art everywhere?

Visual arts fans are abuzz with the announcement of the Art Everywhere U.S. campaign. Designed as a “ public celebration of great American art”, five U.S. art museums have selected twenty works from their respective collections for the world to curate in what’s being billed as “the biggest art exhibition in history.”

Here’s how it works:

Go to the site, cast your votes (today’s the last day so hurry up!), and the top 50 vote-getters will be displayed this summer on billboards, subway posters, bus stops, etc. across the nation. Easy, right?

Except when it’s not so easy. As usual, I have concerns.

Pros:

  • Museum collaborations: anytime the “us vs. them” mentality is disproven in the museum industry it’s a win.
  • Showcasing United States art and artists: my nation’s history is in its infancy compared to some, but our collective creative output is impressive notwithstanding.
  • Participation: giving people a voice in what’s exhibited while simultaneously getting them excited about art is a good thing.

Cons:

  • It’s raining men: overwhelmingly male and white,  I was hoping to see a more diverse lineup of artists.
  • The world is flat: presenting only two-dimensional works leaves out a huge part of the U.S.’ artistic heritage.
  • Coded language: the essay  in the website’s about section describes the breadth of work presented, noting “gritty urban scenes” chronicling the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl and that “the genius and travails of African-Americans at that time are commemorated.” Mentioning depictions of a particular culture while featuring very few works created by that culture, and the fact that no other culture is called out in the entire essay, struck me as strange. 

Overall, I think the idea of Art Everywhere is a good one. After all, encountering art in unexpected places is an amazing experience. However, I’m not convinced that the selections accurately “reflect the story of our country”, and this is problematic in light of the goal to expose this work to the widest audience possible.

The concern about art and advertising being forced to share the same space expressed during the U.K. iteration of this program shouldn’t be ignored. Is the exhibition best seen whizzing by at high speeds or is it designed for viewing up close and personally? Does it matter? What happens to the context of the work if it’s placed above a particular ad? Is any thought given to the physical placement?

I hope that as the event moves forward, information is shared about the pre-vote selection process by the museum partners. It would be an excellent educational opportunity for those of us (like me) who are interested in what happens behind the scenes. That kind of transparency would make the experience truly participatory.

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