An Anti-Gallery Manifesto

Notes on Galleries

Values collapse in the face of the greatest values of all; neoliberalism and the free market. Any attempt to redefine struggle within the context of corporations and the modern market system becomes tied to that system, forever replicating the same systems of control we fight against. Galleries are part of this same system, and so this becomes an anti-gallery manifesto; this is why we can see the Tate Britain put on an exhibition about ‘Queer’ Identity in British art, whilst the Tate itself is sponsored in part by Deutsche Bank and British Petroleum, exploiting the earth’s resources but providing themselves a veneer of respectability through culture. In a neoliberal society, there is no conflict between these two, because values have fallen by the wayside. Žižek notes the harm of this collapsing of belief; “the prevailing ideology is that of cynicism; people no longer believe in ideological truth;…, Cynical distance is just one way… to blind ourselves to the structural power of ideological fantasy: even if we do not take things seriously… we are still doing them”; cynicism is how we can partake in the system whilst still being able to know it is evil, but without having to change our means of existence.

Neoliberalism pervades and co-opts even the most progressive of aesthetics; it does not do so for anything but profit and growth, and the viral immediacy of public struggle and controversy. Kaepernick’s face on Nike’s Advertisement, with the tagline of sacrifice[1], has given them a 27% rise in sales since the campaign began (CNN, 2018). This is only momentary, a short-term sales strategy. They’ll still produce their shoes in sweatshops, because values mean nothing other than sales for them (Bain, 2017). The struggle for identity and queerness has fallen to the same predations – Gay Pride is dominated by Smirnoff, 02, innumerable brands and corporations leeching from what they simply see as another marketable division of society[2] (until it can be dropped a month later). This is from a protest against the system that these companies spring from and safeguard. This is positive capitalism, a psychological approach (Han, 2017) which now paints everything in a positive light, where struggle can be resolved by simply repeating vapid slogans and buying, always buying[3]. Note that the rainbow-coloured sides of the 02 bus have no explicit reference to LGBT+ rights (Cowan, 2017), and that the struggles of people of colour in America have become a meaningless slogan of ‘sacrifice’ for a trainer company, which ignores the often violent roots that underpin class (including racial/identity) liberation, and preaches subliminal nonviolence against that same system, because ‘it is there to help’.

Galleries too replicate the market system – they are predicated on growth, on profit, on land ownership. Hans Haacke demonstrated that galleries themselves, hierarchical spaces, are intimately connected with private property and, subsequently, the gentrification and aestheticisation of working class areas within a city[4]. Galleries are the first of the wave of gentrifiers, and do little to communicate directly with the communities they interact with. I am not claiming this is true of all galleries – indeed, there must be many that exist outside of the traditional model. However, this does not discount a critique of the system as a whole. Whilst the dominant model of galleries props up the dominant model of private land ownership, bureaucratic unaccountability (often of important historical works of art that are the heritage, quite simply, not of billionaire philanthropists, but of the people as a class), and class elitism, then they are an institution that is ultimately guilty.

A striking section of the Industrial Workers of the World’s preamble includes these words:

“It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. The army of production must be organized, not only for everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old [my italics].” (IWW)

It is in no doubt that galleries are often spaces where, removed from daily life, people can begin to think outside their routine worries and take time to care for their intellectual and spiritual selves, aside from their work-selves. It is in no doubt that they can be a space for encounter, for making new bonds, and that many good revelations will no doubt come from visiting a gallery. But we must question who the gallery is a space for, who feels welcome in them, and who can actually understand what Berger calls the mystification within the contemporary gallery system; “Mystification has little to do with the vocabulary used. Mystification is the process of explaining away what might otherwise be evident.”

Galleries can be spaces for building, as the IWW states, “the new society within the shell of the old”, but only when run along horizontal, democratic lines; where profit and growth are not linked to cultural output and heritage, and where they actively fulfil a role within the communities they exist within, rather than violently inserting themselves as precursors to further exploitation and expulsion of the community at hand. The gallery nowadays is only a tool for profit; to truly broker change would be to emerge historically conscious but entirely new.

by Seth R-G

Footnotes

[1] “Believe in something… even if it means sacrificing everything”

[2] I’d highly recommend reading the article Homophobic Rainbow Garlands by Hannah Cowan. https://disruptiveinequalities.com/2017/09/22/homophobic-rainbow-garlands/. It elaborates these points further.

[3] I’m struck in particular by a passage in Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism, where he describes LiveAid, that massive humanitarian venture that seemed to exist to ‘end poverty’, and how broad it seemed. A great giant’s back bearing up the weight of thousands of well-wishing people. Decades on from the first LiveAid, where is poverty? Ah, at our doorstep again… Relying on campaigns, however well-meaning, that exist within and replicate the same hierarchies as the dominant system will not eradicate poverty, nor climate change, nor any other major crisis caused by and exacerbated by neoliberal capitalism. It is often their well-meaning, positivist energy that, to me, seems truly bizarre; it is as if the system of control will not allow for anger – only joy can restore humanity, joy through consumer goods as well as consumer campaigns. If you’re sad or angry, the fault is with you.

[4] This was through his work SHAPOLSKY ET AL. MANHATTAN REAL ESTATE HOLDINGS, A REAL-TIME SOCIAL SYSTEM, AS OF MAY 1, 1971 which was denied entry over a month before the opening of the exhibition, when he refused to take it down on the orders of the gallery.

Bibliography

Print:

Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?. Zero Books, 2009.

Han, Byung-Chul. Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power. Verso Books, 2017.

Online:

Bain, Marc. Quartz: online article, first published 01/08/2017. Page visited 09/09/2018. URL: https://qz.com/1042298/nike-is-facing-a-new-wave-of-anti-sweatshop-protests/

Cowan, Hannah. Homophobic Rainbow Garlands, 2018. Page visited 04/09/2018. URL: https://disruptiveinequalities.com/2017/09/22/homophobic-rainbow-garlands/

Haacke, Hans. Academy of Contemporary Arts, Barcelona; MACBA. Page visited 06/09/2018. URL: https://www.macba.cat/en/shapolsky-et-al-manhattan-real-estate-holdings-a-real-time-social-system-as-of-may-1-1971-3102

Industrial Workers of the World. IWW, 2018. Page visited 06/09/2018. URL: https://www.iww.org/culture/official/preamble.shtml/

Kaepernick, Colin. CNN News Corp, 2018. Page visited 07/09/2018. URL: https://edition.cnn.com/videos/cnnmoney/2018/09/04/colin-kaepernick-nike-ad-controversy-nr-vpx.cnn

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