Sunday, June 24, 2012

Art curation as oyster

We got a decorous brochure in the mail captioned "Occupy Everything." It's for this art exhibit scheduled at San Francisco's very establishment-backed Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA). Sponsors of the event are nonprofits, the National Endowment for the Arts, and corporate donors Adobe and Novellus Systems.

So here we are again with protest as grit and benevolent liberal art curation as the oyster giving it that soft, expensive, desirably luminous coating that makes it tolerable.

It's a kind of taking into the fold. Not only perhaps the warm dry sociable sheepfold. Also the enveloping, transmuting folds of flesh inside the oyster.

YBCA occupies a pleasant but concrete-institutional art and performance space in a corner of the two-block Yerba Buena civic complex that also includes the Moscone Center convention halls. Built in the 1970s amid angry redevelopment politics, Yerba Buena was clearly designed advisedly. At the south end of the northward block, a slope rises toward Howard Street amid gardens and paths, graced by a Martin Luther King memorial fountain and topped by a really specially pleasant cafe terrace. In the nicest possible way, it separates the outdoor park and recreation spaces from the convention hall entry lobbies, making it awkward to protest visibly at conventions. I've seen people try. It's not easy, for example, for demonstrators holding signs to remain visible while standing in a place where they have a right to continue standing for long.

This is where the advertised exhibit will be opening on July 7, with an event titled, "Occupy Bay Area Night." Free tickets are available by RSVP -- hard to tell if that's to discourage walk-ins or what. We're promised this:
"An evening of live performances, music and community discussion and interaction through the marriage of art and activism as seen by the Occupy movements of the Bay Area. YBCA’s Room for Big Ideas will feature artworks and performance by artist Annie Danger; and the Oakland-based Los Rakas, now an international hip-hop phenomenon, will shut us all down."
As those wacky kids are saying these days, don't you know.

I kind of expect Ed Sullivan as emcee.

Prominent in the ad copy for this worthy civic event is a poster reading: "This Is Our City And We Can Shut It Down."

Much like the 1968 Columbia Records ad slogan noted memorably by Thomas Frank: "But The Man Can't Bust Our Music."

So familiar, this point where polemic becomes ratified culture -- see for example Sinead Murphy's good article, "The Art Kettle," in The New Inquiry (previously mentioned here).

Not to complain exactly about the exhibit or the event. I'm sure it will in fact give rise to worthy discussion and healing synthesis. Some very fine reforms might even be incubated in the sponsored public debate.

It's just, this is how the oyster works. Just saying, this is how it works.

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