After its sponsor UBS AG went into near financial meltdown, Tate Modern named this year’s UBS Long Weekend ‘Do It Yourself’ (22-25 May 2009) and based it around an Arte Povera exhibition. UBS is both a private and investment bank, as well as an asset management corporation. In the past it has been a major sponsor of the arts, but is unlikely to remain so for much longer.
After incurring huge losses on subprime mortgage securities in 2007, UBS only survived after it secured a multi-billion dollar bail out from the Government Investment Corporation of Singapore (GISC) and an unnamed source in the Middle East. At the end of last year, after even more disasters, UBS managers pledged to return bonuses and shareholders voted to accept financial aid from the Swiss government. This is supposed to restore trust in UBS. It won’t in the long term. UBS made advance commitments to its Tate sponsorship, but given the financial shape this corporation is in, it seems unlikely it will be renewing them. UBS has already cut back on its own art collecting activities, and has let go of its collections curator Joanne Bernstein (who is now doing some far more interesting freelance work, see my earlier blog that summarizes her contribution to Performing Localities).
The art world is part and parcel of the financial world. When high finance catches a cold, local art scenes react as if they’ve got the plague. An institution like The Tate is particularly vulnerable because it has few resources beyond its brand. It has no real money, its art collection is full of holes and its director Nick Serota is committed to ongoing and massive expansion without the resources to sustain such a programme. The maths simply doesn’t add up, and every day it seems more likely that the unstable stack of cards that is The Tate could collapse.
In an attempt to cover up this fragile state of affairs, Serota is attempting to attract ever larger crowds to Tate Modern. The big draw this year during the UBS Weekend was a recreation of the 1971 work Bodyspacemotionthings by Robert Morris. Tate Modern promoted this as art you can touch. It got a lot of media coverage. I even heard it reported on local London radio news but without the name of the artist or his work mentioned. Bodyspacemotionthings looks remarkably like a commercial soft play space aimed at small children, but without the padding one might expect. Nothing wrong with that, and there were loads of kids in Tate Modern having a lot of fun. Art is dead baby and Tate Modern is now an adventure playground.
So rather than waiting for The Tate’s money to run out, let’s allow kids to run riot through all its Bankside galleries, taking the canvases down from the walls and treating them as toys. As for the curators, I’m sure most of them would rather be doing something useful – like running a nursery that gives kids a good time – than handling art. Duchamp suggested using the Mona Lisa as an ironing board, but actually it makes more sense to use old and modern ‘masters’ as den walls and capes…. And once the kids have gone home, as suggested in an earlier blog, we can have nudist nights at Tate Modern.
The entire Tate Modern treated as a play space would have been much more fun than the UBS Weekend as I experienced it. There were a lot of people sitting on the grass by The Thames, not really listening to the bands playing on a stage. I spent most of the time I was there talking to people like Laura Oldfield Ford and Dan Mitchell. I was introduced to a shed load of new faces by their first names, so beyond Paul Sakoilsky – who gave me a copy of his newspaper The Dark Times – I can’t properly identify them here. The event was very much a case of create your own entertainment, and while all those around me were downing beers, they didn’t appear to consider what they were doing ‘drinking sculptures’. That said, since we did ‘do it ourselves’, that is create our own entertainment, The Tate’s ‘anti-corporate’ arte povera shindig simply proved the obvious – the institution of art is utterly redundant. Given this, it is hardly necessary to add that Tate director Nick Serota would make a much better clown if he donned face-paint and a red nose.
After writing the above, I picked up the following email from Selina Jones: “I hope you all had a fab time at The Long Weekend. Over 100,000 people came down! For those of you who didn’t make it or who want more, I have good news! The amazing Robert Morris installation will now be opened for an extended period – until 14th of June. That is 3 more weeks of having an excuse to play, even if you are technically a fully grown adult.” Yes, Tate Modern no longer even attempts to cover up the fact that art is infantilising. Who needs an excuse to play? It’s time for some ‘serious’ redecoration at Bankside!
If you haven’t done so already, you might like to check out my posts about the low quality of recent events at Tate Britain too: Bourriaud’s ‘Altermodern’, an eclectic mix of bullshit & bad taste and 5,494 Linda McCartney Vegetarian Sausages For Nicolas Bourriaud.
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check - www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!