Thursday, May 01, 2008

Shanghai & Museums

Alright so after taking a look at what people had posted here before going at this myself - I came across a lot of thoughts that threw some basic questions at me that I'll go on to respond to here.

To begin, I'm going to talk about some foundational questions that would apply to art and museums anywhere. The first real important question isn't even what should a museum do but whether a museum is a good place for art to be exhibited. This is something that Helena talks about, which is one of those foundational things that I just assumed and hadn't really thought about questioning. I happen to agree that art is in its most "pure" form when it is out in the "wild" so to say. If art can touch you in a very powerful way, when you're in your daily life - I think that shows just how great the art is. Also museums are restricting in many ways, besides sometimes cost, it is always in one location and people have to go out of their way to view this art and when they do so - I think people have a different mind set then they would if they simply had come across that art. At least I know that for myself, engaging with art in a museum drastically changes how I interact with it and how I think about it. This can both be a good thing and a bad thing.

Does that mean we should not have museums because they are not the best portrayal of art possible? Certainly not, museums can go on to serve a valuable purpose. I think that museums should try to exhibit art with a low barrier to entry, so most anyone in the public can view it (for that, location and cost come into play) - although I think that museums can also have a very important role in bringing about thoughtful discussion about the arts and many other subjects as well and they should try to do this, as the Zendai museum did when we attended its exhibition and workshop. I will disagree with Yvon though, she said that "I think that we need more art museums in Shanghai, bigger and multifunctional.", Its probably not what you meant - but this sounds like throwing quantity over quality. If it's not what you meant, that's okay :P - I'll just use it as a stepping stone anyway. I certainly think that multifunction is a great thing, as is having a lot of space to show art - but I think that a smaller museum can also be much more productive than something like the Shanghai Art Museum simply by toning its catalogue properly and working with its space correctly. For example, I think the 140sqm exhibition area is great - the location is great for a lot of people, it's not exactly large - but I think that it can exhibit art quite well.

Going back to the point of what museums should be doing but here I'll relate to the Shanghai museum. I think that you can see that the Shanghai's Art Museum is to say "Art Museum" in the title of the building, and a public face for China to be like - "hey! We have art! See, we have a museum that's all nice and such!" Other than that though, it doesn't really follow through with what I would call the mission or mantra of being a museum. If it looks like a museum, is called a museum and show cases "art" it must be a museum - right? Well not so much. The first floor was neat and I'm glad to see them showing off a childrens exhibition and it makes me wonder whether the school had to pay for the space or whether it was given to them. That part was neat and I don't mind that at all. But the upper level where you can see advertisements by Volkswagen among other things, including photoshopped pictures of the sky above Pudong. The whole area didn't have a real feel too it, there was no overall coherance and you could certainly tell that it was simply a hodgepodge of whomever had paid for space on the wall. Don't get me wrong, some of the pictures were cool and pretty well done, but overall it didn't accomplish the goal of what I think a museum should do. However, it did seem to attract the locals - which is a very major plus for any museum. Perhaps, if they were to open up a dialogue and have people talk about why they thought this type of stuff is art, and what it brings to society - and were still able to get the local people to come, I would then call it a museum.

MOCA however is a very interesting place, they had a show about Ferragamo shoes going on which was sponsored by the Ferragamo company. I think that it's alright if a museum has to mix between sponsored shows and regular exhibitions. I do agree (I can't remember who said it) that the entrance room was the best room in the show and the rest was just so so - if they can work to improve the sponsored shows and also have their own great shows then I think it could be a great place. I really like what they are trying to do with the restaurant area and think that would also be extremely cool and a great place to dialogue and discussion to come around in a normal context without making it seem like your going to a museum. "Normalizing" art is a very important thing I think - the more we make it less of an elitist thing to do and more something that people can do while attending other things is key. Breaking down such barriers is great and I think goes with what art should be there for.

Now I've gone on a bit too much but there's so much go to with here - I'll quickly finish by sayying that I think that the Zendai was great and it was intersting to have dialogue and discourse about the possiblities for art. Reading what Sophie says though about none of her friends really knowing about the place makes me realize how difficult it is to balance between getting the locals (Shanghai Art Museum), bringing the educational and intelligent discourse aspect (Zendai) and the contemporary (MOCA) parts of art. All of the museums do serve a positive function to promoting art and for that they are all good - however without visiting all of them you miss out on vital parts of the art experience, perhaps we should be evaluating these museums as part of a whole of Art in Shanghai and not independently.

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