stop feeling that process, you’re lost, and that part of yourself will sink out of reach. So when you fail to practice, thirst for it, grieve its loss, resolve yet again to give it pride of place in your schedule. It doesn’t matter whether you always succeed in this resolve. What’s important is making that resolve, each day, with the same determination. The more often you make it, the easier it will get — eventually — to act on it, and the more opportunities to practice you will find. Eventually you will find that every situation you confront, and particularly those in which you are forced to choose between personal integrity and art world success, there is an opportunity to practice. And eventually you will greet such choices joyfully, as a chance to celebrate and honor the deep convictions and principles that by now structure, govern, and permeate your self, your awareness, and your experience at all levels. This is the point at which the choice between personal integrity and art world success is so easy as to be no real choice at all.
Young artist, it is highly unlikely that you will be rewarded professionally for reaching this point. Nor will it make you popular. On the contrary: You will develop a reputation for being “difficult,” “uncooperative,” “inflexible,” or even “self-destructive”; and treated (or mistreated, ostracized, or blacklisted) accordingly. If these reactions concern you, remember you always have alternatives: to maintain your integrity and accept the rewards, or fall into line and capitulate — and accept the “rewards.”
Good luck!
Best regards,
Adrian Piper
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
PS: As for showing early, I don’t think you can formulate a hard and fast rule about that. There are important lessons to be learned either way. I started showing internationally before I graduated from art school, and learned a lot from that. I think that just as it’s better to live with someone for a while before marrying them, it’s better to find out sooner rather than later what the art world is like, so you can decide whether or not it’s your lifetime cup of tea. <<Thank you!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Greenway Artist's Response to Occupy Boston (I)

October, 12, 2011

Nancy Brennan
Rose F. Kennedy Greenway

185 Kneeland Street, 7th Floor
Boston, MA 02111

Dear Director Brennan,

I strongly urge you to allow the Occupy Boston protestors to remain in the Greenway. Free speech and assembly is one of our most precious constitutional rights and Boston holds an especially important symbolic place in this history.


Tom Otterness, sculptor, Tree of Knowledge, 1997

Greenway Artist's Response to Occupy Boston (II)

For those in Boston who stand up for us all:

I address this letter to Sarah and those in America who stand up for us all,  I view you in the metaphoric sense as the Voice of the American Dream.

I start by asking the question, who among us is of our times? I mean, who among us takes "point in history", who fights for the very changes in a governing system that alters the "thought patterns of a society"? Who gives us the New, a new direction as a people?--A new direction that will take us to a new way of thinking about ourselves and how we function, thinking that gives rise to a new tomorrow. History has recorded that it is the young of the world that ultimately lay claim to the horizon.  Sometimes they don't even know that they have their ears to the ground, listening to the rumbles of a thunderous coming.

As a person who has seven daughters, I say, they are all in this with you. They are all in every way the daughters of America, like hundreds of thousands of daughters that have led the way to a better future.  Do we arrest our own for their willingness to step up and be counted.  Do we strip them of their voice. Or do we listen to them and ask them of their thinking. If we ask 'why' of our children in Boston, what will they tell us? They would certainly not say  they are pleased about the sea of humanity that has had their very Being scraped down yet one more layer, or that they think it is OK to be asked to just "eat cake". In an old patriarchal system we would simply cane them. We would make them shush-up and not speak until spoken to.

The rise and fall of systems of order is as old human history, we all strive for a better way.  Surely Boston is peopled with the dreamers of a better system than now exist. Surely with examination, we can see a divide across our land and even around our planet. Can we not see that their's is a desire for justice? Justice: a very important concept in the American dream--Is it not now out of balance? Who among us would ask for less than "equality and justice" in opportunity. In my heart I feel that Boston would also seek Justice in the American system, which as an issue, is as old as America itself.

Maybe it is now, today that we look deeper into the cause of our system being out of balance. Maybe it is better to not arrest those among us who are willing to stand up for us all, maybe it is better not to send in the Boston Police Department, maybe it is better not to try to destroy their mind sets, maybe it would be wise to take them a cup of water and a piece of bread and ask them to explain their thinking. Maybe it is better to have a conversation with them.

Does Boston grow stiff and forget its very beginning?  We should all breathe deep the air of what has made us as a people "proud to be" what we are and what we represent.  Again I say, our history has shown its strength through those who would dare to ask, "when is enough, enough?" I would also say that I am proud to have my sculpture in the Greenway. Art has historically represented a new way to look and listen and to see and hear. 

I ask all America to know and understand that a social shift of seismic proportions is sweeping our land. We as a people do not have to destroy ourselves, we simply have to "Bring Back Balance". We do indeed have to adjust our system or it will cease to function.  I would say to all, show respect for where you are, but don't give up and don't give in, and keep the Justice that is America alive.  It is not only for, or in Boston, it is all across our country--It is all across the world. Now, I converse with Henry David Thoreau and Thomas Moore; We speak of care and spirit,  of "Care of the Soul" and sip tea and wonder of the future.

My love to all.

James Surls (October 15, 2011), Walking Flower Times the Power of Five, 2010 

Greenway Artist's Response to Occupy Boston (III)

Dear Sarah,

I am in full support of the "Occupy" movement and admire every one who has turned out and have brought attention to the absurdities going on in Washington, DC and Wall Street. It is through mass, non-violent protests such as this one that real and meaningful change has occurred in this country.

I am, however, concerned about the artwork in the midst of an "encampment". The sculptures in the Urban Garden were sited and  positioned on that particular part in the Greenway to function as an outdoor gallery experience, a sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of the city, and as a place for everyone to enjoy the outdoors.  Like the other sculptors, I have lent my work to the Greenway for two years and they are in the care and custody of the Greenway Conservancy.

The Greenway administration has assured me that the participants in "Occupy Boston" have  been very respectful of the art and I am grateful for that. They have also told me that, although they are very sympathetic to the movement, the entire Greenway has been determined to be off limits for any "encampments"  because of its linear configuration and because of their concern for the safety of all.  Their other major concern is the preservation of the fragile improvements on the grounds, including the art which cannot stand up to the unusually heavy use that an encampment would bring to the site.

My art work is in the care of the Greenway Conservancy.  Because I am not familiar with the lay out of Boston or the situation on the ground, and in the interest of protecting the art work and preserving the rights for "everyone" to enjoy the park, I will have to defer any decision on how the space is used to the Conservancy.

Again, I admire what you are doing and I hope that Boston will work on strategies to accommodate the scale of the movement and not restrict it.

Best regards,
John (October 21, 2011)

Sculptor, Pumpkin Series, 1996