One day my plinth will come – Part 2 (Entry through the gift shop)

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Sheffield cathedral has just had a bit of a face lift and now the main front entrance is through a gift shop. No, really.

Back in 2011, the Cathedral had the fixed pews removed from the nave in order to make the space more flexible. It was ironically appropriate that the first commercial event that was hosted after the removal was the annual dinner for the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce and Industry. It seemed the priests had invited the money lenders back into the temple for dinner and drinks.

Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Maria Miller‘s comments about the economic value of culture betray the pervasive nature of the Thatcherite ideology where you can “measure the price of everything and the value of nothing” to quote Tony Benn (at 3:16).

I originally got the idea for my Richard Bolam at 50 project from the Paolozzi at 80 major retrospective at the Dene Gallery in Edinburgh in 2004. The gift shop was crammed with pretty much every single product that could have a logo imprinted upon it. I bought a catalogue for the show but, ironically, the one thing that was missing was the one thing that I really wanted; A comprehensive coffee table book about Eduardo Paolozzi’s life and work. They also had an expensive café.

I must thank my good friend and artist Bryan Eccleshall who often acts as Virgil to my Danté, guiding me through the circles of contemporary art Hell so that I don’t have to go there. He drew my attention to this series of talks by Director of MIMA, Turner Prize judge and über-curator Alistair Hudson, and particularly the idea of the gallery as social space first and art space second.

I can’t deny a genuine admiration for Hudson’s clarity. However, where Hudson fails heroically is in the way he looks, the way he sounds and everything he says. Sounds harsh, I know, and contradictory, and I am not saying that he is either a bad person or wrong in any way. But what he represents is everything that is wrong with the art world / gallery / museum establishment.

Effete, apologetic, middle-class fucking liberals.

It takes one to know one, I guess, and the interesting contradiction here is that I agree with pretty much everything he means but disagree with pretty much everything he says. His example of responding to a collection by 3D scanning and printing a Christopher Dresser teapot is reminiscent of the Apple Watch adverts that show its functions as a product of its target demographic. None of the things that the Apple Watch does are things that any of us need to do, they are simply expressions of consumption perpetrated by the people who can afford to buy one.

Hudson’s idea of Museum 3.0 is an example of how Zinga might monetize Museum 2.0 for the Facebook generation. Many artists are already working in noodle bars to make a living, or serving overpriced coffee to hipsters. His examples show just how pervasive Maria Miller’s or Margaret Thatcher’s attempts are to see everything as an income stream, and how everything leads you back to the exit through a gift shop.

Hudson’s examples of how the gallery might work differently all pivot on an already accepted model. Rather than suggesting that artists run a noodle bar or make stuff to sell in the gift shop, how about getting rid of the fucking gift shop and the café and using the two rooms as gallery spaces for artists that don’t have a Master’s Degree in Fine Art or an artist’s statement that includes the word “trope”?


A donation I left at Sheffield Cathedral.

Having said all that, I am strangely hopeful for Sheffield Cathedral. When I was in there on 11th September 2015, I bumped into one of the curators from Museums Sheffield who was supervising the installation of contemporary fine art from private collections for the forthcoming city-wide “Going Public” show. This includes Jake & Dinos Chapman’s “Cyber-Iconic Man” (1996).

I am not one for starfucking nor indulging in personality-cult worship but I can’t deny a genuine thrill to be able to see something so powerful in a CofE chapel. I look forward to the complaints.

Whilst I am not qualified to comment on the financial motivations of the Church of England, I still wonder at their business model. I welcome the use of spaces outside the white cubes and it might be that rather than Jake & Dinos selling cock and cunt ramen in Museum 3.0, the next stage might be a full circle where people experience art like they did before the “Kantean model” became universal.

At home, in their everyday lives and in even in Cathedral X.

[This is part 2 of a much longer, unfinished contemplation on commercialisation, perceptions of value and exclusivity in the art world and beyond. Expect more parts plus revisions]


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