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Maria Lind Why Mediate Art

Maria Lind Why Mediate Art

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Why Mediate Art?
Maria Lid Te FdametalQeti f Crati
 
WHY MEDIATE ART?
 
99 TEn FunDAMEnTAL QuEsTIons oF CuRATIng
Ten Fundamental Questionsof CuratingPublishing directorEdoardo BonaspettiEditorJens HoffmannCopy editorLindsey Westbrook A project realized in partnership withArtistic directorMilovan FarronatoDesignStudio MousseIssue #4Why Mediate Art?by Maria Lind,with artwork by Marysia LewandowskaTen Fundamental Questionsof Curatingis printed in Italy and publishedfive times a year by Mousse PublishingPublisherContrappunto S.R.L. via Arena 2320123, Milan - Italy No parts of this publication may bereproduced or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without priorwritten permission of the publisherplease add: With the exception of Twitter Education artwork by MarysiaLewandowska which appears underCreative Commons, NC-ND v.3.5
Why Mediate Art?
Vermittlung 
—“mediation” in German—signifies a transferfrom one party to another, the pragmatic transmission of amessage. It also stands for attempts at reconciling parties whodisagree on something: nations, for instance, or people in con-flict. Although there is an abundance, even an overproduc-tion, of traditionally didactic activities within art institutionstoday, I believe that now is the time to think more and harderabout the mediation of contemporary art. About whom we asartists and curators want to communicate with, and the as-sociated questions of how art actually functions in contempo-rary culture. It is a seeming paradox: an excess of didacticismand simultaneously a renewed need for mediation.The two different conditions to account for here, before thedance with the question of mediation can begin, occupy dif-ferent positions in discussions about art and curating. Thefirst is generally considered more annoying than useful by theprofessional community. The second is by contrast little-dis-cussed, even below the radar of most practitioners. I am refer-ring to the educational and pedagogical approaches that arein place at most art institutions. On the one hand they can beoverbearing, and they may even obscure the art. On the otherhand there is the increasing bifurcation between experimen-tal, cutting-edge art and curating, and the ambition of institu-tions to spread art beyond social and economic boundaries.An effect of the latter condition is a growing sense of isolationbetween spheres of interests and activities in the arts, not tomention an almost total lack of mediation beyond relatively closed circles in the more experimental arenas.
Text — Maria Lind  Artwork — Marysia Lewandowska
 
WHY MEDIATE ART?101100TEn FunDAMEnTAL QuEsTIons oF CuRATIng
The one institution that has played a greater role than any oth-er in setting the standard for mainstream museum educationis the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The model that itsfounding director Alfred Barr instigated in the 1930s did notadd pedagogy at the end of the exhibition-making process, asicing on the cake, but rather integrated it into every exhibi-tion. In the brilliant book 
Spaces of Experience: Art Gallery Interiors from 1800 to 2000
, the art historian Charlotte Klonk demonstrates that exhibitions at MoMA have always been con-sciously didactic, promoting Barr’s formalist view of art. Hismain purpose was to refine the aesthetic sensibility of visitorsand to mold a mode of spectatorship based on what she calls“the educated consumer,” in contrast to the 19th-century idealof the spectator as a “responsible citizen.” Despite Barr’s fa-mous charts of stylistic developments and well-written, acces-sible catalogue texts, the educational approach in his exhibi-tions tended to be more visual and spatial than discursive. Thepaintings were hung low on the white walls, and numerouspartitions created more [organized the?] wall space. The se-lection of works and the display strategies themselves were of utmost importance. “Points” were made in the exhibitions: forexample, in the 1936 exhibition
Cubism and Abstract Art,
theidentification of historical and non-Western visual sources for20th-century Western geometric abstraction.The fact that MoMA from the outset quite literally situateditself as a mediator between industrial producers and distribu-tors (a powerful interest group with a strong presence on theboard of trustees) and a “buying” audience cannot be under-estimated. MoMA openly borrowed display techniques fromdepartment stores and other commercial settings. And visitorswere considered not just consumers, who in conjunction withcertain exhibitions could even buy the displayed design ob- jects in the museum shop, but tastemakers who were expectedto become responsible members of the emerging society of consumption. Thus market strategies and business interestsmerged and shaped new ideals of spectatorship. Given MoMAsinfluential status, its approach was taken up at innumerableother art institutions in all different parts of the world. Theidea of “winning people over,” of persuading them, was centralto MoMA’s didactics from the outset, just as it was in the con-temporaneous advertising industry, which was itself comingof age and transforming for the new modern era. Within thislargely commercial scheme, unconventional and “innovative”art was accepted as long as the innovations remained on a for-mal level and did not allude to, let alone provoke, any practicaloverlap between the sphere of art and the sphere of social andpolitical action.This should ring more than one bell for those familiar withcontemporary art museums and curating. Another familiarphenomenon is the concept of the education or pedagogicaldepartment. Despite the fact that its particular brand of curat-ing was based primarily on integrated didacticism, in 1937 aseparate education department was started at MoMA. Underthe leadership of Victor E. D’Amico, it deviated from Barr’sideas about a more or less detached spectator and promoted visitor participation. Instead of emphasizing enjoyment or judgment of the art on the wall, it encouraged visitors to ex-plore their own creativity. John Dewey’s pragmatist philosophy and theories about art as an emancipatory activity with greatpotential to stimulate political participation in democratic so-cieties played a certain role. Nevertheless, in the cases of bothBarr’s educated consumer and D’Amico’s participant, a height-ened sense of individuality was promoted. This was markedly different from the collectivist approaches to spectatorship, in-fluenced by Constructivism, that around the same time andeven before were promoted by artists such as El Lissitzky andcurators such as Alexander Dorner, both in Europe. Collectivespectatorship was inspired by the Russian Revolution and by 

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