To me, exhibition openings are mostly a very anticlimactic affair. Beforehand, quite a bit of work goes into the presentation. There is a lot of back and forth between me and the people organizing the show. I have to travel there. Be on time. Think about what I might be going to talk about. Don’t get me wrong, I am always looking forward to these events. Yet, when they happen, everything goes poof, it is over in an instant and nothing has changed. When openings are successful, I am having some nice conversations, but often they leave little impression with me.
Maybe it has to do with the fact that the interactions are lopsided. And that is not just an issue I am having with my own shows. At most openings, I go to as a visitor, very little is said about the works on display or the intentions of the artist. The role of the audience seems to be to look at the stuff shown and that is it. It is an extreme example, where communication mostly flows in one direction.
When showing my work, I normally try to show that I am open to interaction. I like talking, especially if it has to do with the stuff, I am interested in. Still, the lopsidedness mostly remains. I am talking about my ideas, my process and the way these ideas are translated in my works. Everything is centered around me – what is there for me to gain from that? If I would feel so insecure about my work, that I needed encouraging words from random people, I might not show them in the first place. Occasionally, there are mild discussions, but discourse? No, not really.
Of course, it feels nice being complimented, but what I might be looking for, is not the quick and vague compliments, but something with a little more depth. Something the audience at a random gallery opening, on one of those evenings in Berlin, just can not provide. It just does not seem to be the right setting.
If I am, on the other side, visiting someone else’s show, the experience is similarly unsatisfactory. Maybe that has to do with most artists seemingly not willing to engage the audience, or maybe I the whole setting is one that discourages discourse. The audience is supposed to just look and not question. It is more of a social gathering than anything else. That explains, why booze plays such a crucial role. And it seems as this is precisely, what most audience members expect, so I might just be a weirdo.
Rarely do I feel inspired by the interactions I am having – neither as an artist, nor as an audience member. And that is a shame. You are standing in front of finished somethings, some of them you understand, some you don’t. You are not expected to bring your own stuff along – not in a literal sense, as you are not supposed to bring your own art pieces to an opening and not in a more abstract sense. You are not expected to deliver your own findings on the issue the artist is addressing in his or her work. That is what I mean, when talking about lopsidedness. By the way, wouldn’t it be amazing, if people were invited to bring along their own little works, that deal with the issue at the core of the show they are visiting? They still would not be allowed to hang it onto the wall, but during the opening, they would be encouraged to add their own punchline.
In response to a discussion I was having at a conference, I wrote very briefly about the shitty audience. Maybe these two things are connected. Many people have figured, that there might be something wrong about the artist-audience relationship. And many artists and thinkers are trying to come up with clever ways to make exhibitions more approachable. Maybe more interactive. Easier to digest. To me, most of these attempts are aimed at aiding the audience in having a more fulfilling experience as consumers of ideas and art works. But, again, what would be in it for me? Why should I spend time and effort in making my work easier digestible, when already, I get little in return to sharing my ideas and thoughts? We might need to discuss the role of the artist as a whole, but I beg that we also discuss the role of the audience. As mentioned before, the audience is a little bit shitty.
I might just be mistaken, by expecting something in return, when showing my work in a classical exhibition setting. And maybe the classical exhibition setting was never meant as a social gathering or a place for a two-sided discourse. The museum, the gallery – maybe that is just meant as a showcase, to freeze stuff in time and place.
It might be the whole audience-creator-relationship, that makes it unsatisfactory to me. I would love to occupy both roles simultaneously.
This feeling of disconnect, I am having, when following the classical “what to do as an artist”-handbook, is something I rarely experience, when presenting my work at conferences. I am especially talking about the smaller ones, where discourse is what it is all about. Smaller conferences tend to bring a group of individuals together to focus on one common topic. Often, these individuals have very different professional backgrounds. And that is very good. If the group is too homogenous, many people tend to rely on a “common knowledge” found in their specific academic field. Things that everyone needs to agree to, if wanting to be appear professionals. Core ideas or concepts that are rarely questioned. It is these sentences that start with “as we all know…” that I find annoying. With other people around, these given “facts” might easily be up for review. And that is something I enjoy quite a lot.
Somehow, talking about my work, or issues covered by my research, in these settings is always so much more inspiring to me, than most exhibitions I participate in. It has to do with me listening to other people’s ideas on similar issues. Spending maybe 20 to 30 minutes, just getting to now the way they think and talk. Since there presentation normally touches a topic, I am myself also interested in, it is always very easy for me to come up with questions or remarks. And the same seems to be true the other way around.
Maybe it has to do with my artistic approach. With the way ideas and concepts are more important to me, than the stuff that ends up on the wall. Maybe that way I am biased. Just talking about me, it might be that the perfect form of presentation will never be the classical museum show. Perfect maybe to the viewer, who just wants to look at my stuff, not to me though. That realization is tough. Especially since this is the ideal that was key to me as part of my artistic upbringing. The way I understood things, that always seemed to be the peak of what artists might be able to achieve. And yet, maybe I need to let go of another one of my ideas of what art might be. I can still participate in museum and gallery shows – just seems to be the defining pastime of my profession. I need to find ways though, to be able to participate in more conferences. That I certainly need to look into.
The museum show can still be the pinnacle of the artworld, just not when the goal of the whole endeavor is to serve my very peculiar needs.