You could hardly fail to hear the discussions in the museum’s corridor

January 20th, 2009  | Categories: SF MoMA 2008, Bidder vs. Ledia Carroll

Ultimately, it is only a question of temperament whether you call this a full-blown argument or a difference of opinions. There is no argument about the facts, certainly – although in the meantime, neither side is very happy about the publicity; the museum no doubt even less so than Scott M. MacLeod, our second to last bidder.

But what was it all about when an assistant curator at the museum and the bidder documented their mutual lack of understanding for the constraints and needs of the other side? One fact is that MacLeod did not want to shut the double doors to the exhibition room, which have only really been opened for photographs and alterations up until now. MacLeod, a “preparator” at the SF MOMA and a professional artist, wanted publicity for his intervention. He saw the room as part of the overall exhibition and wanted to move it visually closer to the other exhibits. He attacked the PWC team in Berlin and chafed against the regulations and restrictions of the museum, which is a major institution with routines and conventions aimed at smoothing the course of day-to-day professional life, and is – ironically – also MacLeod’s employer.

The assistant curator refused to comply with MacLeod’s special wishes. Declaredly unhappy about the continuing misappropriation of the MOMA’s curatorial staff for participative services, she demanded adherence to regular procedures. In MacLeod’s view, she coolly informed the winner of the auction that the public would surely manage to find its own perspective. Perhaps this was not the exact dialogue. Our webcams don’t convey dialogues, nor do they allow us to share any heated debates about the precise limits of a museum’s participation. The whole exhibition project is called the Art of Participation. But what actually is the role of art in all this participation? And when is the point when participation becomes painful for a museum, to which even small participatory steps must seem like a disturbance of its peaceful running, since even interactive museum art is directed towards preservation?

It is difficult to say who is right, even though we can’t help feeling certain sympathy for this defiant bidder. MacLeod is testing the system. Sometimes, he does so in an aggressive way, when he attacks us, for example. He is concerned about his work and lays claim to all the conservational care that he begins to resent when the museum refuses to open the door to Pandora’s Box. But his questions are well thought out. He suspects us of bigotry because of our part-time participation, and this cannot merely be swept aside. His intuitive sense that all our rules hamper aesthetic freedom cannot be dismissed out of hand. Scott, you express your doubts in interaction! We can say little about that, and we have no mandate for peace missions. But for a moment, we did think it was funny. It’s funny that there is no occasion for argument with all these other participatory artworks. But we already asked ourselves that in 2001 – and founded the PWC for experimental purposes.

  1. Scott MacLeod
    January 20th, 2009 at 17:21

    I would have been happy to have worked within the constraints of having closed doors if that constraint had been communicated to me. I would have been happy to design the installation for closed doors if someone had said: “the doors need to be closed.” I would have been (not happy but) more willing to have the door-closed rule imposed upon me 1/3 of the way through the exhibition if I had been properly communicated with and if my concerns had not been trivialized.

    I responded voluminously to PWC’s misinterpretations & misrepresentations of both my installations physical components & my intentions, but I wouldn’t characterize it as an “attack.” I also can’t quite fit your description “chafed against the regulations and restrictions” in anywhere. That sounds like a low-level constant grumbling, which is far from the case. I had some confusion about how information was passing or not passing between you & curatorial department, and I had this issue with the doors closing. Otherwise the museum’s service to the art & artist has been as excellent as ever. Installation, conservation, the guards & janitorial, all excellent in relation to this installation.

    I can’t find any reference to “Declaredly unhappy about the continuing misappropriation of the MOMA’s curatorial staff for participative services” here on PWC site, so this is news to me.

    I am not certain what this phrase of yours means: “lays claim to all the conservational care that he begins to resent when the museum refuses to open the door to Pandora’s Box.”

    When you say “he suspects us of bigotry” – it’s this kind of thing that makes me a little frustrated with you, because (a) I think it is inaccurate and (b) it suggests to the reader that I used the word “bigotry,” which I didn’t and which is a word that seems to me entirely innappropriate here. And how do you get the impression that I have an “intuitive sense that all our rules hamper aesthetic freedom.” That’s ridiculous. I am entirely the kind of person who functions far more efficiently & creatively within a clearly-defined system of constraints. It’s when the rules are changed mid-game, or when rules are invisible, fast & loose, miscommunicated, misused, etc that I get frustrated & start feeling a bit hopeless, as I have all weekend & as I do now on my way to take the bus to work. I too, for a moment, thought it was funny. Now I wish I hadn’t made my bid.