Does who owns art change it?
A couple of weeks ago Tyler Green posted an interesting interview with New Museum director Lisa Phillips about her institution’s decision to put on shows drawn solely from various high profile collections (Dakis Joannou, New Museum trustee, will be the first beneficiary of the new curatorial program). I’m happy to debate the merits of such a program (I see the conflicts, but I also see the value too), but what caught my interest was this loaded question of Green’s:
Do you worry that your decision could reinforce the notion that art is a luxury owned by the privileged few rather than a means through which artists engage communities and nations and societies in a broader discourse?
My response in reading this was: “Why can’t it be both?” That much art–and much of what we recognize as the best and most important art–has always been a luxury good is of course no defense for why it should or will always be so, but it seems to me that the opposition that Green puts into play here is a false one. I don’t see how a “luxury,” which I take simply to mean a good or service that comes with a high price tag, is inherently incapable of engaging with “communities and nations and societies.” Who “owns” this luxury, especially if that luxury is work of art, should have little to do with whether the work is engaged in a “broader discourse.” This leads me to a series of questions:
Does a work of art’s level of engagement change whether it is publicly or privately owned? Is any given work of art’s level of engagement (as given in Green’s question) externally determined–by which I mean, is it a function of where, how and to whom it is displayed? Or is this engagement internal to the work, implicit within its structure? And would a work of art owned by, say, Noam Chomsky bear a different level of engagement than if the same work of art were owned by, say, Donald Trump? (It scares me to state that, on that last one, I don’t know if the answer is all that clear.)