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MOMA AS MANIPULATOR

By BORIS LURIE (1970)

Published in: RAT, New York, Vol. 2, No 24, Dec 25 - Jan 7/1970

The Museum of Modern Art is not just another "museum," not just another showplace for supposedly "great" artworks. Because it is a museum of MODERN art, because it is concerned with current artistic ideas and emerging art movements, and, most importantly, because it deals to a great extent with living artists, the museum enjoys a unique position in the making or breaking of emerging artists.
It is important to realize the true function ot the Museum of Modern Art in the manipulation and promotion of market-place art, that is, all modern art by masters, for the benefit of collectors, investors and dealers. Key members of such promotional groups often sit on decision-making Museum committees, and together with the Museum promote acceptable artists and art movements, always at the expense of the mass of artists consisting of both the acceptable and unacceptable varieties. The by-product of these activities will further the general art education of people in acceptable art only, however, the ensueing popularization inevitably leads to a widening of the market for art products,such as art objects, reproductions, and art books.The Museum becomes a country club, serving as a meeting place for the cementing and furthering of business and social relations between trustees, members, staff and outside business people, accepted artists, and other professionals.
The Museum enjoys a regular tax-exempt status as all charitable and cultural foundations do. Gifts are tax deductible.Owners of works of art can donate them, benefit from tax deductions, and still retain such works on a loan basic. Museum-owned works are loaned out to enhance the prestige of business firms and members.
The staff of the Museum basically functions in an advisory capacity to the trustees, it has no policy-making powers power by advising and directing the trustees, staff members are "art experts" while the trustees are basically businessmen, and it is only natural that they will take the advice of these "experts". Unless a new art movement is totally unacceptable to trustees and influential members, on social, psychological or on investment grounds, the staff, in cooperation with interested parties, is in a very good position to promote, and indeed does promote, such art movements. Examples of such art movements are then included in Museum collections and exhibited, which constitutes a clear sign to other collector-investors of excellent sponsorship and an open invitation to join the bandwagon. Exhibits are arranged all over this country and also abroad, and a wide promotional campaign is thus mounted. In some cases the staff itself will acquire works of upcoming artists simultaneously or even before acquisitions are made by trustees and members for their own and for the Museum accounts (such as in the case of Jasper Johns). It must be said that the Museum staff at present is composed of less machiavellian figures than in the past, but this fact, if anything, makes it even easier for business interests to use them.
Whenever criticism of Museum choices is voiced, the answer is that such "selectivity" is essential to the art historian`s job; it is difficult, though, to reconcile the various types of "selectivity" practiced, as different yardsticks seem to be applied to different art from different periods and different countries. Some acquisition programs seem to be fully geared to foreign policy only (such as the South American program). The fact is that the Museum does not function on any basis of "selectivity", but on the basis of pressure as exercised by interested groups.
All this is perfectly normal procedure in any other business enterprise; but in the case of a publicly-supported museum it is an entirely different matter. What is involved here is a manipulation of culture. Manipulation of culture is not a harmless thing: It becomes manipulation of education, and education in turn may overflow into action. It is the staff, more so than the trustees and members, who are directly involved in such culture-manipoulation. Manipulation of culture emanating from the number-one modern art museum in the world, backed up by the biggest collection of modern art treasure, plus some of the biggest names in world business, has a tremendous power on the thought, education and habits of people.The Museum of Modern Art and particularly its staff, present and past, are guilty of such culture manipulation.
The technique of cultural manipulation as practiced by the Museum is accompanied by a tragic by-product, including the destruction of individual talents and even physical annihilation. The artist or art movement unable to set up a power pressure group is doomed to be killed off. It is unable to communicate with the public as no one will exhibit such work, it cannot get minimum financial support: the press is closed to it.The artists` spirits after repeated failures will be broken, artistic suicide and even actual death may follow.
Although the present staff appears to be interested in making minor accommodations as regards the demands of the artists, the actual purpose of such accomodation is to uplift the tarnished "big corporation" image of the Museum; to keep up with changing times, it being fashionable now to be "liberal" or "leftist"; and to make the public forget the long history of culure manipulation. By making minor accommodations of an insignificant mature, by keeping the dialogue with artists` advisory committees going, the Museum staff is in fact succeeding in pacifying any potential conflict and pulling out the flames even before the fire has really started.

About BORIS LURIE: Born in 1924, in Leningrad, Russia. Together with his parents he moved to Riga in 1925/26. Captured by the Germans 1941 and suffered in the ghettos and concentration-camps of Riga, Salapils, Stutthof and Buchenwald-Magdeburg in Germany. Emigration to USA in 1946. Lived in Paris from 1954 to 1955. Founded with Sam Goodman and Stanley Fisher the NO!art movement in 1959 in co-operation with the March gallery in the Tenth Street in New York, later so called March Group. He works always in continuing the NO!art movement.—Died 2008 in New York.  |  linkMORE

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