Few fleeting thoughts after visiting Kusama and Saint Phalle exhibitions in Helsinki. 

It’s great to see more women artists being seen. More about that in this excellent article. But other than that, what are museums doing today, exactly? 

The shows of Saint Phalle and Kusama are framed to be about the inner world of the artist. But it’s not about accommodating for a chance to try different ways of being, but about creating a distance between An Artist With a Special Mind and us others.

In the latter exhibition, visitors are not encouraged to have an orgy in the style of Kusama’s old happenings, but to insert a dot-shaped sticker in to a room. This can either be seen as a nice, lighthearted way to end the museum tour, or as a repressing reminder of what the role of audience really is today. After all that talk about relational aesthetics and turning audiences into participants in 1990-2016, we’re left feeling bad for a museum worker and thus unable to decline their offer to perform the sorry task of an “activated” audience member.

And while I was looking at Saint Phalle’s work, I was thinking, without passing a value judgement on the works per se, why are these inner visions is worth seeing, and not someone else’s? Obviously, there’s a great deal to be said about visibility and white male gaze. But why are we still repeating these structures and representations and games of power and individual genius? Why can’t we entertain the thought that artists are not special, or different from other people at all? And that if we don’t want to do art ourselves but to more or less passively experience it, and we want to keep this system in place, then the people creating those experiences for us should be treated like anyone else working in service industry (which, according to Lawrence Weiner in 1980’s, is what/where art is).

Furthermore, when I criticise museums and galleries, it’s never about the choice of artists for me. It’s not that I’d like some other artists to have a solo show in a museum. I want to burn down the whole system of portraying artists and their inner worlds and thoughts as more valuable than everyone else’s. 

If Alfredo Jaar would state his views on the world in any other public forum, he would be laughed out, but in the art world we must take his one-dimensional washed-down slogans seriously because we’ve been told he’s a Great Artist. If we’d see the playful drawings of Saint Phalle or the repeated patterns of Kusama online made by a non-artist, we wouldn’t give them any chance. 

Researchers studying social media behaviour have noted that we share posts based on “its coherence with [our] prior beliefs and the number of friends who had already shared it.” The content of a post itself has no value in the decision-making process. The same could be said of our experience with art, I think? (I got this bit of info from this superb essay on social media warfare)

At the same time, museums are doing everything they can to make the museum spaces as approachable and immersive an experience as possible, with as little need for audiences to contemplate unorthodox ideas and digest new information as possible.

For example, Helsinki Art Museum has a slogan on their coat hangers, "World's best museum is located between your ears" (pictured, in Swedish). This plays neatly to the idea of "everyone's a professional" and "my experience is what counts." And of course it's ears not eyes, because the most desired art today by museums such as the ones in Helsinki, is immersive and ambient (see Seth Kim-Cohen's didactic "Against Ambience" essay for more).

But if the museums would actually believe in this, why would they set up shows where people with the world's best museums inside themselves would be paying money to look at world's second best museum collection (=other people) at work? And is it ineffective to see the contents of one best museum (the Great Mind of an Artist) being shown at a time, when you could organise for all of our collections to be available for us all?  Do you or do you not believe in what you are saying? :D :D :D

This brings me to my most pressing question I had at the Kusama exhibition. Who loves this? Who in the museum believes in what this show is saying? I couldn’t feel it at all. What I felt was stardom worship, over-seriousness, default installation strategies, and an aggressive underlining of Kusama’s “weirdness” (…), which was all I could hear people talk about at this crowded show. One person’s life catered to us all as an afternoon delight.

I believe we should stop with this practice of worshipping artists. What I want is material mundanity: a pile of trash is still a pile of trash even if it was assembled by someone famous. Let’s not psychologise or worship it, let’s live with and within it. Let's face the problem of being in public and saying things. And at the same time I say fuck logic use magic but that’s a different story.

I think it’s high time museums & galleries & art spaces & artists & public & art schools re-think their reasons for existence and their relations to each other. I don’t have any idea what this means but I do not want to promote these modes of production any more (although I do it). I’m happy when my friends make it and make money, but I’m against the system itself. If you simply change the content, you change nothing at all.

last edited: Oct 18 2016 10:37am