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Uit take the Money and Run, de Appel op eerste locatie, Brouwersgracht, Amsterdam, 2009

Get organized! Victoria Ivanova presents her three top reasons for why the art world presents a fascinating terroir for developing organisational thinking. Plus she also explains why this is a thing to do in 2019. 

The call to ‘get organising’ has followed every self-respecting ambition to transform the status quo. At times, it has snowballed into a wide-reaching and uprooting shake up, at other times, it remained a media campaign, the concrete impacts of which were hard to judge, yet at other times, it was suppressed or it simply fizzled out. Whatever the call’s outcome, the very phrase ‘get organising’ is indicative of a generally accepted understanding that for intentions and slogans to become action, some form of logistical effort is required. At the same time, the latter dimension, the one that speaks to such efforts in the form of organisational structures, protocols, procedures and strategy, rarely receives its due share of air time or attention. While it is a no-brainer that these two dimensions are inherently bound together, organisational thinking could do with some serious development, if only to salvage it from the scope of management textbooks and their limited imperatives.

So here are my top three reasons for why the art world presents a fascinating terroir for developing organisational thinking and why this is a thing to do in 2019:

[blockquote]1: The art world is embroiled in the shifting dynamics that are becoming apparent between the local, regional and the transnational (showing that none of these terms are apt descriptors).

If one is inclined towards a sinister sense of humour, a lot of funny things have happened in the last couple of years. The ‘funniest’ of them all and the persistent favourites of most respected op-ed commentators are the rise of Trump and the rerouting of neoliberal globalisation that the rise symbolises. Some call this a turn towards a more multi-polar world, others emphasise the fact that right-wing factions are now the most avid and successful de-globalisers, but what can’t be ignored is that ‘local context’ is back with a vengeance, a move made ever so more complicated by the yet open project of redefining what ‘local’ actually signifies in the age of digital infrastructure and algorithmic governance.

Where is the art world in all of this? Clearly some of it is in Ivanka Trump’s and Jared Kushner’s 25-million-dollar art collection, but let us not dwell on that. The presence of contemporary art has mushroomed globally over the last 15 odd years and not just in High Net Worth Individuals’ collections and their freeport vaults. While contemporary art has been tarnished for its close allegiance with neoliberalism (starting from its philosophy and ending with its market dynamics), the very fact that contemporary art has been mobilised by a myriad of propagators world-wide is a testament to its morphability and integrability into value-creating chains that span the local, regional and transnational in quite different contexts and configurations. Would a more multipolar world make these capacities run out of steam? Could the forks that these capacities have produced over the last years consolidate in new art formations? What role will the online infrastructure play in the creation of new non-geographical regionalisms? To answer these questions, we need a framework for organisational thinking that grounds geopolitical, economic and cultural trends in concrete operational scenarios.

[blockquote]2: The art world has no clue what it actually is beyond a handful of commonly circulated tropes and clichés.

The very term ‘art world’ is a shorthand for something that doesn’t have a stable definition. Depending on who calls upon the term, it can have somewhat varying connotations. I’d say that most commonly “art world” is almost a derogatory term, or in the very least an indication that there is a quasi-elite setting in which art is produced, talked about, shown and collected, and that setting plays by certain rules of the game, none of which are entirely agreed upon but which are somehow seen to be unfair, privileging primarily the wrong kind of values, but sometimes it’s ok, especially if we are ‘in’ and serving the right kind of agenda. This is undoubtedly pretty vague.

While there have been more rigorous and systematic efforts to achieve sociological rationalisations of the art field, such efforts have remained marginal, and an enhanced Bourdieu-style inquiry for the present times is yet to be realised. And still, a single overarching theory of the art world might not be enough as it would flatten out the various crooks and crannies that emerge in the interstices between dominant parameters and not immediately evident contingencies. Instead, what we may need is a development of a new perspective, an organisational perspective, and a language that suits its optics.

[blockquote]3: Required change may be much more boring than you think.

At least in the art field, there is currently a gulf between (for example) one hundred page human resourcing manuals that set out hiring procedures in specific institutions and are bound by national legislation, and the rhetoric of change and emancipation. Put another way, there are currently very few organised entities that are capable of achieving the required translation from ideological motto to operational parameter. The reason for that isn’t just a matter of political adversity or historically embedded structural inequality. It’s a question of (not) knowing what levers to pull and in what order, and that on a granular scale that leaves not a single line of organisational small print unexplored. Unfortunately, it is not the same thing as knowing what is right and what is wrong.


Victoria Ivanova

is curator en schrijver, Londen

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