11 October 1997

A post to the Museum-l list to a thread about paying artists to exhibit in art museums.

Julia Muney Moore (inartctr@INETDIRECT.NET) wrote:

Only when artists respect themselves and let the art establishment know it (nicely, without being obnoxious or militant) will artists themselves get any respect.

Thank you, Julia. I'll be nice.

Media guru Esther Dyson made the observation a while back that Intellectual Property is becoming less valuable while Intellectual Process and Performance is becoming more valuable. This is one of the most difficult transitions art museums have had to face since they traditionally exhibit property while theaters are venues for process and perfomance.

But even the most staid art museum is a kind of theater presenting a (paid) curatorial performance. Artists grasped that fact about ten years ago and so we see the rise of "installation art " demanding fees that would normally go to exhibition designers and curators. Influential artists like Jasper Johns are able to demand a share in the profits of the catalog through fees for use of photographs they provide. This means artists have assumed a great deal of expense as well. They have staff and collaborators to pay.

The Canadian solution seems to me too dependent on the concept of property. I've never exhibited or performed in a public institution without receiving some kind of "honorarium" and that usually entailed my participation in some form. The difference is subtle but the Canadian system seems to be a form of rental of an object while an honorarium is more of an aknowledgement of the artist's participation/performance even if it was only the exhibition of an object.

My sense is that paying artists may be economically beneficial for art museums when they realize the artists have taken on a great deal of the expense of exhibition. Of course, curatorial distance is important. We don't want art museums that are simply extended commercial exhibition spaces.