DYING OF SUCCESS: HOW TO KEEP SUSTAINABLE MUSEUMS IN THE 21ST CENTURY

Just a few days ago, the ranking of the most visited museums in the world in 2018 was published. Once again, the Louvre occupied the first position, and also with great satisfaction, we saw the Reina Sofía Museum in the top 20 for another year. In the world panorama, European museums have a considerable weight, with nine institutions located in the first 20 positions. Taken together, the figures reflect a 15% increase in the number of visitors, demonstrating the growing interest of the public in accessing these large collections.

Visiting the "Mona lisa" in the Louvre. Photo: Pedro Fiuza/NurPhoto — Sipa, (from Associated Press nytimes.com)

However, these data are not as flattering as it might seem. In spite of the dimensions of these enormous museums, the volume of visitors is such that the enjoyment of the works suffers and the maintenance tasks are increasingly demanding. On May 27, the Louvre was forced to close its doors by a strike called by the security personnel in protest at the lack of resources before this flood of visits. The corridors cramp, and the artworks disappear behind a parapet of raised arms, smartphone in hand, to take the souvenir photo between tourist hordes. This museum, in particular, exceeded 10 million visitors last year, which represented an increase of 25% over the previous year.

This phenomenon is linked to the boom of tourism in recent years. Not only travelling has become more affordable, but it has become one more point in the list of "things to do in life" for those of us who cross through the 21st century. The enormous range of possibilities that the present offers us collides with the need to adopt measures to protect the cultural heritage and local style of life. At the same time, it is necessary to fight against the power of attraction of some places especially demanded, something that negatively affects the sustainability of their lifestyle and the stationary character of their economy. There is much talk today about sustainable tourism, and it should be taken seriously because the displacements of people and the expansion of capitalist consumption habits have a direct impact on the environment and the conservation of monuments.

'Dalí', la exposición más visitada de Europa, by: Miguel Ángel García Vega (via blogs.elpais.com)

This is not an easy task. Tourism is one of the main economic engines in many countries. Some institutions lack the injection of public funds and must be supported entirely by their income, obtained many times from tickets’ sale. Some museums, such as the Prado, try to establish a policy that allows visitors to continue enjoying the tour and prohibits taking photographs with their phones in the showrooms. The reasons for taking this measure are multiple, and so that no one can complain (because there are those who complain), they have proceeded to digitalise the masterpieces of the collection with high definition images accessible on the official website.

These data reveal that the cultural sector is also a part of the major trends that prescribe the obligation to visit certain centres and sites and take the mandatory photo to share it on social networks. It is positive that art can be "trendy", but it is not if this trend leads to the deterioration of the museum's experience, a false knowledge of what is being seen, the kidnapping of certain institutions as opposed to others in the immediate environment that remain empty, and the standardisation of museums as a consequence of globalisation. In the debate on the future of these institutions in the 21st century, which took place in Paris in January 2018 and attended by the directors of the world's leading museums, Bernard Blistène, director of the Center Pompidou, declared: "A museum must not tend towards an ideal collection that does not exist, but must be built from its singularity. It would be ridiculous to see how museums are homogenised to respond to a definition that, in reality, we should deconstruct: that of modern art. We have to rethink the initial model."

Andy Stalman, “Louvre” (from tendencias21.net)

The future challenges for these centres are not only the need to face their activity with increasingly tight budgets but also the fulfilment of a social and cultural mission that affects society worldwide. And while working towards those objectives, issues such as sustainability and balance in the volume of visitors, are critical. Some voices suggest that decentralisation should be encouraged, opening branches of the leading museums in other parts of the world, such as the Louvre, to mention a close example, which will soon open its Abu Dhabi centre. But these solutions are a clear example of the impact of globalisation and how it also reaches the art sector. Mass tourism (and its cultural consumption) is so intimately linked to this phenomenon that statistics seem to yield contradictory results.

Museum of Natural History of London. Photo: Son of Groucho (from Flickr, via waitamoment.co.uk)

Back to the Prado, with its almost constant 3 million visits in recent years, a survey launched earlier this year to test the habits of the Spaniards indicates that only 5.7% visited the museum in the last year, that 37.5% have never visited it and 16% have no interest in doing so. We know that the statistics are that, statistics, but the data brings us closer to a reality that seems to go unnoticed. In this boom to go to the great museums, national visitors are the least interested in enjoying these institutions. And this may be the reason that explains why the large art galleries are crowded, and the most modest museums, equally interesting, remain empty. Perhaps one of the main lines of work is to continue educating in art and culture to awaken the interest of citizens to get closer to the art that they have at reach, while channelling other forms of funding for museums to ensure their sustainability without having to depend so much on the volume of visits.

 

The cultural agenda gradually recovers after the health-crisis halt and art lovers are eager to enjoy the rich cultural offer that the different spaces and museums throughout our geography have to offer. In addition, one must remember that these centres have made an enormous effort to adapt to the demands that the new situation imposes and have created abundant online-accessible content to overcome confinement. We bring you a selection of content that can be visited both in person and through the web. There is no excuse for not enjoying contemporary art again.

Olafur Eliasson, “En la vida real (In real life)”, 2019

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao continues with its exhibition dedicated to Olafur Eliasson and offers numerous resources to understand not only the exhibition but also the work of the centre in the assembly and installation process. The website allows us to expand content with interviews with the artist, the download of the audio guide and the vision of the curator Lucía Aguirre, who offers us different video-pills on the pieces in the exhibition.

"Olafur Eliasson: in real life" brings together a part of this artist's work since 1990 through sculptures, photographs, paintings and installations that play with reflections and colours. Likewise, the integration of elements such as moss, water, ice, fog... put the visitor in a situation that confuses the senses and tries to challenge the way we perceive our environment and move in it.

Regina de Miguel, “Isla Decepción”, 2017

The Botín Centre in Santander hosts the exhibition "Collecting processes: 25 years of Itineraries" which brings together the work of 25 of the 210 scholarship recipients who, to date, have enjoyed the Botín Foundation Plastic Arts Scholarship, started in 1993. With the works Lara Almárcegui, Basma Alsharif, Leonor Antunes, Javier Arce, Erick Beltrán, David Bestué, Bleda and Rosa, Nuno Cera, Patricia Dauder, Patricia Esquivias, Karlos Gil, Carlos Irijalba, Adrià Julià, Juan López, Rogelio López Cuenca, Renata Lucas, Mateo Maté, Jorge Méndez Blake, Regina de Miguel, Leticia Ramos, Fernando Sánchez Castillo, Teresa Solar Abboud, Leonor Serrano Rivas, Jorge Yeregui, David Zink-Yi, the exhibition is a good example of up-to-date and young contemporary art contributed by artists with very diverse profiles.

Clemente Bernad. Series “Ante el umbral”, Madrid, 2020

The Reina Sofía Museum wanted to create a visual chronicle of what the confinement and the tragic numbers of infected and deceased have meant for the lives of many of us: a tale of pain, nostalgia and uncertainty made by the photographer Clemente Bernad. This exhibition, curated by Jorge Moreno Andrés, is entitled “Before the threshold”, a title that expresses the strange sensation that occurs when faced with something new and unknown, something that we cannot control or avoid, and that we all must go through. The alteration imposed on our lives unexpectedly is reflected in the streets, transformed into places of solitude and abandonment where life has been paralysed.

Mario Merz / No title, Triplo Igloo, 1984 MAXXI Collection

At the IVAM, the exhibition "What is our home?" brings together works from the IVAM collection and the MAXXI centre in Rome to propose a reflection on the space we inhabit seen from a personal and social perspective. It is about investigating the value that these spaces have as a home or refuge, as well as part of a city or community.

The exhibition, curated by José Miguel G. Cortés, also wants to delve into the feeling of those who feel like foreigners anywhere, because they do not identify with the habits or customs of the society, they do not fit into these social patterns, and home becomes the only shelter space that can adapt to their identity needs.

Martha Rosler, frame from “Backyard Economy I-II”, 1974 © Courtesy of Martha Rosler, 2020

Es Baluard Museu is committed to video creation and performance and hosts the monographic exhibition “Martha Rosler. How do we get there from here?” dedicated to this New York artist who pioneered the use of video as a mechanism for social and political analysis. This exhibition includes various works, from video to photography and several publications, which synthesise her main lines of discourse. Her concern for public policies and the social equality of women has led her to actively participate in numerous social movements in La Havana, New York, Mexico DC or Barcelona, and these experiences are present in one way or another in her work.

With the curatorship of Inma Prieto, a selection has been made within the abundant production of this artist, which presents one of the most coherent careers in towards-the-new-Millenium contemporary art.

Image from file, via meiac.es/turbulence/archive/acceso.html

The MEIAC - Museo Extremeño e Iberoamericano de Arte Contemporáneo, host the works of the prestigious international digital art archive "Turbulence", a platform dedicated to network and hybrid art. In view of the inevitable closure of this institution, the MEIAC has offered to host all this valuable content collected since 1996. The uploading of the file also served as an opportunity to restore numerous pieces and convert formats so that files that had become obsolete remain readable by new systems. A huge job of conservation and updating that can be enjoyed online today. The archive is made up of hundreds of digital works from around the world that can now be visited remotely.