Show Time!

It’s All Part of The Experience

‘Ooooh get it for the insta!’ – too many people at art exhibitions [including myself], 2019.

The factor of the ‘Experience’, within the contemporary context, is a priority when it comes to the notion of ‘the spectacle’. Let’s be honest, one does not simply go to an exhibition anymore to passively stand there, whilst admiring the artwork – you engage with it.

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the show…

It’s a miracle, you’ve all managed to coordinate your busy metropolitan schedules to go to this exhibition! You arrive with your group of friends, all eager to make a day out of this! Possibly even grab a bit of lunch after, or even a coffee from that cute new artisans coffeeshop… You go, walking around as a group whilst you catch up on the latest gossip – Yes Susan, Greg is an idiot. Then you stop, contemplating the work before you – But really, I swear I could do that!… But you didn’t, did you Susan.

Then, your adrenaline rushing…

you’ve trained for this exact moment…

you are well versed in the etiquette of galleries

– deep breath –

[pretend to check the time while taking a photo of your favourite piece]

Victory! I’ll show that to Mom later and also pop that on the snapchat story

Because, let’s be honest, did it really happen if you didn’t post it?

*No Susans were harmed in the making of this blog*

Culture as Commodity

V&A Dundee, 2019, photograph by me

In the traditional sense, when someone hears the word ‘Museum’ the following words may come to mind:

‘Old’, ‘Expensive’, ‘History’, ‘Fragile’, ‘Indiana Jones’

…basically something or somewhere that is somehow detached from the contemporary realm that we presently live in. I like to visualise this concept by thinking about a museum as being like a house. A house that acts as a vacuum for the past, and a place in which one may temporarily enter to cross over the threshold of the ephemeral line which acts to divide past to present. Then suddenly, once you’ve entered these ‘sacred hallows’ of romanticised academia [that’s a debate for another day], you may find yourself face to face with the celebrities of History – be that through the poised and dignified eyes of the bust of Nefertiti, or the flamboyant and entitled face of Bernini’s  bust of Louis XIV.

However, this couldn’t be further from the truth! I will stand to admit that yes, at the beginning of the 19th c. Museums were a bit like that – somewhere where people went to glance at dusty relics from the Golden Age and admire the moral compass of the Pre-Raphaelites. But today, today it’s all about the Experience of going to the Museum.

Why go to the Museum?

In the digital age if I want to look up, for example, a golden torc from the celtic era. Easy!  Who knows how this came up in conversation but let me just type that into google real quick. Why would I trek the whole 20 minutes on the tube to the British Museum when I could get it up on my phone? WAIT, there’s a new interactive area AND exhibition dedicated to the Celts [and as a bonus they do indeed have torcs on show]?! Yep just checked, the Guardian has given it sufficient ratings – and off I go.

Culture is an industry that runs on the fumes of the Experience. The Museum is not a stagnate monument that acts to detach the past from present. Museums could not be more rooted in the present!

The Actors Behind The Scenes

The Museum is one of the largest corporate bodies and long term economic schemes found within the UK. If you can see past the facade of the notion of the museum being simply the residence of the past, you will soon find it’s really the birthplace of the future.

Culture as a Commodity is one of the most successful paradigms in which to develop regeneration schemes in Urban Areas. For example, Tate Modern was used as a catalyst for the boom of NEO Bankside, attracting other creatives in order to build the dynamic, and highly expensive burrow that it is today. People want to live in cool places that make them appear creative and cultured, and businesses that cater to these people follow – FACT. I promise you, Susan and her friends will be at that artisan cafe right after that Van Gogh show.

The Museum is a political instrument, as its architectural dominance on our skyline is  concurrently paralleled by its embodiment as an economic excise in power. Long story short, it’s all about the utopian idealist theory of ‘Supply-side’ economics. If you invest in large scale projects then wealth will trickle down. For example, the V&A Dundee cost a hundred million pounds to build, whilst placing emphasis on the architecture of the building itself, NOT the artefacts or artwork found inside.

Linking back to earlier, the V&A Dundee is more of a shell than a house – it’s there to be admired. BUT does this matter? No, not really. Why? Because we all love a spectacle!

Give us an Experience!

And just like that, alongside a little help from the critics of the Guardian and other newspapers, I myself fell victim to this architectural display. I happily travelled on the train from Edinburgh to Dundee to simply take photos. Would I have ever gone to Dundee for any other reason than to see a new architectural monument? Probably not. Did I then explore the city adding to the economic prosperity of its pub culture as I happily sipped my pint. Yes.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Museums’ work.

V&A Dundee, 2019, Photograph by me.

However, I’m not even done yet with the list of how Museums boost the economy!

They help…

  1. Retail = It is impossible to go to any museum without there being a shop or cafe. The entirety of the V&A Dundee is the shop, and I’m not joking!
  2. Social Engineering = It’s no coincidence that Van Gogh’s prices have spiked in the art market whilst the Tate has been having a field day with his Exhibitions.
  3. City Branding Schemes = Come visit Bilbao with the new Guggenheim or Dundee with the V&A!

Once you’ve drawn back the curtain it is much less the Museum as a building and much more of the Museum as a paradigm.

The Museum is not the home of the past but that of politics.


*If you are interested in this topic I recommend reading Guy Debord’s , ‘Society of the Spectacle’, 1967


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: