Theater of Cruelty

Art, capital and censorship


It's rare to see neoliberal ideology applied in the field of art as uncritically as Ann-Britt Gran does in Ny Tid 29.10.05. She chooses to completely ignore problems associated with big business art sponsorship and the possibility of censorship that this represents.

There are three conditions Anne-Britt Gran chooses to overlook with the emergence of the phenomenon of corporate art: 1) Corporate art represents a new form of class art. 2. Corporate art has driven active censorship of controversial art and 3) the system forces artists to self-censor.

1) New class art.

Anne-Britt Gran gives the impression that corporate sponsorship of art is of relatively new date, but this system got its institutional design as early as the late 1960s. It was David Rockefeller who took the initiative to form the organization "The Business Committee for the Arts" in 1968 where companies such as IBM, Mobil / Exxon (Rockefeller), Philip Morris were members.

The large corporations use their art forums – which are closed to public access – as a link and meeting place for the power elites' ceremonial self-representation. The heyday of the 1980s and 1990s, with speculation in the financial market as a specialty, constitutes the main layer for the use of this type of art. The intervention of the large corporations – the multinational companies – in art and culture has little or nothing to do with disinterested idealism, but is based on the companies' efforts to achieve profit and political power outside democratic control.

The use of art is just one of many public relations techniques in this strategy. According to George Weissmann from the tobacco giant Philips Morris, concern for art has a completely secondary role. Group art tries to excel with "cultural capital", but in reality functions as a new ideological cover for big business' accelerating concentration of power – nationally and globally.

Without corporate sponsorship, many art and cultural projects would not have taken place. However, sponsorship created and created forms of new addiction and thus opportunities for censorship.

2) Active censorship, pressure and threats.

In 1971, the Guggenheim Museum (New York) canceled the exhibition project of the artist Hans Haacke. The installation focused a critical spotlight on housing and real estate speculator Shalopsky's business in the years 1951-1971. Shalopsky had good friends on Guggenheim's board and the curator of the exhibition – Edward Fry – was fired at the Museum. So much for artistic freedom.

In September 1984, the Tate Gallery in London and the Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, received a letter from the Mobil Oil Corporation. Here, the oil company threatened with a lawsuit, if the art museums did not stop selling a catalog about the socially critical concept artist Hans Haacke's work. The oil company (Rockefellers) believed that the artist had misused Mobil's logo and that the artwork had an infringing effect on the group's top management. The year before 1983, Tate had received sponsorship funds from Mobil and the gallery withdrew the sale of the Haacke catalog.

The tobacco group Philip Morris sponsored art for approx. $ 15 million in 1993. In the 1990s, the New York City Council wanted to ban smoking. Philips Morris responded by writing letters to art institutions in the city – which had received sponsorship from the company – and asked for support against the smoking law by pointing out how important the group's support had been for cultural life in New York. Philip Morris also threatened to move his headquarters out of the city.

3. Self-censorship.

The greatest threat to the relative freedom of art is the self-imposed censorship to which the sponsorship system invites. One of the few art actors who has dared to talk about this – the former director of the Metropolitan Museum Philippe de Montebello – said that the art sponsorship involved a hidden form of censorship: the group management does not have to exercise the censorship directly – the recipients of the sponsorship do it themselves.

Anne-Britt Gran involuntarily confirms the possibility of self-censorship, when she believes that corporate art is art that big business "can live with". In my opinion, this will accelerate the commercialization and adaptation of art to an even greater degree than is the case today.

Such issues are totally absent in Anne-Britt Gran's apple-cheek showdown with stupid artists and an education system that has not learned that the ideal for the modernization of art lies 500 years back in time. Theater scientist Anne-Britt Gran's proposal to refugalise the field of art according to patterns from Renaissance class art (to ensure the freedom of art) has something visionary about Monty Python. Hans Haacke would have a good laugh.

Rolf Braadland is a in art history

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