Major galleries + blockbuster exhibitions = guaranteed success + suffocating new art?
Hirst. Freud. Turner. Picasso. Yawn. Munch. Hockney. Recognise them all? Thought so. All major exhibitions in London this year. Blockbusters, they call them. Pandering is another word that can be used. Now another list of names, full names this time: Francesca Woodman, Albrecht Durer, John Chamberlain, Maurizio Cattelan, Ellsworth Kelly, Rineke Dijkstra, and, er, Pablo Picasso. How did we do? Not so well, I’m guessing, apart from our friend Pablo. All have major exhibitions in New York this year, at either the Met or the Guggenheim.
What’s the problem, I hear you ask, with that first list? What indeed. Thousands of visitors flocking to art galleries can’t be a bad thing, right. New generations of art lovers formed blah blah. Except, as we know, the list is about as adventurous as vacationing in your back garden. Art, it seems, is about brands – hence the one name recognition. They are blockbusters in the sense that movie studios could only dream of. These are pre-ordained blockbusters – as close to a sure thing as is possible. And apart from Hockney there’s really nothing very new in the hallowed halls. If your local cinema put on Harry Potter Nos 1-9, Avatar, Titanic and Gone With The Bleedin’ Wind it would be as risky.
That’s not mentioning the crowds (or those ticket prices – witness the Great Da Vinci scalping of 2011). A must-see becomes a must-not-get-trampled. Some are actually glad about this, as it should free up the smaller galleries from annoying art tourists, but that’s based on the assumption that, say, the Picasso show is actually attracting art lovers who would have gone to another exhibition. Don’t think so. If you are visiting London from overseas this season the concierge will no doubt furnish you with a ticket for Picasso, Stamford Bridge or the Emirates, and a West End show. Its part of the trip. How would they feel if it were tickets for Leyton Orient. Or Woodman.
So as with art, as with novels. Name’s have huge brand appeal. They scream assured value. Don’t worry about assessing the quality or otherwise – its all been decided for you. This is quality. Be part of the event, enjoy the show.
And Picasso is the daddy of them all. At the time of writing, there are no less than fifteen current Picasso exhibitions – from Chengdu to Cincinnati, via Malaga, Barcelona, London, New York, Sydney, Paris, Chile, Madrid, and more. There is a total of twenty-two further exhibitions opening in 2012. Now of course some of these are the same exhibitions on world tours, but in terms of global reach and brand recognition it is still quite staggering. Luckily for the Picasso Industry, he did leave around 1800 paintings and 12000 drawings, more than enough to go around.
But that is 37 major galleries around the world who are not showing any other artist, living, dead or otherwise. The hope is that revenue from these would then subsidize new, or least less familiar, art. But from London’s example, its not clear that this is true. The Tates between them, ignoring the Turbine Hall installation, only have William Klein/Daido Moriyama near the end of the year and the current Boetti and Kusama exhibitions – the rest is Hirst, Romantics and Munch. Not a great return, is it.
Hopefully this is a 2012 anomaly – an Olympic year mass appeal. Last year was Miro and Gauguin but a lot more variety in between. But there is a danger that London gets stodgy, gets way too safe – plays up to its image of tradition, red phone boxes and beefeaters, and then shows dissected sharks for ever more.