"The public gets what the public wants..."?

02 Dec 2010

Just as the the worlds of TV and National Treasures look to preserving the past at all costs, so Tate Britain is apparently about to place the older portion of its art stock into storage as part of a major new redesign – times they are changin' and so are we, one presumes. So now I am going to have to backpedal like mad past the last blog to catch up with Jonathan Jones and ask why on Earth things can't stay the same...

Essentially, though, both perspectives reflect the moment with its need to give “them” what they want. I've come to think of “the audience”, as thrown into relief by the light of institutional initiatives, as a group I'd rather not associate with. While it is great that the politics of interpretation now top institutional agendas, it seems the limits that distinguish the art from the tourist attraction experiences have stretched like favourite old pants to cater for the demands of a cultured-up consensus. Read this interview with critic JJ Charlesworth for a straight-talking assessment of British art (and its audience) today.

Personally I don't think art audiences here have ever had it so good (and bad because what we want/can easily consume isn't always good for us – like chips and, as Charlesworth notes, Anthony Gormley – for surely the most interesting and enduring works are those that resist definitions imposed by wall text- and gallery boxes?). As for visitation rights, I want to be able to take my child into an art space without him being lynched by over zealous security people, but don't necessarily want the oddity of my Mike Nelson installation experience undermined by a lunching school party.

And, as all arts spaces and bodies in Britain prepare to (in many cases) re-pitch their programmes for ACE support, is this really the time to be second-guessing public moves to ensure footfall and comply with (impossibly changeable) engagement criteria? Surely it's time to shoot for the moon and do whatever it is one does best, regardless?

“Them” is a diverse territory that cannot be singularly pleased, as the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery this week discovered when it responded to the religious outrage sparked by a David Wojnarowicz video -- by removing it from what sounded like a rather good exhibition on sexual identity.

Right now, one can't imagine the same decision being taken in Britain, what with students marching against tuition fees and spraying their ire onto the city's monuments and surfaces – it feels like time is repeating itself, with better teeth.

Posted by Rebecca Geldard at 6:58 PM