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Magazine

17 November 2015
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The Lost Cinderella (the failure of the art system)

Juanjo Santos

It seems like a fairytale. Almost every country has its art biennale. Some have two or more. In Brazil, where the Mercosur Biennale world art show takes place, the event with most artists in recent times (over 400), and where there is an incredible building, the Casa Daros, dedicated to art with over 11 thousand square metres. The Havana biennale, which Paloma Checa talked about last summer, is growing in terms of both size and sales, making more visible the political and economic opening up of the island, ensuring the artistic freedom of the creators there. In the Venice Biennale, an internationally prestigious event, Latin American artists can take part in decent conditions. In short, the artists of the continent can show they are either in their countries or outside, reaping the benefit of appropriate returns on their work in equal conditions as an artist born in New York, London or Tokyo. The prince in the story, the viewer, attends the ball hand in hand with Cinderella, culture, proud, happy and unfazed by the socio-economic origin or his or her smiling partner.

Effectively, it is all a tale. Artists’ boycott of the Mercosur Biennale >http://cultura.elpais.com/cultura/2015/10/16/babelia/1445016025_740358.html], where they are invited to take part and then there is not money to pay them [Closure of the Casa Daros because of funding problems Boycott of the Havana Biennale>http://www.arteinformado.com/magazine/n/la-retencion-de-tania-bruguera-afecta-a-la-bienal-de-la-habana-4576] because of the censorship and retention of the artist Tania Bruguera [Denouncement of Costa Rica in her pavilion in the Venice Biennale for economic reasons (the Latin American artists of the Latin America Pavilion have to pay 6,000 Euros to exhibit). Problems in the Paraguay Biennale >http://www.abc.com.py/nacionales/maltratos-y-descoordinacion-en-bienal-1413390.html]. [Boicot de los artistas a la Bienal de Sao Paulo as a result of the patronage of the Israeli embassy. That is how things stand.

Perhaps it would be better to have an empty biennale, with no works of art, as a symbol of failure. That is what Ivo Mesquita, curator of the 2008 Sao Paulo Biennale did. His disenchantment for large events has grown stronger over the years. When asked about the situations described above he answered “Mercosur: a lack of professionalism and logistics by the organisers; the lack of a Plan B in the face of the crisis in Brazil, which had already been announced in the middle of 2014. Havana: well, I think it is the Stalinist remains, despite changes in recent years: censorship and the violation of rights. Period. Casa Daros: moving the collection between Europe and Brazil with the devaluation of the Brazilian currency has doubled the costs. Maintaining a professional team contracted in Brazil is very expensive as a result of the taxes, social security and working rights. Neither does anyone talk about the business of Daros in…; Sao Paulo Biennale/boycott of Israel: again the lack of comprehension by the Biennale Foundation (or what it is to put on a highly politicised show and not know what to do when real life politics comes knocking at the door)”.

At this rate, I am asking myself what is the benefit of these large events, focussed on foreign visitors who have either the time or the opportunity to travel to see a Biennale. In other words, a comfortable socio-economic class. In these macro events we see thousands of works of art and nobody, for pure physical and mental exhaustion, is capable of giving any piece more than ten seconds of their attention. The curatorial concept is diluted in the face of so much art. If the exhibited works are going to have any impact the art has to be simple, impressive, comprehensible to anyone and, above all, the right thing. For an artist to be able to be present in these events, and also to present a work that will have an impact, if there is no imagination at work they have to rely on money. Thus, artists who exhibit there are, with some exceptions, from a comfortable socio-economic class. The patrons are looking for events that will bear witness to their own presence, to ensure that their logos appear in as many media as possible, and if they come from many different countries, so much the better. The viewers, curators, artists and not even the patrons are worried about being seen in smaller events; shows in the local community, projects that are critical of their surroundings, aspects related to the lower classes or exhibitions with a coherent curatorial concept.

Coco Fusco, an artists working with the crisis of the Mercosur Biennale, made the following comment: “I think that this situation is based on a deeper crisis which has to do with the relationship between the art and the funding of culture in Brazil. The Brazilian art market depends too heavily on a small conservative elite and the Brazilian government is led by a political party with a very populist way of thinking towards a cultural platform. There are many tax benefits that would allow large corporations to give to culture and save money, but they can also pull strings in a very intrusive way”.

In other words, we need to review the public and private support for art. How can this be done and how is it regulated? Can a global platform be coordinated to analyse the funding of artistic events? The Biennale Foundation? Are you sure? Or do we have to give way to the initiatives of the artists themselves, with boycotts in the cases that most affect them personally and where they don’t, to a laissé faire approach? And what do the viewers think about all that? One option, and sorry from coming back down to earth, would be that the initiative of reviewing public and private funding of an artistic event should come from the sector professionals (who have the information and the means), and through an open platform they could call on and ensure the participation in the public process. And that organisation should come from the place where the event is taking place. A universal platform would be open to perpetual failure.

Artist and curator Luis Camnitzer has opted for an allegory to explain his conclusions. “There is no mystery about it, culture is always Cinderella with no prince charming around the corner. Governments thing it is a dispensable luxury. They identify it with leisure and instead of using leisure to develop creativity they use it as a secondary option to promote non-creative consumption, thus confirming that culture is a luxury. So they pass the load onto companies and private philanthropists who, in turn, turn it into their own public relations or personal prestige. And when they are bored with the project they let it drop. In the end the victims are the producers of culture and the public, and the funders, content with what they want to do, since there are no public accounts and no transparency. In short, the private entities assume governmental responsibilities and then they abandon them because they can allow themselves the luxury of not following them up, or because their audience margins are limited. Governments, without any clear cultural policies, feel relieved that the private organisations are putting up the money, and when it all comes down they do not assume the responsibility that they should have from the start. Cinderella does not just find herself without her prince charming, but she left to wander through the medieval paths of feudalism”.

Cinderella and culture have two step sisters: the largest (public support) and the smallest (private patronage). And in this fairytale, the step-sisters are the most wicked of all. The first, going out into the street to boast of her support for Cinderella, cares less and less about the fact that the poor girl has to clean the streets. The latter doesn’t even have to try…it’s already agreed. And of course neither will do anything for Cinderella if there is no payback. Both of them hide in the closet to make their deals. The fairy godmother, the Biennale Foundation, is more concerned with making sure there are more events than in their origin or goal. And Prince Charming (the public) who did not see Cinderella disappear, end up looking for their own happy ending in the brothel (the independent and alternative spaces). The End.

His intention is to continue to improve his writing of art criticism; everything else is enjoying and learning from contemporary proposals, establishing other strategies of relations, either as a contributor to magazines, editor of a review, curator or lecturer. As a backpacking art critic, he has shared moments with artists from Central America, Mexico and Chile. And the list will continue. Combating self-interested art, applauding interesting art.

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