Museums act like corporations. Universities act like corporations. Individuals increasingly act like corporations. These summary statements about the influence of corporate strategies on cultural institutions are common reflections about the direction of society. The shift to using corporatized models is not completely new, especially in the realm of art. The critically reflexive work of New Institutionalism that emerged in the 1990s alongside the relational art promoted by figures such as French theorist and curator Nicolas Bourriaud showed us that art institutions and curators adopt the corporate vernacular of media, online technologies and advertising agencies to address their audiences (/consumers). Terms such as “laboratory,” “discussion platform,” “distribution channel,” and “think tank” emerged around that time and are now regularly used to describe exhibition and museum programs. The ambition was to create more active social connections among art, space and spectator with an intention to reshape the role of art institutions in culture through expanded notions of exhibitions and participation. The aspiration was to critique the exclusionary characteristics of museums and galleries by inhabiting familiar corporate models, delivering accessible ways of speaking to consumers/audiences.
Fast forward to the close of 2018: We routinely experience the corporate strategies not only of art institutions but other creative and cultural platforms including academic institutions. Globally, the laissez-faire—“scrappy”—art school and non-profit art centers have taken a decidedly corporate turn in how they administer day-to-day operations. Individuals, too, use branding strategies to project their experiences and lifestyles into the public realm. Since the onset of Facebook, and now Instagram, personal identities are put into the world with a level of sophistication beyond the wildest dreams only less than ten years ago of advertising agencies.
Curatorial Research Bureau sits between two institutions. Both institutions use corporate methodologies in administrative operations while understandably grappling with the unavoidable difference between this adopted behavior and their founding legacies. At the CRB we have therefore decided to concentrate this month on the theme “Corporate Mentality.” The theme is borrowed from the title of Polish-born Aleksandra Mir’s 2003 publication Corporate Mentality, the focal point of our fourth Case Studies. As you’ll read on that page, Mir’s book documents a selection of artistic practices from 1995 to 2001 that “take on business as site, as material, as subject of their work.” Curatorial Research Bureau is by no means isolated from this phenomenon. It appropriates corporate mentalities by deploying the communication, branding, and audience-building strategies akin to a company (or now an institution). And we rely on one of the most accessible forms of consumerism—the existing aesthetics of a bookshop—to convene a community of consumers (/audiences) around the programs and work we do. What impact does this critical appropriation have? That’s beyond the scope of this issue of the CRB Dispatch (and yet to be seen). But what better moment than the hyper-capitalist month of December to think about the grasp of corporate and consumer cultures on our daily lives and relationships with cultural institutions? Our books are for sale. Our programs are free.
James Voorhies, Chair, CCA Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice