Thursday, March 10, 2011

Dark Matter & Museum Pranks

I have just finished reading "Dark Matter" by Greg Sholette, artist, activist, and collectivist. In this book, he brings attention to cultural workers and enterprise culture, offers a protracted view of artists and collectives in the U.S. and abroad, and articulates the politics of the uncategorized activity that often goes unnoticed by mainstream institutions of culture. This field of production, defined as "dark matter", refers to artistic production made and circulated without the knowledge of, or counter to, an art establishment. Sholette demonstrates how this "invisible" mass of activity and production is made and circulated in the shadows of the formal artworld. While such activity may seem invisible to art historians, critics, and curators, it seeks and attains agency while its presence becomes increasingly visible and apparent in our post-industrial society.

In thinking about this type of interventionist activity, I am reminded of the practice of "museum pranks". I insert below two events that were staged at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the
first case, the more recent activity, a group aimed to bring attention to a "regular person's" physical similarity to that of Philip IV and, secondly, to heighten awareness about the newly re-attributed work by Velazaquez. In the second, agit-prop phenomenon Banksy interrupts the installations at the Met by adding his own works to the conversation. In the first example below, the activity was not sanctioned but seems harmless; in the second, there's no sanctioning but it aims at clandestine activity.

Above: An unauthorized autograph signing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art with an actor who resembles King Philip IV of Spain. Standing in front of the 400-year-old Velázquez painting, the "King" greeted museum goer, giving them free signed 8x10 photos of himself. See an amazing recap, with photos, here.

Above: British performance artist Banksy, who has been called "the Duchamp of our century."

Question for the readers: do you think that these "museum pranks" qualify as art? If so, are they heirs of a past tradition: Or, do they break with a tradition completely, and, if so, how? Or do they forge a new path entirely? Does anyone (artists or otherwise) have the "right" to do this kind of thing? What do you think?

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