Monday, October 24, 2005

Of Art and Business

Adbusters has an interesting insight into the art world's recent flirts with corporate business. The article doesn't really investigate the issues - at times appearing somewhat superficial. On the other hand, it clearly shows an ethical issue increasingy present not only in business of art, but in other fields as well. The big issue is: when and how are we allowed to judge a combination of business and art? The classic example is of a big company not always with clean hands that creates a foundation or fund of some sort that, say, supports culture. Clearly, they are trying to change their image. But in many cases they are making a huge difference (take the Saatchi collection, or Bill Gates' foundation...) . I don't think the right attitude is to simply refuse this sort of combinations - it seems unrealistic. The question I have is: are there any ways we can improve the situation? Besides trying to bring to justice the companies that act unethically, is there anything we can do? I would say, paraphrazing the wonderful Polish poet Herbert, that it might just come down to a question of taste. If one has a well enough developed taste, or sensibility, the motorcycle exhibition at the Guggenheim should be ridiculed. Not because motorcycles cannot be considered art - I know of an artist who spent a year making pancakes as art (and created a number of delicious works). There is simply something too PR-like in it. I mean, we cannot still be believing that the good people at the big companies only want to help out. And if we don't believe it, we must see how they help and what else they do when they're out of their angel wings. The thing is, I don't have time for checking all this all the time. Which is why I rely on others, journalists, critics, curators. And here, another question appears: the paranoia of the big bad corporate wolf that simply cannot do the right thing. I had that impression when seeing A Decent Factory at the DocLisboa film festival. It's an ever-more common (and irritating) case of not giving the big players a chance to try and improve their conduct. The way the film's director, Thomas Balmès, sees it, Nokia, the film's main (anti-) hero, simply cannot make a right move. They are bad because they work with suppliers from China, they are bad because they try to improve the work conditions there, because they certainly can't handle it, because, well, they're silly. It's a falsely "objective" way of seeing corporate activity, which starts off from a position that is simply unrealistic: that corporations can be something else than corporations. Which brings me back to the Adbusters article, which, although is interesting, irritates in a similar way. The author simply doesn't leave any space for actual improvement:
With arts funding drying up during the Bush administration’s renewed culture wars, it’s no newsflash that museums like the Walker are turning to private support. The real surprise is that it’d open its hand to electronic store chain Best Buy, an entity run by executives who, according to, made political contributions totaling more than $45,000 exclusively to Republicans in the 2003-2004 election cycle. Is the quick fix of corporate cash worth the long-term effects of alliances with those who support arts-averse politicos?
If we think of art sponsorship in these categories, we shouldn't accept anything that comes from corporations or big companies, since we can be sure at least some of the bosses are friends with people we don't like. In this case, it's blatant: a company that supported a political bad guy decides to supports arts (which he doesn't). Instead of being happy that they aren't as close-minded as he is, the author gets upset! The question is: if, knowing we can't always count on the government or the public, we refuse those "business" opportunities as a rule, how are we, the artists, supposed to make a living? Off Creative Commons?


Bob Shaver said...

This figure is from Patent Pending, a blog about the history of technology, at

vvoi said...

Sorry, Bob, for not having acknowledged the source. Your blog has some really great things!

Jeff said...

I just feel that the art I collect is becoming so expensive, yet I've got to purchase it anyways. My collection is becoming an obsession, yet I still must get more and more. Well, someday, a museum will be happy with my collection.




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