Saturday 26 January 2019

Reading list, 26 January 2019

A grubby, sad story: His Art, Their Ideas: Did Robert Indiana Lose Control of His Work?

I'm still pondering this manifesto in the Harvard Design Magazine by Joanna Kloppenburg and Nicholas Korody (What if we began by admitting that we hated writing this? What if we said we did it because we needed the money? What if we acknowledged that we had fallen out of love with architecture and couldn’t remember why we loved it in the first place?) alongside Anne Helen Petersen's How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation (Those expectations encapsulate the millennial rearing project, in which students internalize the need to find employment that reflects well on their parents (steady, decently paying, recognizable as a “good job”) that’s also impressive to their peers (at a “cool” company) and fulfills what they’ve been told has been the end goal of all of this childhood optimization: doing work that you’re passionate about.)

Conflict of interest much? A late nineteenth-century case less well known than the Elgin Marbles, but more scandalous in its scope, also victimised Cyprus. Luigi Palma de Cesnola was the U.S. consul there and used his consular office to strip Cyprus of a staggering 35,000 items of antiquity. This serial looter sold his collection to the new Metropolitan Museum of New York.

Seb Chan has started an enewsletter.

Sunday 20 January 2019

Art News New Zealand Column, Summer 2019

New Year's Resolutions

Early in January, Minneapolis's Walker Art Center posted an intriguing set of opinion pieces on their influential online magazine, under the rubric of New Year's resolutions for museums.

Laura Raicovich (who left the directorship of the Queens Museum last year after growing tensions with the institution's board around her progressive programming) called for a dismantling of the myth of neutrality, and a closer accord between an organisation's values and its operations. This touches every sphere of decision-making, she argues, from repatriation to recruitment decisions: in 2019 "the authority of the museum is being questioned not only in terms of what is collected and how, and what is exhibited and how it is shown, but also how decisions are made and who has the power to make them."

Nicole N. Ivy, educator, futurist and inclusion activist, urged art museums to "to examine who is not being represented in their collections and also reflect on their relationships to wealth inequality", in the pursuit of equity. Ivy cited the Baltimore Museum of Art's announcement last year that it would sell off a small number of collection works by 20th century white male artists to create a fund to buy the work of under-represented artists as an example of a museum "using their resources to expand access and promote the democratic circulation of their collections."

In the hardest hitting of the four short essays, artist and writer Antony Romero argued for long-term planning and work towards social change and representation over short-term profiling and programming: "Developing a program or exhibition that reflects upon or invites dialogue on some contemporary social movement, such as Black Lives Matter, for example, is not the same as investing in the cultivation of black life. It is never a question of representation over resource allocation. Both should be happening at the same time. Programmatic shifts should be taking place at the same time as resources are reallocated to bolster your institution’s commitment to investing in excluded communities." In emphatic prose that I have since seen repeatedly cited, Romero writes "Remember that you are not your institution. An institution is not an organism but an instrument, a tool. It may be a bloodied tool but remember there are no clean tools, only those that still serve a purpose and those that don’t."

Finally, Seb Chan, Chief Experience Officer at Melbourne's ACMI, made one concrete suggestion: do away with salary cloaking. It's not a phrase I'd hear before, but it's a practice I'm very familiar with - not advertising salary ranges and starting pay when recruiting. As Chan notes, the practice benefits those who have the "time and upfront confidence" when applying for roles, and also establishes "an unequal trust relationship between employer and employee which then continues when the employee is hired". Furthermore, inside the workplace, trading insider knowledge of people's pay "embeds individualized competition instead of collective camaraderie". Advertising salaries seems a small and noncontroversial measure, he acknowledges, but this is one of the " very first baby steps towards workplace diversity and community representation", which are going to be needed to face the truly brutal challenges facing society, from racial inequality to climate change.

When I worked in digital, we talked about "full stack" development: a consideration of what we were designing from the deepest backend of the hardware support to the individual actions of users on the frontend of the product. In reading these pieces, I see that same fullstack in operation - the change that all four writers are calling for requires honesty, authenticity and change throughout every phase of a museum's operations, from governance, funding and recruitment to collection development, fundraising and working conditions.

The essays also tap into a rising discussion around burn out, specifically (but not exclusively) focused on the millennial generation, the oldest members of which are now entering their late 30s. At the same time that I was considering the Walker essays, a piece by Buzzfeed reporter Anne Helen Petersen titled 'How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation' was being passed around and around my social network. Petersen's core argument - that burn out is not a temporary affliction but a permanent condition for those brought up to expect their work will be meaningful, even enviable, but working in a context of carrying massive student debt and facing increasing job instability - chimed with a memorable article published by Lucinda Bennett on the Pantograph Punch last April, where she interrogated the idea of 'passionate work' as it applies to the visual arts. When work is redefined as being done for love, Bennett writes, it becomes boundless: "even fulfilling work needs constraints and needs to be remunerated. Without the former, we never have time to rest, to attend to our physical and emotional needs, to spend time with our families and friends. We become burnt out, disillusioned, physically and mentally unwell."

And thus to resolutions. It seems a large task, to dismantle the inheritance of the Western museum and democratise its assets and influence. But as Chan notes, small steps take you somewhere. So when I did my first pieces of recruitment for 2019, I told candidates what the ceiling of the starting salary was, and published salary ranges up front. It's a small step but hopefully one in the right direction.

Read the originals:

Saturday 19 January 2019

Reading list, 19 January 2019

"Using his own fortune, Verdi built the retirement home for opera singers and musicians, a neo-Gothic structure that opened in 1899. The composer died less than two years later, but he made sure the profits from his music copyrights kept the home running until the early 1960s, when they expired. Today guests pay a portion of their monthly pension to cover basic costs – food and lodging — while the rest comes from donations." I love this so much.

"What role the Rothko served remains unclear to me." I love this a bit less (the trend, not the article). The Rise of the Mindful Museum.

More from the Walker's "Museum Resolutions" series: Laura Raicovich, Dismantle the Myth of Neutrality and Antony Romero's Build Social Relations Over Property Relations  

Ted Loos in the NYTAfter the Quake, Dana Schutz Gets Back to Work

I'm not sure what to make of this article yet, despite reading it twice. Good to read alongside the Schutz piece above; pity McLean didn't tie it off with Michael Parekowhai's chrome Cook sculptures. Ian McLean, Paper Tigers: The New Iconoclasm and Identity Politics, in Di'van: A Journal of Accounts, issue 4.

Saturday 12 January 2019

Reading list, 12 January 2019

I haven't linked to anything tech-related in ages. But I've been following Shelley Bernstein's thoughtful write-ups of her tech decisions for her workplaces for more than a decade now, and they're always worthwhile. On choosing collaboration tools to bring together a very diverse group: Prototyping a Change Network with the OF/BY/FOR ALL First Wave.

I also don't often link to workplace advice but this NYT article is much better than the title suggests. It actually delves into common issues with time-management and particularly how people get into toxic and stressful situations around things like answering emails - the four general personality types, how each responds to stressors, and how you can improve your instinctive approach. The 4 ‘Attachment Styles,’ and How They Sabotage Your Work-Life Balance.

Also unusual. As with Shelley, I've been following my friend Nat Torkington's 4 Short Links digest for years now. This page of project management aphorisms from NASA has some of your typical engineer machismo, but also some really great insights and timeless advice. 100+ Lessons Learned for Project Managers.

Back on the normal path. This article on the Guardian helped explicate a current artistic movement I've been struggling to wrap my head around, without going PhD-level on it. Political, forensic, hi-tech: how 'research architecture' is redefining art.

Colleen Dilenschneider on why members of cultural organisations don't renew. Valuable for parsing what people really mean when they say things like "I'll sign up again next time I visit".

Seb Chan on salary cloaking (ie. not stating salary ranges in museum job advertising)

My friend the typographer Kris Sowersby, founder of Klim Type Foundry, is one of the most prolific people I know - and one of the smartest. For some purely good writing, check out his design notes on his recent reversed-stress typeface Maelstrom, and Bethany Heck's review of Maelstrom in use.

An interesting set of responses to a question on Twitter about "actual examples" of decolonisation in museums.

And a profile of Kaywin Feldman, gearing up to take over the National Gallery of Art in Washington, bit of a personal hero.

Sunday 6 January 2019

Reading list, 6 January 2019

Fighting in your weight class: it's stimulating to read big critics robustly taking on big institutions and big shows, as with Peter Schjeldahl for the New Yorker and Roberta Smith for the NYT on the Met's Epic Abstraction: Pollock to Herrera.

Ongoing, from the Macron report on restitution: Jason Farago assembles a roundtable for the NYTArtwork Taken From Africa, Returning to a Home TransformedFrench antiquities dealers slam ‘shocking’ report on restituting African art  and The repatriation debate intensifies as calls for post-colonial restitution grow—but is it legal? in The Art Newspaper; Thomas Marks' editor's letter for ApolloRethinking the restitution of African artefacts.

And from a different political angle - tensions between France and Italy play out through museum loans: For Italy’s Populists, Everything Is a Nationalist Cause. Even Leonardo.

"Museums are not neutral. Displays of European Art are not neutral. White supremacists know it. We must see it too." Alexander Kauffman for Hyperallergic, Committing to Anti-Racism in Galleries of European Art.

Things I plan to read when I'm back at work (tomorrow, sigh) - Culture 24's latest report from the end of 2018, Understanding the social purpose of digital technology for arts and heritage organisations.

"The food we consume, what we enjoy, how we acquire nourishment, literally all the mechanisms that touch how we eat are fascinating. But the museums of ice cream, pizza, and avocado don’t provide any of that insight". Pissed off by the museum-of-X phenomenon but from another angle; Erin DeJesus for Eater, Fake Food Museums Are Our Greatest Monuments to the Brand Hellscape of 2018.