They’re still cleaning up in Beijing, but a couple of days ago British officials announced the initial Olympics-related spectacle for their 2012 games in London: a $75 million, pan-British arts and culture festival to kick off on September 26 and continue for almost four years. Key components of the Cultural Olympiad include a World Shakespeare Festival and a dozen “cutting-edge” art commissions to be selected from proposals made this fall.
Much has been made of the Brits’ ambivalence about hosting the Olympics, and at least one blogger seems only more bitter about this tacked-on arts extravaganza. “And here is London 2012 roping [the arts] into the patriotic bonanza, coarsening, travestying and betraying things that really matter,” writes Jonathan Jones, the Guardian’s arts writer.
One Cultural Olympiad launch event especially rankles him. Sebastian Coe, the former politician and chair of the London 2012 Organizing Committee, will take part in Work No 850 at the Tate Britain. This “sculpture” by Turner Prize winner Martin Creed involves runners sprinting, in four-hour shifts, through an 86-meter-long gallery devoted to neoclassical sculpture. (Coe won track and field gold medals in the 1980 and 1984 Olympics.) Maybe it’s because Jones is a juror for the 2009 Turner Prize?
I can appreciate his crankiness, but it is quite something for a politician (and a conservative at that) to sprint repeatedly through a museum as part of an artwork. Imagine, say, John McCain arriving at the Walker to sing, slow-dance, or speechify as part of Tino Sehgal’s exhibition earlier this year.
Alas, McCain did not visit the Walker to see or be art. But our Twin Cities did just witness frenzy of cultural activity related to a large (if not quite Olympian) spectacle in St. Paul; in fact, even though the RNC circus has left town, many related projects and events continue at least through Election Day:
— I Approve This Message films (scroll down to see submissions)
— an exhibition of portraits of People Who Speak the Truth, opening September 18
–a group show at Form+Content through October 4
— clever, witty, and/or scathing yard signs designed by your fellow citizens, which you can order or print for yourself.
(a full list is at the UnConvention.com)
The thing is, politicians love the arts insofar as they’re considered an economic booster. How many mayors and governors have read (or been briefed on) Richard Florida’s The Rise of Creative Class? So maybe Jones is defending the arts as valid in and of themselves, not needing to be tied to a sports spectacular four years hence. He might believe that the arts, rather than bringing new insights to mass spectacles, simply get overwhelmed by the main attraction and become a sideshow. But even if that’s the case, is it necessarily a bad thing?
(Speaking of art as sideshow, here’s a recent, highly controversial example.)