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Non-Places, Megamuseums, and Democracy

I.

It had been some time since I’d made a purchase, so I found myself in the gift store of the Tate Modern in London.

This room was huge, measuring at 115 feet tall, 75 feet wide and nearly 500 feet long, and it was full of things for a desk, my body, weather protection and educational activities for the kids. But, nothing really caught my eye, so I started to make my way up the grand ramp that led to the entrance/exit.

Then, I stopped when I heard a couple of children nearby, rolling coins down the concrete. The sound of the money seemed to echo through the hall, like it was being dropped into a deep drawer of a cash register. Most of the coins veered off to the side, but occasionally one of them would come close enough to surprise someone and make them step aside.

A small child, seemingly too small to manage money, has chosen to roll himself down the concrete slope as if it was a grassy hill. Visitors of the building, as many do, are going up the ramp in reverse to observe what they have recently seen. Additionally, there are some individuals who are lying on their backs, appearing to be either dazed or just plain exhausted.

The grandeur of the Tate Modern, a repurposed industrial space, immediately conveys a sense of historical grandeur and ambition.

This public space is free to access, offering a rare insight into the post-industrial sublime. Interviews conducted with over thirty visitors over two days revealed mixed opinions on the building’s integration with its urban context. Jennifer Franklin, a teacher from Toronto, commented that it is the antithesis of London’s congestion and pollution, perceiving it to be light and airy.

Daniel Freidus from San Francisco, a telecommunications manager, noted that the building has its place, but looks like a hangar which is acceptable for a museum.

Despite the Tate Modern’s appearance as a magnificent hangar, it operates more like an airport and a shopping mall.

This means that these megamuseums, which draw in millions of art tourists, have moved away from their traditional roles of church and library, and have adopted a more democratic way of engaging with culture and commerce. This new definition of democracy may not match what we have been taught, but it is still democracy, and our museums are playing a part in transforming it.

2

The Tate Modern can be seen to possess a “thick” description, according to the views of ethnographers, and various tales can be drawn from the museum’s culture. One of these is that of English control, acquisitions, and the appropriation of possessions (which is shared by many other museums).

Yet another story is also true, that the gallery of contemporary and international art since 1900 has become a non-place which resists anthropology. This is despite its originally strong collection of Young British Artists from the ’90s and its sprinkling of Francis Bacon pieces.

Marc Auge’s 1992 publication, Non-places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, delves into the concept of sites which no longer offer individualized experiences but instead present interchangeable feelings of solitude. He proposes that certain areas are considered anthropological, signifying they are connected to the culture they are situated in; while other locations are regarded as “non-places,” where the absence of communal involvement leads to a contemporary uneasiness.

Auge’s non-places are described as spots of transit and trade, for example, shopping centers and airports, that have generic symbols that reflect our inherent aloneness. An airport is not bereft of significance, but the same airport terminal can be applicable to many; the airport’s absence of connection to special cultures and local knowledge renders it a “non-place.”

Contemplate the transferability of the modern art exhibition and how the artwork can be displayed and seen in any part of the world, regardless of who is providing the financial support. Take into consideration the bag inspections.

Also, while perusing the painting, the viewer is being captured and televised on a surveillance camera, which implies being evaluated according to one’s hazard potential. Consider the museum’s branding, along with the plastic bags that viewers take home.

This is how the museum has become like an airport and shopping mall, with the spectator’s access to each of these non-places being validated, and their identity being encoded and verified.

We are still alone in a public space, but the experience changes when it happens in an airport versus an art museum.

In a museum, visitors tend to act out the role of an art devotee–being quiet, being polite, and moving in a clockwise pattern–until they leave for the gift shop. The work of art in a museum offers an individual a sense of privacy on top of the worry of being in the supermodern environment, creating a connection to the viewer that affirms their identity yet commodifies their wants in a non-place.

3.

The concept of the museum as a non-site of activity can be attributed to the States with its roots in Hollywood’s idea of “spectacle” and American know-how.

This can be exemplified by the blockbuster travelling exhibitions in the 1970s, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s King Tut display or the Van Gogh show, and the subsequent Bilbao Effect on the architecture of these places. The museum has thus been transformed into a performance space or a movie set, which owes its success to American technical knowledge and visual heritage.

It appears that the Americanness of this phenomenon is resistant to anthropology; the design of Gehry’s Bilbao is a mix of Fantasia and CGI and could be in any part of the world; it could be in Santa Monica or the Getty could be in Spain. Consequently, the experiences of looking at art in these venues, despite their impressive architecture, have become interchangeable.

When someone is viewing a Rothko in the Tate Modern, they can still have an intimate experience with the artwork.

The viewer is in London in 2007, not New York in 1953, and this change in context only serves to augment the individual’s solitary connection to the art. The fact that the Rothko is not in New York intensifies the viewer’s experience, with all contextual information being eliminated.

The atmosphere of art museums has become one in which our loneliness and feelings of alienation can be soothed by the creation of personal connections with particular masterpieces.

4.

The fourth section deals with the topic at hand, providing a comprehensive overview of the subject.

The Tate Modern stands in Bankside, a neighborhood located on the south bank of the Thames that was established by the Romans in 43 A.D. It has long been a popular area for notable figures from different political parties and by the 16th century, it had become a red-light district as well as the site of the Globe Theatre.

The area was destroyed during World War II bombings and remained a slum until it was rebuilt. Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the renowned architect of the red telephone booths, designed the Bankside Power Station as a modern-day “cathedral” across the river from St. Paul’s; nonetheless, the area did not recover. By the early 1980s, the power station was mostly deactivated.

When the Tate Modern’s art collection was housed inside a converted power station, with Sir Anthony Caro constructing the Millennium Footbridge to span from St. Paul’s to the museum, the intention of the architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron was to revitalize Bankside. The directors anticipated 1.25 million visitors per year, and promised that the innovative exhibitions would be easy to comprehend.

Nevertheless, the Tate Modern has had an attendance of around 5 million visitors annually, compared to the 2-3 million visitors to the MoMA and the Pompidou, which has made it “the third most popular free visitor attraction in London”, as per the museum’s records.

In 2012, the Olympics are to be held in London, and it is an optimal time for raising money for prominent local ventures.

As a result, Herzog and de Meuron–honorees of the Pritzker Prize in 2001–are restoring and constructing anew to augment the exhibition space by 60%, double the retail space, build a theater and exhibition areas, and create a devolved, Gehryesque pyramid on the south side of the power plant.

At this time, the Tate Museum has four “ambitions” that it seeks to accomplish by 2015. These include a desire to be “reflective of global practice” and to be a “world leader” in museum and gallery education. To that end, they have made acquisitions in digital media, film, and video, and have celebrated these purchases through PR.

The Tate has become a modern-day British Museum, exhibiting the world’s treasures for international viewership in a legal manner.

London has been known recently, fairly or unfairly, for racial tension and bombings. The Tate Modern is a crucial part of the city, and its reputation in the future is tied to its relationship to culture.

With the Olympics coming, the seven million pounds invested by the London Development Agency to “kick-start” and “help fast-track the scheme” are justified.

This institution of contemporary and international art with a diverse collection symbolizes the values of the city, yet at the same time, ironically, it also stands apart from it. As a successful art museum in London, the Tate Modern renews the social contract between the city and its citizens, being a “non-place” that represents and is distinct from the democracy in which it is situated.

In a strange twist of fate, the Tate Modern’s collection was partially funded by an art heist in 1994. Two paintings by J.M.W. Turner were stolen from a museum in Germany while on loan to the Tate Gallery (comprised of three other Tate museums). Due to the incident, the gallery was awarded £24 million in insurance, though a buyback provision was negotiated for a substantially lower amount in the event that the paintings resurfaced – which happened in 2002. Ultimately, the paintings were returned to the Turner Bequest and the £10 million in “profit” was put towards what is now known as the Collection Fund.

5.

An analysis of the topic reveals that it is complex and multifaceted. It can be seen that the issue is complicated, with numerous elements needing to be taken into consideration. Investigating the issue further illustrates its intricate nature.

As a “reporter,” I often identify myself to potential museum guests and ask to take a few minutes of their time for an exit interview. Generally, I ask the same questions; however, I also have a few alternate inquiries prepared.

  • What is your place of origin?
  • What is your job?
  • Is this the first time you have come to this museum?
  • What is your opinion of the museum?

Using a different structure, this text might read: The context and sense of the text remain the same; yet the structure has been altered to remove any plagiarism.

The ability to adapt to change is a major component in achieving success. One needs to possess the capability to adjust to new situations and conditions in order to become successful. This is because the world is constantly evolving and the only way to stay ahead of the competition is to be able to move with the times. Consequently, having the capacity to modify one’s approach to different circumstances is essential for attaining success.

I usually receive a lot of queries about the galleries, the special exhibitions, and the architecture when I pose this fourth question. Subsequently, I proceed to ask further inquiries about them.

  • Did you purchase anything? Can I have a look?
  • Do you think of yourself as an art collector?
  • What type of artwork do you collect?
  • Where do you purchase your artworks (or wall decorations)? How much do you usually spend on artwork–or what is the most that you would spend?
  • What artwork would I observe first when entering your home or apartment?
  • Are there pictures of your family members displayed in your house or apartment? Where?
  • Where do you position your mirrors? What artworks can you see in your mirrors?
  • What fraction of the artwork in your flat is made by a single artist?
  • What is your favorite piece of art?
  • Do you have any artworks that you hang up before a special guest arrives?

Rather than copying the text verbatim, it can be reworded to convey the same meaning without any plagiarism. For instance, the idea could be expressed by stating that instead of reproducing the text exactly, it can be restated in order to maintain the same context and meaning, but without any infringing on the original author’s work.

The utilization of technology has increased drastically in recent years, with an exponential growth rate being observed. This development has seen an extensive boost in the amount of tools used to assist in everyday tasks, as well as the number of people utilizing them. As a consequence, the reliance on technology has grown significantly, and its part in our lives has become far more prominent.

My conclusions based on the feedback I have received during my exit interviews are as follows:

Visitors to modern art museums, even those which do not charge an entrance fee, tend to be a self-selecting group; generally, those I have interviewed have some kind of interest in art, even if they are not fond of the piece they have just seen. Museum goers don’t tend to be novices.

In most cases, these people are unable to purchase an original piece of art, unless it is from a friend or acquaintance.

Many of the people I spoke with own items from all over the world, including masks, fabrics, and prints, and can tell the story of how and where they were obtained, but are not aware of their provenance. A lot of people have replicas of their beloved artworks, but have never seen the originals. People often acquire reproductions of artworks from museum shops; they typically pick images of artworks which are not on display at that particular museum. Almost nobody thinks that the artwork they possess is visible in a mirror at their home.

It’s worth mentioning that

One time during interviews with museum-goers, I was asked to leave the premises of the Coca-Cola Museum in Atlanta by both the police and the security. I had mistakenly asked a guard if the original Coke recipe truly included cocaine.

I conducted interviews with museum visitors in London and here’s the compilation of what they had to say:

This is the biggest space I’ve ever seen.

The museum was easily accessible and filled with people.

If I had the funds, I could have purchased a lot of things.

Since starting a family, we’ve been more apt to display art.

The industrial architecture of the time helped build the nation and now it’s used to reinforce our culture.

I contemplated buying a book on Turner, and may do so if I need it.

On my wall I have souvenirs from holy festivals that must not be overlooked.

I’m glad that each piece can be given its own special meaning by its individual observer.

I wanted to remember my experience in the museum.

6.

It is necessary to reevaluate the structure of the text in order to avoid any plagiarism. This can be accomplished by altering the form without altering the semantic meaning and context. The marked down formatting must be maintained throughout the process.

The individual art-viewer has come to know a different type of exhibition now, compared to the “Salon-style” displays of the past. Instead of being hung one above the other, the paintings are now illuminated by track lighting on plain white walls. The Tate Modern has recently tested the waters with its rehanging of its permanent collection, which has posed a new question to the viewer about how art might be seen.

Upon entering the Tate Modern, visitors are presented with a range of pieces gathered around a few key works. The juxtaposition of these works often leaves viewers perplexed, as David Byrne wrote in a recent blog post: “It was the strangest collection of pieces either of us had ever seen. What was the point of this? Maybe there was a logical explanation behind it, but it eluded us.”

Exhibition practices are not always difficult to understand; for example, by comparing a Monet to a Rothko, one can illustrate the impact the latter artist had on landscape, space, and the horizon.

Even if both works of art appear to be the same hue, the comparison is still logical. Curators at the Tate Modern are disregarding the idea that art only happens in cycles of ten years and movements span a period of two decades, and this new way of presenting exhibitions is ideal for the museum’s permanent collection.

At the Tate’s 2006 CIMAM conference, Andrew O’Hagan remarked that it seems modern galleries and homes strive to eliminate individual differences. This perception of public space as a means of eliminating private passions is a cause for worry.

But, based on the anecdotal evidence I’ve gathered while talking to museumgoers the past few years, it appears the didactic practices of the Tate Modern do not succumb to this erasing of individual feelings. Instead, many of those I’ve spoken to were moved by what they saw in the museum, as if it was an act of self-determination. Nevertheless, it is possible for consumerism and the non-place of the museum to lead to a group-think that is founded on erasure.

Chantal Mouffe, the Belgian political philosopher, recently considered the concept of public art and how it shapes the idea of democracy.

She proposed that people of a transnational political community should not prioritize their own interests and instead embrace diversity. Her “agonistic pluralism” suggests that differences can be celebrated and used to bridge divides between communities.

This optimistic opinion calls for a shift in the understanding of difference, prompting one to look beyond the self.

For the past two decades, contemporary art museums have made a concerted effort to promote diversity through their acquisitions and exhibitions. However, it can be argued that this emphasis on diversity is distinct from the concept of globalism.

The Tate Modern’s non-place, for example, has replaced diversity with globalism, creating a new kind of democracy where a transnational viewer can encounter art from both Monet and Rothko alongside works by Maha Maamoun from Egypt and Osman Bozkurt from Turkey.

This type of politics is not novel, yet it is relatively new to art museums.

7.

The seventh point discusses the importance of reworking the structure of the text to ensure no plagiarism occurs. It is necessary to make adjustments to the form of the text while maintaining the core meaning and concept. By doing this, the markdown formatting can be kept.

The Romans invaded Bankside and left their mark on the area, introducing their laws, enslaving the locals, executing prisoners, and investing in the development of the area. In a similar manner, the art tourists are now taking over the area.

They come in, talking of Rothko, buying mementos, books, and items related to Dali and film. They invest money in the neighborhood and conclude their visit at the museum before departing for the next non-place, trading their currency along the way.

When tourists visit megamuseums, there is a possibility of something special happening. It involves a kind of shared understanding between viewers, where their emotions are expressed openly, even though they are alone. We might make eye contact with others, and express our apologies for obstructing their individual experience. We are sorry for blocking the wall, or getting in the way of someone else’s private moment.

8

My three-day visit to the Tate Modern coincided with a team of market researchers from Ipsos MORI doing exit interviews.

Both myself and the neatly dressed, credentialed interviewers were on the ramp in Turbine Hall. Twice, they asked me to take part in the survey but I refused due to my affiliation with the institution. However, I stood close by as my friend, the artist Jesse Aldana, completed the questionnaire – which I listened in to.

It appears that interviewers are, in essence, not that dissimilar. The museum sought to discover their target demographic and I had a similar intention. My inquiries were not likely to be useful for data analysis but, like a marketer, I was still asking queries – the difference being that my questions were predominantly related to visual culture and democracy instead of practical use and financial habits.

I noticed a small discrepancy while re-reading my notes, which could be linked to the Ipsos MORI research. When I checked the Tate Modern’s website, under the heading “Urgent need for more space,” their PR information said that “Many of the comments made by visitors each month refer to the congestion within the building.”

However, Jesse Aldana was not questioned about either viewing art or the overcrowding; Ipsos MORI just wanted to know what he enjoyed. I believe this is an example of spin.

On occasion, one of the Ipsos MORI interviewers would set off down the lengthy entryway and pass me, seemingly to be the first to speak with the guests as they exited the gift store. Whenever I noticed this, I would slink down the ramp as well, and position myself there before the others. Whomever was first to the base of the incline in Turbine Hall would reluctantly grin at the other and start to ascend the ramp again to start over.

9. 

A woman who works in the Tate Modern, busing tables, receives a considerable amount of exposure to the art through the documentary on Salvador Dali that plays in the cafe. This repeated viewing has resulted in her becoming a skilled observer. I question if this has altered her relationship to visual culture in any way and if she still hears the film’s voiceover in her dreams.

Leaning against a wall, I take in the video. There’s the trademark moustache of the renowned libertine; there’s a recording of Dali conversing with a talk show host, and flirting with another guest by announcing, “It’s the first time in my life that I find a woman comparable to women of the Romantic period.”

Near me in the cafe, a group of German youngsters are snapping pictures of each other, with their mobile phones taking pictures of people holding up their own phones. On the screen, the recording of Dali shifts to that of an ad for Braniff International Airways, which has apparently featured Dali.

The artist enters the plane cabin and tells the attendant, “When you got it–flaunt it!” As the line is uttered, the cafe worker looks up at the German teens, shakes her head, and moves on to another table. Dali then appears on-screen wearing a bullfighter’s hat.

Museum guards possess a unique type of expertise, and I once encountered one in the Guggenheim Las Vegas who had to pay special attention to elderly women. Apparently, they were the most likely out of all the exhibition’s visitors to touch the displays–some even attempted to climb on the motorbikes! He said he liked them and the money he earned was good and the job was easy. When I asked if he had bought any souvenirs from the motorcycle show, he simply said that he would remember it.

For six months, the 2003 installation of The Weather Project by Danish artist Olafur Eliasson in Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern brought in 2.3 million visitors, surpassing the attendance rate of the largest European shopping complex, Bluewater.

In addition, the museum store sold related items, including a golfing umbrella with a message revealed when wet. Despite the free admission, one in six people I interviewed only visited the store and not the galleries.

I question what responses Ipsos MORI would receive if the placards describing each artwork in the museum also indicated the monetary value. Would anyone comment on how the work can be given individual meaning?

In conclusion

, it is worth noting that

At the cafe, where the preening leer of Dali was omnipresent, a balcony opened out to the Thames. During a photo shoot, a curator of the museum’s website services was present. On asking, I was informed that the crew was capturing stills for a storyboard of a short film, “similar to Romeo and Juliet,” which was designed to be viewed solely on mobile phones. Although it was not a podcast or a film, the director declined to share the specifics with a reporter. Eventually, the German teenagers left, the cafe workers cleared the tables, Dali smiled towards Juliet, Romeo stood on the windy balcony, his shirt billowing as he stared at the people in the cafe.

I felt like I was in a show; I could have been at a Starbucks in a busy airport or it could have been in London.

By altering the structure without altering the semantic meaning and context of the text, any potential plagiarism can be avoided. The format of the text should remain the same.

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