Chris Gilbert was the curator [or "organizer," as he would like to be known] of the Matrix Center at BAM. Gilbert resigned, specifically, over an argument regarding the wall text that was to accompany the exhibition entitled Now Time Venezula Part 1: Media Along the Path of the Bolivarian Process. Per Gilbert, the exhibit directly empathized with the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuala led by Hugo Chavez. Gilbert asserted that the wall text include 'in solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution,' but this seemed too overt for the museum. After the museum's refusal, he drafted a resignation letter [which can be read at MetaMute, as well as comment and reaction].
Now the questions regarding this action abound. What is the role of a public insititution [ie Universtiy of Berkeley's Art Museum] in presenting information, art, etc? Was the museum in the right in terms of its weariness to align itself with overt political ideology [aside from the fact that the exhibition was politically counter to the government with funds it]? Are culutral institutions barometers of state of politics in their given nation? Was it wrong to retain Gilbert's orginally intended wording? In Gilbert's resignation letter he states that “[o]ne should have no illusions: until capitalism and imperialism are brought down, cultural institutions will go on being, in their primary role, lapdogs of a system that spreads misery and death to people everywhere on the planet. The fight to abolish that system completely and build one based on socialism must remain our exclusive and constant focus.” Is this true? If so what is the role of those believe this? Is there a possibility to both navigate the institutional infrastructure and work outside it?
Gilbert's position as an individual brings up an entire other set of questions. Is it better to refuse the institutional framework? Is it more productive to take a more tactical approach by promoting such ideologies within the institution, as Gilbert had been doing in the past at both MATRIX and Baltimore Museum of Art? Which is the more ethical decision? Would it have been more effective had Gilbert resigned in solidarity with a group of others who felt the same way, rather than an individual act?
Continue reading to take a look at the beginning of paper proposal regarding this topic
With the recent resignation of Chris Gilbert from the Berkeley Museum of Art, the ‘art world,’ seems to have polarized when considering the politics of cultural institutions. In Gilbert’s final paragraph of his resignation he states, “One should have no illusions: until capitalism and imperialism are brought down, cultural institutions will go on being, in their primary role, lapdogs of a system that spreads misery and death to people everywhere on the planet. The fight to abolish that system completely and build one based on socialism must remain our exclusive and constant focus.” These statements are precluded by claims that contemporary art of the last 30 years that has been legitimized by institutions is nothing more than the, “cultural arm of the upper-middle class.”
Nato Thompson, in an article written for the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, calls for a “radical infrastructure,” of venues and resources to show art work that may be political and to communicate ideas through venues that are free from the politics of institutions with which they may be affiliated. Miwon Kwon in One Place After Another, asserts, in considering John Ahearn’s bronze statues cast at Fashion Moda in the S Bronx, that “works which are built within the contextual frame of governmental, corporate, educational, and religious institutions run the risk of being read as tokens of those institutions.” [Serra]. Kwon also alludes to public art discourse being the battle ground for defining democracy. Can this also be true for the cultural institution?
Some of the assertions and questions mentioned so far may be obvious to some, but they can also act as a starting point to discuss issues that consider the role of the cultural institution as either a “lapdog of the bourgeoisie,” as Gilbert asserts, or as a litmus test for the state of democracy alluded to by Kwon. Gilbert’s situation is very charged with arguments concerning the ethics and solidarity of the cultural institution, but one of the larger concerns brought about by his resignation is whether or not reformation can better be achieved within the institution or operating autonomous from the institutional framework. In a response to Gilbert, Liam Gillick states, “Whether you feel he is overstating the obvious or else coming to a conclusion that for many people is the starting point, there is an increasing call for Gilbert to return to Berkeley and continue pressing at the limits of curatorial rhetoric in a context in which it might be possible to shift the terms of engagement.”