MoMA PS 1 VW Dome 1 at PS 1 in Queens, photo elk studios

Why New York Museums love German Cars

Issue no5
Oct / Nov 2017
REMIX
MoMA PS 1 VW Dome 1 at PS 1 in Queens, photo elk studios

Earlier this week Patti Smith performed during the opening of MoMA PS1 VW Dome 2 at Rockaways beach in New York. It is the second stage of a creative partnership that started in 2011. In the same year BMW joined forces with the Guggenheim Museum to create the BMW Guggenheim Lab. Why are these museums and car brands supporting each other in temporary pavilions?

When budget cuts hit the Dutch art world, sinking art institutions were rather optimistically encouraged by the government to tap into alternative funding networks. This effectively meant asking money from companies willing to play the role of benevolent patron of the arts. And indeed, the only art-related vacancies still occurring every once in a while are in ‘Development ‘, a fancy word for fundraising. While this strategy might have worked for giants like the Rijksmuseum, which was one of the few institutions not to lose its government funding, this is not so easy for smaller initiatives that are, ironically, more prone to be the victim of the crisis.

But there might be hope.

The trendiness of public-private partnerships in the art world is conveniently complemented by another trend identified in a report ‘Trendwatch 2013’ by the American Alliance of Museums: philanthropy. Their introductory statement reads: ‘Time was when civic amenities such as museums, the opera, orchestras and nonprofit theaters attracted charitable gifts because ... well, because. Because “culture” is a social good and giving made you feel good. (…)This stability may be at an end, so museums need to act now to engage philanthropists who are bringing new motivations and expectations to their support.’ (AAM 2013)

This is exactly what MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach opts for with the new ‘VW Dome 2’. After the built of the Volkswagen-sponsored MoMA PS1 Performance Dome, this second version provides space for community building in Sandy-struck Rockaways beach. The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA PS1, and Volkswagen began a two-year partnership in 2011 which is part of VW’s “Think Blue" philanthropic initiative.

$140,000 was raised by VW and PS1 at a benefit party during Art Basel in Miami and an additional donation doubled the amount. The Dome among others facilitates film screenings of the Tribeca Film Festival and Rooftop Films, historical bike tours, ‘gardening after Sandy’ classes, art workshops and a potluck dinner organized by the Rockaway Rescue Alliance, founders of the Shore Soup project providing free meals in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Though VW seems a rather random partner in this construction, the partnership seems less coincidental when considering a similar initiative launched that year: the BMW Guggenheim Lab. The lab, designed by the Tokyo-based architecture firm Atelier Bow-Wow, was launched in New York and subsequently travelled to Berlin and Mumbai. ‘Part urban think tank, part community center and public gathering space’, the BMW Guggenheim Lab takes the philanthropic turn (far) beyond the art museum. Yet the sudden artistic philanthropy on the part of the motor industry was not welcomed by all.

BMW Guggenheim Lab staged in New York in 2011

The launch of BMW Guggenheim Lab in Berlin in June 2012 was accompanied by violent threats from leftist activists fearing the gentrification of Kreuzberg, the area where the Lab was to be situated. This makes the Lab a rather odd-one-out amongst previously violated or threatened multinationals like McDonalds and Subway. The lab was eventually relocated in Prenzlauer Berg.

The local opposition to what seems to be an asset to the neighborhood is especially ironic since the current theme of the BMW Guggenheim Lab is Confronting Comfort, aiming to explore ‘notions of individual and collective comfort’ in the local living environment. Even more ironic is the fact that the interactive logo, which spells the letters ‘LAB’ with words from online public answers to the question what constitutes a comfortable living environment, is purged with entries like ‘fewer cars, more bikes’ and other environmental concerns.

Apart from some obvious paradoxes between the big bad multinational and the local artistic and environmental community, a lot remains to be said for the initiation of private-funded art initiatives at a time of crisis. The AAM report advises the museum to stick to local, visible and measurable initiatives to lure private-funding. Yet where do potlucks and bike tours end, and does art begin? It remains to be seen whether the private-philanthropy construction will guarantee the independence of art institutions, and whether it will be viable on the long-term, outside of the US, and for more modestly-sized agents than MoMA, Guggenheim, VW or BMW.


Hinde Haest is intern at Metropolis M

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 5 — 2017