There’s been quite a brouhaha over an installation piece commissioned from Swiss artist Christoph Büchel by the Massachussetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) in North Adams.
Some background on the artist from artleak.org
Swiss artist Christoph Büchel creates hyper-realistic environments that are, in essence, like walking into a mind at work. His detailed installations are three-dimensional renderings of interior spaces and/or situations that often convey extreme psychological mindsets, such as that of a survivalist, a homeless person, or an agoraphobe. These fictitious yet highly believable environments – rooms within rooms – are carefully constructed so that the institutional framework of the art museum and all reference to the gallery context are removed.
A complexity is found in the elaborate detail the artist develops for each project, an artistic sensibility that allows layers of social and political commentary to permeate within a uniquely contemplative space. Büchel locates contradictions and social inequities in the ideological forces dominating society today (global capitalism, unprincipled consumption, religious conservatism, American hegemony) and finds a way through his work to satirize, demystify, and resist these forces by revealing them as constructed realities subject to change.
Christoph Buchel – Hole, 2006
Some background on the Museum:
MASS MoCA exhibits work by many of the most important artists of today—both well known, and emerging—focusing on large-scale and complex installations that are impossible to realize in conventional museums. Our broad, soaring galleries with 110,000 square feet of open, flexible space and their robust industrial character have proven both inspiring and empowering to artists.
And finally some background on the controversy from various sources:
A blog post by Jake Oldershaw of the UK was interesting – and he actually toured some of Buchel’s other works.
The NY Times had quite a bit to say on May 22, 2007.
As did the Boston Globe.
The upshot is, if I understand the whole convoluted mess correctly, the museum commissioned Buchel to create an installation, entitled Training Ground for Democracy, to open in December last year. The scale of this museum is mammoth, the gallery it was planned for is as large or larger than a football field. I’ve been there and it’s a tremendously huge space. The space was to be completely filled with items of the artist’s choosing and such things as an entire two-story house, a tanker truck and a tollbooth were brought in. Hundreds of local people contributed many of the smaller items that were requested. There was no formal contract, although the museum claims to have email correspondence where the budget and the timeline was discussed.
The artist asked for more and more outrageous items for the installation and finally, after spending twice the budget they had planned for, the museum said enough. I believe this was right after an additional list of required items appeared from the artist that included the burned fuselage of a 767 airliner to be hung from the ceiling. The museum wanted to open the show to recoup some of its investment and to keep its patrons happy, the artist stated the work was incomplete and he refused to allow it to be shown. The museum opened the show with all of the exhibition components hidden under tarps, but with photos of the installation process shown. The artist sued and the exhibition is in limbo.
So here are some of the questions raised by the kerfluffle:
Was this all completely deliberate on the part of the artist to see how far he could push an established museum in a wealthy country (the subject of the exhibition in fact) as commentary on the state of contemporary art today? Would this statement then be his “art”?
If this is the case, and they had in fact somehow acquired the burned fuselage of an enormous airplane (and where do you go to buy one of those anyway??), would he have asked for the Statue of Liberty next?
If this was deliberate, how will Buchel top it? Where does he go from here? How would he go back to his previous work, and how hard will it be to find a venue in the future?
Was the museum’s response correct? Both in ending the project and in opening the show without the artist’s consent? Do you agree or disagree with their decision? And doesn’t the opening of an unfinished exhibit, covered with tarps, also speak to the state of contemporary art today and the relationships of artists and venues?
Should a venue be allowed to display unfinished work against an artist’s wishes? Has the entire thing, — the artist, the museum, their respective actions and reactions, become conceptual art?
Is a large-scale installation like this a collaboration between a museum and an artist, and if it is should both parties have equal voice in it’s resolution?
Does the artist have a responsibility to the museum, based on their investment in time, space and money, to complete the work? Or at least “sign off” on it? Does the museum have a right to declare an installation “finished” and exhibit it?