Amsterdam. Hungover and art touring. As you can see this Elephant grave yard has a Rembrandt at the back. I feel like hell, but I’m sure that’s just the well earned result of the night before. I know this, because I looked in the mirror this morning to see a blurry vision of my parents looking back at me – thoroughly dispiriting – as is this Old Master viewing demographic. Truthfully, I just wanted to spend a little bit of quality time in front of this painting, but I find that it’s impossible. The entire viewing process has been programmed to move us along quickly. This painting is, after all, the big star of the museum. Everyone with a ticket is entitled to have a look, so to keep the line moving they’ve made the viewing process as unpleasant as possible. The Museum Guards flanking the painting keep the crowds moving by moving themselves, back and forth in front of the painting as if they are part of the composition – and indeed – they are. The benches are placed to the sides which gives you an angled low shot of a lot of lumpy backsides clad in all types of uncomfortable slacks. People take their places along the low barrier to take pictures on iPhones or other electronic devices, thus blocking any sustained viewing. Those frontline photographers then step back to have a gander at the results. If it’s not good they’ll move back into position to shoot another. And so it goes. It’s all been designed to keep the punters on the moving walkway which inevitably leads to the gift shoppe exit.
Kren’s was right – museums are all about the Brand – about the quality product. The art world restructured itself in the early 90s after the crash and Krens led that charge. There was a corporate takeover of the bankrupt art retail systems which turned the centuries-long history of considered collecting into a Neoliberal traders market – from auction house to museum boardrooms right through to artists studios. The Rijks is just trying to profit from the system like any other art gallery, and in this case its money maker is the Night Watch. My Mom used to say, “A cat may look at a king.” But that’s just not the game anymore. Cats don’t have a penny to their name and can’t afford the entry. Looking at “culturally significant Art” is considered a consumer privilege reserved for those who can afford a ticket. Cash makes us feel democratic, art for the people, that sort of thing, but to really see, you’ll still need the Willie Wonka Golden Ticket.
I’m willing to bet that Rembrandt never thought that his painting would be used as the backdrop for thousands of tourists’ shots uploaded into the cloud. Nor would he have expected the President of the United States to put Art in its place. “Obama remarked that the painting, which is housed in the recently-renovated Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, was the most impressive backdrop he had ever had for a statement to the press.” Backdrop for a statement. And truthfully that’s how the Neoliberal Art World likes its art – painting is there to enhance the corporation’s standing. No one would have predicted that this great painting (or any great painting for that matter) would one day not really matter as Art. In this age Art’s meaning, all Art for that matter, is tied to its ability to enhance the ROI, the Corporate Presence or the Branded Experience. Business, as they say, IS the best Art.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have my old school moments of belief and wonder – the gesticulating Donald Trump in the middle of the composition is a painterly tour de force, and the Billy Bush in the shimmering fabulous outfit next to him is a study in the flashy portrayal of wheezing pedantry. Rembrandt when he was on his game was great, and at another time I would have fought a bit harder to see this wonderful thing. But regardless of my regard these moments of painting wizardry are no longer the point of this Art experience. And neither are those floral patterned skinny jeans standing in my way.
Look, I understand that I was flowcharted out of this economic equation long ago, but does everything to do with Art have to be so blatantly consumerist? The answer of course is yes, yes it does. The thing that I began to understand, as I held my throbbing over-indulged noggin, is that the images on all those flashing screens are now the final arbiters of one’s visual experience. They are the product made, the manufactured images, the acceptance of this kind of Art, this way of Art. These images are the endgame of tourism, airlines, hoteliers, restauranteurs, museum CEOs, trinket shops, book publishers, online art discount stores, Apple Inc., e-commerce app makers, and museum traffic flow systems. That art tourist screenshot saved in my iPhoto file is nothing more than an expensive document, a bought and paid-for moment that locates, times, date stamps, collates and programs my complicity and readies my bohemian capitulation for a press release, a snapchat or a fucking tweet. Let’s call it “surveillance viewing” – not of the Art, which only exists now to facilitate an economic transaction, but of me, of us, the consumers of these paid experiences, the customers of Branded Art Products. And with the photo posted above I too have participated in this Art Economy.