It was only a matter of time that a global machinery of “promotion and management” conquers a so far place-based cultural domain, the museum. Letting pieces or collections of art travel, in order to bring enjoyment to audiences in places different than the permanent location, has been a common phenomenon for a long time. Hence, the art scene has been an international one from its outset. But as commerce is seeking new grounds, it is getting exposed to equivocal contemporary spatial and cultural mechanisms. For instance, there are cases where not only paintings or sculptures travel, but the actual location too. The Nomadic Museum, on which I have worked during my time at Shigeru Ban Architects in Tokyo, is a good example. According to artist Gregory Colbert it “is charted to migrate around the globe with no final destination”.
Here Shigeru Ban´s Nomadic Museum, temporarily situated in Tokyo, in 2007, made out of paper tubes and shipping containers:
Another is the concept of not having a permanent location at all, plus not having original artworks either, but using modern technology and means of marketing to create a “sensational” new experience in the appreciation of art. On a bright and sunny sunday, the first working day of the week in Israel, I visited a Van Gogh exhibition in northern Tel Aviv´s Trade Fair and Convention Centre.
On display was a “multisensory” show of the work of Vincent Van Gogh, with the dramatic title “Van Gogh Alive”. Superlatives serve to describe what awaits the visitors: “Be prepared for a vibrant symphony of light, colour and sound, combined and amplified to create what visitors are calling `an unforgettable multi-sensory experience´.” In times we are overladen with sensory input in our everyday lifes, noisy streets and environments, music in supermarkets and malls, phonecalls while we drive a car or cross a busy street, eating a sandwich while in a meeting, and so forth, I´d rather prefer to enjoy a painting in quiet, allowing my senses to calm down and engage with the artwork.
While the entrée space of the exhibition gave an overview over life and work of the artist in just the right dose and on conventional boards, the main space of the exhibition was overcharging. A firework of audio-visual signals, with projections on huge screen-walls and on the floor, running in a loop, was too much to enjoy the otherwise great paintings and drawings. It did represent a different experience, but spoiled the work of one of the great painters in humankind.
Revealing the real goal of the endeavour, the firm behind the exhibition, Grande Exhibitions, states on its website that “[o]perating from permanent offices in Melbourne, Australia and Rome, Italy, Grande Exhibitions has a worldwide network of partners and agents with a key presence in all time zones, enabling effective promotion and management in major cities throughout the world.” In other words, it is about making money, which is not to be condemned per se and part of the arts scene all along, but if it is on the cost of the wonderful qualities of art, I reject it. A pro-argument is that presenting art in a sensational way attracts people who usually don´t go to a museum and therefore wins them over. Not least because it was quite expensive, I also have doubts about this notion.
Anyway, this exhibition carries fascinating aspects with it, worth thinking about. Let´s take a look at the spatial implications: There is the headquarters in Australia, probably only a small office, a branch in Italy, probably more convenient in terms of travel, if people still need to be physically present at the different locations around the world, and we have the locations of the exhibitions. As the records show, the show mainly ‘visited’ major cities around the world, whose cultural offices are buying events for not losing significance in an international competition. In other fields and economically in a different dimension, we see the same patterns in Formula 1, the Olympics, or Football World Cups for example. The massive amount of money connected to these events of course also opens the gates to bribery and corruption. For cities, it seems that they need to compete for such events in order to be on everyone’s lips, and to gain or keep their status. The plethora of city-rankings, which are highly generalising and again mostly referring to economic indicators only, are, however, of very limited use.
Regarding the attached socio-spaces, and back to Van Gogh, we are confronted with a completely deterritorialised, dematerialised phenomenon. The actual artwork is data consisting of zeros and ones. People in arbitrarily exchangeable, but real places across the world see the same projection of something that shows places somewhere else that have been produced somewhere else. This way, a landscape of Arles in the south of France, seen and interpreted through the ingenious eyes and hands of a Dutch painter, digitally reconditioned by a company in Australia, is displayed in a temporarily prepared exhibition space in Bogota, Manchester, Taipei, or wherever – borderland par excellence!
 Compare Foucaut´s heterotopia: Foucault, M. (1986). “OF OTHER SPACES.” Diacritics-a Review of Contemporary Criticism 16(1): 22-27.
All rights reserved: Sigi Atteneder, 2013