The Subtle Art of Reinterpretation without Regurgitation

Or how the relationship between funding and creativity in exhibitions and public art can be grey


This week, Tim Schneider wrote a piece for The Gray Market about the differences between public art initiatives versus artistic advertising or sponsored content. It is a witty and insightful piece dissecting the powers at play in public art commissions and the difference between using funding for commercial projects to fund artistic creativity and hiring artists to create advertising content.

It seems the difference in Schneider’s eyes lies in the intention and the output. He describes feeling a bit “queasy” about commercial initiatives at art institutions that delve a bit into the area of advertising. His central argument is around the Peanuts Global Artist Collective that is creating murals inspired by Charlie Brown and his friends, that will pop up for 3 months at a time around the world.

What is the intention of the Peanuts Global Artist Collective ultimately? Schneider implies that it is to reinvigorate interest into the characters using artists, rather than using funding from the lucrative animated characters to fund high art. And therefore, it’s something that shouldn’t be considered in the same light as a commission by Brooklyn Bridge Park where the artist, Deborah Kass, created something from her own artistic vision. The interesting part of this is that output, Kass’s resulting sculpture, despite having little of the park’s input, is a much more “graphic design led” piece than the gentle drawing produced by Rob Pruitt.

But could you really say that the intention of the Brooklyn Bridge Park, in the latter example, was to support the arts and the artist? The benefits of having a link to art and artists has been used and/or exploited by multiple brands, development projects, corporates and individuals to promote a certain image and ultimately, to profit from this better image. Wouldn’t the sculpture draw attention and tourists? Isn’t that exactly what Peanuts is in essence also intending?

Every time a new exhibition project or public commission comes together, it walks a fine line between funding and creativity. Some curators and artists deny the existence of funding in order to focus on their “art” but the truth is, someone has to pay for it, at the end of the day. And anyone who funds an artistic project will have an intention, however big or small, that goes beyond “art for art’s sake”.

In my opinion, the sign of great output is invention. Every project has to reinterpret the things before it, be it a group of works and artefacts, a selection of materials or some characters from a 70’s comic book, to create something that inspires and moves people - in short, to create an impact and stimulate a dialogue.

The threat, which I think is the reason for Schneider’s “queasy”-ness - is regurgitation rather than reinterpretation. So many commercial partnerships with artists don’t bring anything new to the table, both from the artist (they are just hired to “do the same thing”) or the brand (they just “bring the money”). The best public/private partnerships bring something from both sides, playing to both parties’ strengths to create something new, rather than regurgitating the same thing with no refinement or input from either side.