Thursday, July 10, 2008

Frenemies: Not just for The Hills anymore

Ah, passive-aggression. It's the preferred conflict style of many an introverted arty type, myself admittedly included.

Despite being a fan of the technique, I'm a little perturbed to see it exemplified to a T (to taxpayer and public spacer expense) in the Art Gallery of Ontario's latest outdoor signage.

If you look at the photo of that signage above, you'll see the end of their large-print "We've closed up shop... for now" slogan followed by an overthunk admonition: "But feel free to visit the competition our friends: Bata Shoe Museum, Canadian Opera Company, Casa Loma, CN Tower, Gardiner Museum, National Ballet of Canada, Ontario Place, Ontario Science Centre, Royal Ontario Museum, Textile Museum of Canada, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and Toronto Zoo"

At first I actually thought that the strikethrough and "our friends" scrawl was a witty graffito on the part of a Sharpie-toting copy editor. But no, it's part of the original poster print. So apparently, this mixed message is what made it through the AGO's own bureaucratic review chain as the acceptable way to publicly express its relationship to other Toronto museums and cultural institutions.

The result is a mode of parlance that maddens in the same way as any snotty-ex email might.

First, there's the backhanded compliment. Is it a better thing to be off the list (and therefore off the AGO's frenemy roster) completely, or is exclusion from same a snub? Dunno, might want to ask the Power Plant or the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art or the Toronto Public Library or the University of Toronto or the Design Exchange next time you see them.

Second, there's the self-congratulatory wit. Ha, ha, ha, really darling, now really—are we or aren't we going to be civil when we bump into each other at Nuit Blanche or the Toronto International Art Fair this fall? Who knows, maybe I'll get a special preview and you won't, so it won't matter! Ah, I kill myself.

Third (and this, the least snotty-ex-like part, is really the most maddening) it's symbolic of how catty and uncooperative relationships can be between Toronto museums and institutions. I know I can well be accused of starry-eyed Montrealism from time to time, but here that town shows us up yet again. Why? Because despite whatever internal ill will surely exists on some level, they actually have a little something called the Board of Montreal Museum Directors, which unites institutions across the city in cross-promotional ventures like Montreal Museums Day. (FYI, Montreal Museums Day is an earth-shattering (by Toronto standards) event where all the museums in the city are free for one spring Sunday, with transit shuttle buses provided to ease travel.) Of late the BMMD has also launched a nifty all-museums pass that lets you visit 32 museums for 45 to 50 bucks.

I think this might be a good time to point out that while I've seen about a dozen "Visit the ROM" billboards in the past few days, I have yet, in 12 months of the Museums and Arts Pass program, to see a single billboard advertising that.

But... maybe I'm wrong. Maybe there really was a Sharpie-wielder somewhere out there who can prove my paranoia's unwarranted. But as far as I'm concerned for now, this "small" ad gaffe is symbolic of a larger set of TO probs. Here we have million-dollar institutions behaving with the demeanor of gossipy, text-messaging, Hills-watching high schoolers. Like OMG ppl, WTF?


J. said...

I don't completely understand this cultural competition thing. I think that museums have got it all wrong in terms of who they think their visitors are.

How often do you think someone really asks themselves the question: should I go to the ROM today, or should I go to the AGO? People truly engaged with culture will go to both within the span of one year, not go to one at the expensive of the other.

If the AGO wanted to be honest with themselves about who their competition was (excluding out of town visitors), why don't they include Varsity Cinemas' on their 'friend' list?

Leah Sandals said...

that's a good point, j. movies have a much wider draw than art does.

i want everyone to be interested in art, which make me just as clueless about real museum audiences as the museums themselves.

still, i know it irks me when they confuse the matter further with lack of cooperation and everyone for him or herselfness.

i also know that there are some museums (like the tate modern) that seem popular with a wide range of folks, and i wonder why that is.

i do think that making the admission comparable to or less than a movie ticket would be a must-do as a start. art is enough of an unknown for many torontonians without asking them to additionally shed 15 to 20 bucks on it.

Timothy said...

"i want everyone to be interested in art, which make me just as clueless about real museum audiences as the museums themselves."

When you say you want everyone to be interested in art, you mean academic/institulazioned art. But if aliens were to land they'd look around at all of human creativity and probably lump that all together as art. So, would you say, 'you want everyone to be interested in heavy metal'? Or, 'I want everyone to be interested in ballet'? Etc...

It's my way of saying I don't agree that everyone should be interested in art, nor that those of us who are should care that much about getting others to like it. I think that desire has been a very distracting element to cultural production over several years.